As we know, France has banned the niqab (the face covering that reveals only the eyes) and also the burqa (“the sack”), if it also covers the face. Before we watch the video below, let’s review the meaning of these Muslim garments, which are often confused with each other.
One thing that sticks with me about this dress is an experience I had (and have recounted before) when I visited the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. There, as in all public universities in Turkey, the shayla, or headscarf, was banned, a more severe restriction than in France. I met with several groups of students, and many of the women were Muslim. When I asked them how they felt about the ban, they were uniformly in favor of it. When I asked why, their answers were also the same: if the shayla were approved headwear, and they didn’t wear one, other Muslim women who did would shame them for “not being good Muslims.” In other words, although wearing one would be technically optional, in reality it would be mandatory, as social pressure would lead to its universal adoption.
This is the point that Gita Sahgal and Maryam Namazie make below when they argue for banning of these garments (they are, after all, not really the entirety of a woman’s outfit but outerwear, beneath which Muslim women can have don kinds of Western fashion). Sahgal and Namazie claim that if optional, social pressure from both men and women, as well as from clerics, would take the concept of “optional dress” off the table. This is the subject of one of Namazie and colleagues’ “Bread and Roses” broadcasts below, which is well worth watching. The link was sent by reader Hardy, who added this comment:
I recently watched an interesting discussion of the hijab hosted by Maryam Namazie, which gave probably the best justification for the burka ban in France I’ve yet seen. At around 8 mins [JAC: actually 7:55] there is an especially interesting interview with Gita Sahgal, who used to be the head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International, before being fired by that organisation for criticising its relationship with Islamists such as Moazzam Begg. She explains how Amnesty and numerous other human rights groups have effectively been captured by Islamism, to the extent that they simply refuse to investigate human rights abuses that might upset their new Islamist friends. In particular, this means that the victims of forced veiling can expect no support from Western human rights organisations. Given that nobody is policing forced veiling, and the rape culture that travels in its slipstream, Gita argues that banning the veil is completely justified.
Here’s the video. If you’re pressed for time, listen to the 20 minutes beginning at 7:55:
I was surprised to learn that Western human-rights groups have been cowed by some Muslims, some of whose representatives are also trying to get the UN to adopt a ban on criticizing religion (“blasphemy”) as part of the UN’s human-rights agenda.
When you say that this dress is a personal choice, and therefore shouldn’t be banned, ask yourself, “If it truly weren’t required, and there was no opprobrium attached to dressing however one wanted, including wearing skirts that show the legs or blouses that show the arms, would all women in countries like Saudi Arabia really continue to dress this way?” I would argue “no,” because the uniformity of dress reflects not a universality of individual choice, but coercion by coreligionists. The minute those women get by themselves in a private home, they take off the burqas and show off their fancy clothing, which supposedly would drive Muslim men to distraction and rape if they ever saw it.