Saturday, August 15, 2009


Please Come To Our Wedding, And Deny Your Own (FOSVP)

Astoundingly, our identikit Labour machine politician local MP Jim Fitzpatrick (aka Fitzpanic) has been in the national news after years of anonymity. He and his wife went to a wedding the other day, apparently, but they walked out on being told they had to be segregated to separate rooms. To see who was being rude to whom, though, there are two questions that need answering. Obviously, given that I’ve been getting my news from journalists, none of them have answered those key questions – instead just framing everything in inane ‘pro-or-anti-Muslim’ political arguments to whip up bad feeling all round (and that, ironically, they’ve all reported the decision as if it was his alone, and his wife silently obeyed his commands).

The two questions are: And those idiots who’ve said ‘It’s the Muslim custom’, as if every Muslim practices rigorous sexual apartheid, are talking out of their apertures.
Because if we’re meant to decide who’s rude and who isn’t, blatantly the people dragging the wedding into the media are the ones who are the rudest. Was it the MP, grandstanding to get his face on TV? In which case, that was rude – he should just have left, and left it at that. Or was it the bride and groom, grandstanding to make their own political point? In which case, they’ve cashed in on their union in a tackier way than selling the rights to Hello! with product placement by Playboy.

So all the resultant media explosion about ‘rude MP’ and ‘all Muslims are the same’ is just so much eyewash. If Mr Fitzpanic and his wife didn’t know what was going to happen in advance, just decided to leave on finding out, and then found themselves exploded all over the press, then well done them. They did the right thing and shouldn’t be pilloried for it. If he went along with a plan in mind, tipping off the press he was making a stunt, then he’s a git. And much as I hate to defend my local Labour MP, the fact that this has all exploded after the fact rather than showing photos of him storming out does rather suggest the former.

What Would I Do?

Well, in a similar situation, I’d ask Richard, of course, or he’d ask me, and I hope Mr Fitzpanic asked his wife.

Then we’d tell our hosts to fuck off.

I can think of nothing more absurd, nothing more wrong, and nothing more calculatedly anti-marriage at a wedding than telling couples they have to split up. I mean, really. ‘Celebrate our wedding by denying that you’re together?’ I don’t think so. Even if you don’t share my own moral conviction that being together means you’re both equal.

What does telling a couple they have to be segregated into separate rooms at a wedding tell them: Similarly, a mixed-race couple going along to a wedding where the bride and groom told them on arrival, ‘Look, we have no problem with you, and we’re not discriminatory, but you know, a lot of the older members of our families vote BNP, so one of you can be in the chapel but the other can listen from the servant’s quarters’ would at the very least be expected to walk out rather than bow their heads and accept that, ‘Well, that must be your cultural background which we’ll meekly accede to, rather than your own prejudices that you want to weasel out of responsibility for’.

If I were invited to a wedding but told not to bring Richard because people might be offended, not only would I decline, but I doubt I would speak to the people inviting me again (not without a lot of swearing, anyway). If we turned up and were told we had to sit apart, not dance together, not kiss or hold hands like most couples do at the key moments, because – not that the bride and groom were prejudiced at all, but you know, the families were very religious… Depending on how generous I was feeling, I’d ask them if they were joking, or tell them to grow a spine, or we’d just leave. What a thing to ask a couple.

It’s your choice how you stage your wedding, but if you choose to hold it at Bigots-R-Us, don’t act all offended if some of the people you invite won’t give up their choice not to like it.

The bottom line, surely, is that a wedding is a celebration of people getting together, and that nothing can be ruder and more bizarre than insisting that people do that by being forced apart.

We have, though, been to a wedding where the bride and groom have encouraged us to be as couply as we like and be tactile with the ostracized gay cousin just to make sure that the disapproving religious side of the family knew that the happy couple didn’t approve of them.

And all right, there was that one wedding where our presence was a bit of an issue and we were sat some way apart, but that was complicated and we laugh about it now… And even then, we knew in advance what it would be like. And no-one called the papers.

Nude Is Not Rude

I notice sadly that yet another council are prudishly forbidding people from being naked on a naturist beach (“warning: video contains tiny-minded locals”). Top marks to reporter Paul MacInnes, and he’s not “horribly ugly” at all – though rolled eyes to the Carry On-style music, and the predictably homophobic interviewees. Shame on Waveney District Council; there are few enough places you can get nude in public, and petty-minded so-and-sos are always trying to chip away at them. Not only should they get themselves lives and stop ordering people around, but it’s at times like these that I almost wish I was a Star Trek fan. Then I could turn up nude at weddings and bellow that traditional Betazoid dress was my ‘cultural tradition’.

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This is, apparently, standard practice at Muslim weddings. So standard I guess the people inviting the MP didn't even mention it, just as with standard Anglo wedding a lot isn't mentioned because it's assumed everyone knows that's what happens.

Sure, it's uncomfortable. At the one Muslim wedding I ever attended finding this happening I was allowed to sit with my wife with the women. Otherwise, I think the best form would be to stay for a short time and leave citing "urgent business" elsewhere. Muslim weddings, so I am told (and experienced in this case), tend to be rather formless anyway - people come and go, and the business is done by a few of the men (father passing the wife to the husband) while everyone else is busy eating and chatting.

One might not like these customs, but it seems to me to be incredibly rude to make a public fuss about it when one has been invited. And, as has been said, strange that a man representing a constituency with a high Muslim population didn't know this was the usual practice.
Apparently not, according to all the people interviewed about it – not just the MP, who was exceedingly clear on the point that this has not happened at the many other Muslim weddings he’s attended, but the bride and groom, and the owners of the building, each of whom said it was their personal choice for this particular wedding. Saying ‘Oh, they’re all like that’ panders not just to anti-Muslim sentiment but greatly aids the more conservative Islamic elements who want to turn the clock back, both by presenting them as the only option and by presenting anyone who wants another way as caving in to anti-Islamic ideas. It’s striking that not one person involved said ‘They’re all like that’ – as I said above, it’s the press who are daft and dangerous enough to simply everything into ‘Muslim’ and ‘not-Muslim’ and so boost segregation not just in weddings but in society, by shoring up conservative Islam.

As for who was “incredibly rude” and who made “a public fuss” – as I said above, I’ve watched and read quite a bit of the coverage of this particular story, and I’ve yet to see anyone actually identify who did that. I’d still be interested to know. You clearly blame Mr Fitzpanic – so can you show me the evidence that it was him who hijacked the wedding to make a public fuss in the press, rather than people who wanted to strike a blow at him instead, or is that just your prejudices talking?
I can totally understand the points you make particularly with regard to BNP/religious relatives.

I suppose in a way we've faced the dilemma of what to do when an invitation comes for us that doesn't include our daughter. What do we do? My view tends to be that we all come as a package, and, particularly if the wedding would involve an overnight stay, we would just give it a miss.

I would tend to take the exclusion of my child more personally than being asked to be in a separate room to my husband yet it seems to be socially acceptable for people to exclude children from their wedding. And the thing is, it then becomes my problem for not ageeing to leave my child at home.

Having said all that, I think I'd have stayed at a Muslim wedding where men and women were separated. Yes, it's sexist, but then so is much of the symbolism at a traditional church wedding. The white dress symbolising virginity, the father handing over the bride to the husband, sometimes the bride still promising to obey her new husband. The separation wouldn't make me that angry in the end of the day.

I understand it is (or at least used to be in the very recent past) the custom at posh dinner parties in Washington DC not only to seat couples apart, but on separate tables.

It's an individual decision for people to make - if you decide to stay in the circumstances it doesn't make you sexist and if you decide to leave it doesn't make you racist. You're right to question who involved the press, though because this should have stayed private.
Caron; a dinner party where there is more than one table is indeed very posh!
Matthew: "I think the best form would be to stay for a short time and leave citing "urgent business" elsewhere."

You mean, lie? I'm not sure that lying is ever "best form"!

In this instance, all you achieve is you insult your hosts without making it clear that you object to what they are asking of you.

Perhaps a better response would be to explain that you are not happy being segregated and then withdrawing without making a big fuss. It is, after all, their wedding. It is up to them what the rules are and up to you if you attend.
I don't see the link between gender segregation and denying the validity of a heterosexual marriage. As I understand it, the reason for gender segregation in conservative Islamic and for that matter Christian settings is not to express disapproval of a marriage, but some combination of (a) disapproval of men socialising with women to whom they are not married, and vice versa, and (b) a desire on the part of one or both genders for single-gender space (and yes, women do sometimes want women-only space, including Muslim women). I can certainly see some heterosexist assumptions in (a), and potentially some cis-sexist assumptions in both (a) and (b), but I don't see a slight to married heterosexual couples as such, and therefore I think it is definitely the MP who has been rude. Whether one should use a wedding to make a personal political statement is borderline enough, but using it to make a statement on behalf of a group to which one does not belong is clearly over the line, to my mind.
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