Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ niqabis

This week’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “fan,” came with the email note:

BBC3 released a niqab-normalising video last week, trying to convince that the deeply misogynistic garment is actually quite cute and radical. The young women featured seem nice. We can only hope they grow out of it eventually, in the same way as goths usually do.

Here’s the video, “Things not to say to someone who wears a burqa”. The interesting bit about whether niqabis are feminists begins at 2:45.  I have to say that some of things people asked these women are unspeakably rude. As for the feminism part, one woman says, “Yes, there are some cultural practices that maybe oppress women, but it’s never been Islamic.” The other woman responds, “No, it’s not.” But later they say they wear the garment because of their religion.

The claim that these women “choose” to wear the burqa or niqab seems to me problematic. What kind of social and religious pressure are they under?

And the strip, which is pretty good (and pretty accurate):


  1. Barry Lyons
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    That’s another great Jesus ‘n’ Mo cartoon. But I’m stickler when it comes to that/which. The panel on the bottom left should read: “How can a garment THAT reduces a woman to an object mean freedom?”

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    The one called it her identity. I would probably ask, how do you eat fish and chips with that?

    • rickflick
      Posted August 9, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      You risk being labeled a fishandchipsophobe.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Hey, that’s okay. Love those fish and chips.

  3. Posted August 9, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    So, can anyone remind me the human rights principles behind why we outlawed slavery? (We did this, as I recall, despite the testimony of many that their deeply-held religious views gave sanction to the practice)

    And the human rights principals of why we have spousal abuse laws?

    And yet, why it is now considered wrong to outlaw the niqab in public?

    ‘Cause I really don’t get it, but I have not yet had my morning coffee.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 9, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Except in circumstances where there is an overriding governmental interest in seeing a person’s face for identification purposes (in passport photos, for example), a public prohibition of niqab would likely violate the First Amendment — both as an infringement of symbolic speech, in violation of the Free Speech clause, and (even more likely) as a violation of the religious Free Exercise clause.

      • Posted August 9, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        The Bible holds that slavery is a Christian good practice. Slavery was the societal norm for about 100 years – evidently nothing unConstitutional about the practice. People felt they held a religious Free Expression right to own slaves.I wouldn’t be surprised if there is case law from the time that cited such religious justification for the practice.

        And then something changed. I am asking what that might be?

        Did it have something to do with the human right not to be oppressed which was now considered more important than religious expression?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 9, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

          Both the abolitionist and pro-slavery forces asserted that Scripture supported their positions. (From a textualist perspective — the way the late Justice Scalia and others interpret the US Constitution — the pro-slavery forces probably had the better of the biblical argument.) What changed was that the nation was rent asunder by Civil War, and the anti-slavery forces prevailed.

          Not sure how any of this translates to garments. But to the extent it does, it would seem to suggest that people should never be forced to wear particular clothing, and never be prohibited from wearing the clothing they choose.

        • Katkinkate
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 6:56 am | Permalink

          The institution and business of slavery basically collapsed when the industrial revolution showed how machines were cheaper to run than a stable of slaves.

      • Craw
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Would a man be allowed to hang around the playground in the middle of summer wearing a hockey mask? Or two men enter a bank wearing ski masks?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 9, 2017 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          I’m pretty sure the wearers would be subject to a “stop and frisk,” if the circumstances gave rise to a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal wrongdoing. If the stop failed to confirm such suspicions, the suspects would be free to go on their way.

          And I doubt you could pass a statute or ordinance completely prohibiting the wearing of ski or hockey masks — though, if you could, the people wanting to wear them anyway would have to show that the items were being used as symbolic speech or for religious ritual to make out a First Amendment claim.

  4. moleatthecounter
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I can barely hear what they are saying… Their voices are somewhat muffled. It’s almost as if their mouths are covered in some way.

    Can’t think why…

  5. Posted August 9, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Strictly speaking should read ‘free to leave the house in the company of a male relative / guardian.’ This has become a real issue in the West in recent years. However in much of the Middle East and Asia, the mix of unveiled or veiled and all shades in between is a non-issue – mixed societies are tolerant. What I find irritating in the extreme are those Western women who take up the hijab and profess that it is purely a matter of choice and they wear it proudly to signify their commitment to their religion. This seems wrong on so many fronts it’s difficult to know where to begin, but it is tempting to ask them why they don’t demonstrate a more complete commitment by going the whole hog (sorry!) and cover up entirely.

    • Rita
      Posted August 9, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      AND, never leaving the house unless accompanied by a male relative!

  6. Posted August 9, 2017 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I remember hearing of a concept called “the manacled mind” many decades ago. I believe it was the theme of a book, but a Google search for the term in quotes only turns up about 150 hits.

    At any rate, I believe it applies perfectly to the dilemma these women face.

    • jwthomas
      Posted August 9, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Perhaps you’re thinking of William Blake’s “mind forged manacles.”


      I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
      Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
      And mark in every face I meet
      Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

      In every cry of every Man,
      In every Infants cry of fear,
      In every voice: in every ban,
      The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

      How the Chimney-sweepers cry
      Every blackning Church appalls,
      And the hapless Soldiers sigh
      Runs in blood down Palace walls

      But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
      How the youthful Harlots curse
      Blasts the new-born Infants tear
      And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

  7. DrBrydon
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    In some cases in the West, I think women wear coverings as a political statement. With Islam under fire, nothing says “I’m a Muslim, screw you!” like a covering of some type. I would think Linda Sarsour falls in this group. Then I think there are women who wear coverings because they do believe it is a modesty issue. Then there are the women who wear them because they are forced to. In Muslim countries, if they were free to choose, I suspect there would still be women who would wear coverings for the first two reasons.

    • Posted August 9, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I think you are right. Modesty is at least partly a cultural construct. This is not different in kind from our western strictures (legal and/or social) against women showing their breasts.

      Different cultures cover different body parts, and in different degrees. I just came from a week living with a tribe (the Huaorani) whose members are completely naked (except that the men have a string around their waist which they slip their foreskin under —ouch!) Those people probably think western women are suffering because they have to cover their breasts. And it certainly does make breast-feeding very difficult. In some places in the US a woman can get arrested for this most natural act.

      I wish I had thought to ask them what they think of our obsession with covering certain parts of our body. Did they pity us? When they leave their forest they do cover up to conform to our society’s standards (they would probably be arrested if they did not). Some of the ones who have more contact with westerners did use some western clothing even while in the forest, but this may have been just because we were present.

      I oppose forcing women to follow any of these conventions.

      • Kevin
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        Almost anything I can think of doing requires clothes or a swim suit to be efficient. PPE.

        That being said religious garb is crap.

    • Posted August 9, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but as we know in Iran, where the women protested en masse and are still defying the hijab requirement and posting it on the “my stealthy freedom” website, women before the hijab was imposed in 1979 were largely uncovered. How can you say, then, that the mass covering now is “cultural”? If so, there was a big change in culture–an instantaneous one–when the Ayatollah Khomeni took over!

      • Posted August 9, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        I remember the days when my Iranian friends were as progressive and daring –or even moreso– than my fellow Americans. Surely what’s happening in Iran now is partly coerced by the clerical authorities. But I suspect that many of the young people, who grew up in that society all their lives, really do take these conventions as seriously as we take our convention not to show women’s breasts (which is often taken to ridiculous extremes here—remember the reaction to Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction”?) Many of them surely think it really is immodest to show long beautiful hair or lips. Is it “really” immodest? I think it is difficult to answer that question except in a cultural framework.

        • Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

          The issue, of course, is that in many faiths, especially Islam, which is often a way of life, you can’t separate religion from culture, for the religion creates the culture, as it did here.

          • Posted August 9, 2017 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

            Yes, that’s true. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Islam froze the medieval culture that produced it.

  8. John Crisp
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    As Jerry says, they’re just kids. Some of them will probably grow out of it. I guess there’s also a sort of pleasure in being able to observe people while they can’t observe you, particularly in a society where you are in a fairly small minority. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for teenage girls to become self-conscious as they mature sexually and are exposed to the “male gaze”, so the hijab is one way of negotiating this.

    On the other hand, I hate to see little girls of seven or eight already in headscarves, while their brothers are free to dress as they want. And of course, countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are a different matter.

  9. yazikus
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I saw the video floating around FB, and was interested to see the conversations it started.

    If we are to hope these young ladies grow out of it, marginalization is the last thing needed. Kindness, acceptance and support should go a long way. I feel the same about our local Hutterites, I always make a point to be polite and kind when running into them. If/when they choose to leave, I hope they won’t think the world (and secular folks) are against them.

    • Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      If I met one of these women, and they were allowed to speak to me, I’d treat them exactly like anyone else, and wouldn’t mention their garb unless THEY brought it up. That said, such behavior, which is only civil, is not going to de-misogynize Islam. That needs to be done through public writing and speaking, preferably from Muslims.

      • yazikus
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        Fully agreed. I often think of what it is like for the handful of hijabis in my small, rural town. The kind of town where assholes in big trucks will throw cans at women they think look too butch or whatever (happened to a dear friend).

  10. nicky
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Yes, I think the hijab -and even more so the niqab and burka- is a statement in the West (Im not talking in Muslim majority countries were it is obligatory). It states different things for different people.
    It can state “I’m different and I want nothing to do with you” or “Why should we adapt to your culture, why would you not adapt to our (superior) culture?” or “It is my female freedom, it is better than your female freedom, why don’t you try it?”. Most of it fits into Dawa.
    What is completely denied it is a sign of oppression and subordination to men (rather than Allah).
    [Questions (not) to ask: “Why do your Muslim men not wear veils?”, “Why, is your face so ugly you are ashamed of showing it?”, “Do you think it is ‘cool’ to wear a facecloth proclaiming your faith in a Medieval Misogynistic Patriarchal religion?”, “Are you doing this just to be provocative?”, etc. etc.]

  11. Vaal
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Yeesh, that video is frankly creepy.

    And if the niqab is a symbol of woman’s freedom, why is it particularly ubiquitous in the most conservative and women-oppressive of the Muslim countries? (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates).

    Not buyin’ it.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I think everyone should be able to choose what they wear. If that means niqab or burqa, that’s okay. However, if you’re wearing it every day in even the hottest weather, and you’re making excuses for wearing it that are clearly just that (excuses), you need to think about why you’re really doing it.

    For example, there’s the “modesty” reason. (I really hate this excuse.) Who is it that’s deciding what “modesty” even means? Now I can understand why someone might think wearing a bikini or budgie smuggler to work in an office is completely inappropriate, but surely swapping the bikini for a burqa is a bit of an overreaction?

    It’s also clear that the burqa is NOT a requirement to be a Muslim. There are literally billions of Muslim women who don’t wear one. It’s like saying the clothing of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman is a requirement to be a Jew. Most Jews would disagree with that.

    I can understand why these young women might be wearing a burqa. I hope each is in a position where she can stop doing it without opprobrium from family and friends should she so choose. I’m doubtful about that.

    I’m personally not worried about just a headscarf. I see that as the equivalent of a cross, Star of David etc. It’s not Linda Sarsour’s hijab that offends me, it’s the words that she uses to justify it, and the oppression it leads her to defend. It’s the same with someone who wears a cross – that’s fine with me, just don’t use it to justify your bigotry.

    • Les Faby
      Posted August 9, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink


    • Posted August 9, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Heather, I think you need to explain to non-Kiwis what a “budgie smuggler” is. That term is unknown in America (though you taught it to me!) 🙂

      • Posted August 9, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        Very brief Speedo style swimming costume for men that covers the genitalia but does absolutely nothing to conceal their presence.

        See also “banana hammock”.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Budgie smugglers are men’s brief swimwear. I think USians know the brand name Speedo.

        It does have a reason, apart from the way they look. People have tried to steal native birds (and lizards) for the black market by putting them in their underwear.

        We generally call swimwear “togs” in NZ, but I didn’t think that was any more helpful to most either!

    • rickflick
      Posted August 9, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      It’s hard for me to see the hijab as just a headscarf. My Irish mother wore a headscarf when it was windy outside and she took it off indoors. I see the hijab as a way of pussyfoot between two cultural norms. Dishonestly. I rather think women wouldn’t wear them if there was no pressure at all from Islamic culture. In that sense I’m not as sanguine, though it’s still much better than black bags.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

        I meant they should be able to take them on and off, like a piece of jewelry. Wearing them constantly is what makes them problematic for me. It’s the way they are treated – like some sort of sacred object – that I find offensive.

  13. Posted August 9, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I think many of these comments as well as the cartoon strip is missing point.

    It is similar to the Google diversity thing:

    Keep in mind that I fully understand the Google employees diversity thing that he got fired for, and as well I understand the cartoon and I actually think it’s kind of funny.

    But the question is really am I attached to that humour as a sort of source or basis from which I view the world?

    Does the fact that I think that cartoon is funny actually identify something that I believe or that is something that I feel is a sensual or identifies something of my thinking that I think is somehow better than what the cartoon is indicating, and is what I am identifying as the source of my ability to think that cartoon is funny shows something that other people should also identify with and also understand if they are to be “free” or not oppressed?

    The point of the diversity thing is that I have a privilege as a white male to have this kind of rational approach to life. As a European dissent white male in America my view upon the world and all things that go into my speaking about this of you are automatically privileged.

    Of course there are arguments to say that from an evolutionary standpoint my privilege is the result of the hall of humanity across the world interacting with one another through the ages. It is a kind of Feuerbach ian economy.

    The issue that we are dealing with is is there a common rationality or a common intelligence that everyone must adhere to in the rhetoric of freedom and oppression?

    It seems that many of the comments for this blog really are taking a kind of patronizing approach to what these women are saying. They’re basically saying I know better than you and you poor little creature who is impressed and really has no concept of freedom you are deluded in what you’re expressing to me.

    It is exactly that kind of attitude that pretty much probably 70% of the world is trying to express to white males (or at least in so far as the dominant culture may indeed have an effective hold or an effective rationality over people)

    The rest of the world is saying hey you’re white cultural rationality is a view, is a particular view. The arguments that you put forth as to why this view maybe more rational or that somehow it is attached to this great technological or political system that we have now, including the idea of progress, all of these rationales equate to the white privilege. But it is not that the white privilege is necessarily wrong and it’s view, it is more that it tends to promote that it is the correct view. Everyone else can see it but the white male paradigm seems to have a difficult time in seeing it self as a view amongst views. It automatically and most usually sees the attachment of its view to cultural and political forms as necessary instead of contingent. It has a kind of limited recourse to its own priority, just as everyone else’s, but the issue with the white Paradigm is that it is used to its effect of power, that it has trouble dismissing itself from its self proclaimed ‘neutral’ position if it’s assertion of priority and power.

    • Posted September 22, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      The rest of the world keeps blaming “the white paradigm” while demanding things more and more things from it. Maybe I’ll be alive to see “the white paradigm” dismantled, and I’ll gloat a little when those who denigrated and ruined it will regret its demise. If the two young ladies were talking from a free, prosperous country where many wear black bags because of personal choice, OK. But their parents fled some hellhole screaming, or came as invaders, to a country where most people did not and do not want them, and now they are haughtily lecturing the locals while their fellow religionists keep blowing up things. If you do not want people to say mean things to you, just remove the damn Confederate flag / swastika. The BBC is pathetic.

  14. helenahankart
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Some of it is an assertion of identity–rather like the wearing of bowler hats by Northen Irish protestant loyalists. No-one in the UK would wear a bowler hat except as a joke.

    • Posted August 9, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      How does a garment that makes you completely unidentifiable act as an assertion of identity?

      • rickflick
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        Identity is obtained through one’s choice of color. As long as it’s black.

      • Florent
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 2:48 am | Permalink

        Maybe does it help one have whatever identity they choose under that garment ? It has the basic link to something greater which makes one feel important… So many things that a little bit of cultural/familly/clerical pressure can hammer down your mind.

  15. Kevin
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Italian law has a fairly good secular solution: since 1975 at least the covering of the face can be a criminal offence in certain circumstances: specifically in public demonstrations
    «Misure urgenti per il contrasto del terrorismo internazionale»
    (Urgent measures against international terrorism)
    This carries a possible prison sentence of up to two years or a fine.

    There is a more recent ban in the Lombardy region (some of these vary by region) where it is forbidden to cover the face in public buildings, including hospitals, museums etc

    These rules are secular and pragmatic in nature.
    They state that the rules apply “senza giustificato motivo” (except without justified motive) and it has been clearly stated under law that
    «le tradizioni o i costumi religiosi, non possono rappresentare giustificati motivi di eccezione ai sensi dell’art 5 della legge 152/1975»
    (religious traditions and customs do not represent justified motive for exemption within article 5 of Law 152/1975)

    The Italian argument is based around the need to identify a persons face, not doing so being seen as an evasion of responsibility for actions in a public space.

    Good solution: same rules for everybody based on practical solutions and no exemption based on religion. If you wish to modestly cover your face, you can, but best also stay home. Your choose your religion and the constraints it places on you. No complaints. In my view, this holds also for turbans and motorcycle helmet: it is not obligatory to travel by motorcycle. If you batter your brains out because you have no helmet, you become a liabiity for the public services.

  16. Craw
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    One of the women says she doesn’t judge women who don’t veil. I don’t buy it. They repeatedly make the point that “modesty” is a big deal in Islam, a virtue, and that the veil is for modesty. Judgment of those who don’t veil is built-in there.

  17. Posted August 10, 2017 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    They always make me want to post letters in them…

  18. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    How about this :

    Can we substitute “niquab/burqua/hijab” (N/B/H) with “rabbits foot”?

    You all know what the rabbit’s foot is? Maybe it shows my age … I haven’t talked about this for so long …. but they used to have “rabbit’s foots” as a good luck charm.

    Then if N/B/H wearers are to be afforded special protections, what about rabbit’s foot wearers?

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