L'Ombre de l'Olivier

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18 October 2006 Blog Home : October 2006 : Permalink

To Know a Veil

I've written before about the Moslim veil thing, something that has elicted much comment in the last week or two thanks to Mr Straw. For the most part what we are seeing in the responses is some sort of competitive victimhood where sexism vies against cultural (in)sensitivity and so on. However there are good thoughtful comments to be found here and there. Firstly there is Jill at Feministe who points out that legally banning the veil (or for that matter any item of clothing) may end up harming those it is supposed to liberate:

Bans on headscarves, veils, burqas, hijabs, or chadors turn particular classes of women into prisoners of their own homes. It confines them to the private sphere. It blocks them from public participation in the name of “modernism.” It only hurts women and girls, and therefore is no great victory for women’s rights.

A bar on headscarfs in public doesn’t have the effect of women leaving their scarves at home — it means that women who believe they have a religious duty to be covered will not participate in the public sphere. It means they won’t go to school. They won’t run for public office. They won’t work.

I think that this is an excellent point. In most cases we do not want to coerce people to do things they do not want to do voluntarily and if we forbid something that could be a voluntary choice that harms no one else around them then we are stepping down the road to tyranny that we are trying to avoid.

However what she doesn't come quite out to say is that it may not be the woman who makes the decision about whether she leaves her home without a veil or whatever. In fact I would say a large part of the problem we, in the West, have with headscarves, veils, burqas etc. is that in many cases they are forced on women by their menfolk. Wearing one of these items is not something that a woman in those cultures have much of a choice about. If they want to avoid violence from their relatives and neighbours they have to wear them. This is a very touchy subject because it is hard, if not impossible, to tell whether a woman feels coerced or not. Evidence from around the world suggests that given a free choice most women prefer not to wear the more restrictive sorts of burqa or veil.

Mary Beard wrote about the controversy at her blog and received this excellent comment from a reader:

I am a muslim woman in my experience wearing a veil is the same as wearing a mask, in other words it is difficult to have a dialogue with a person on the other side of the door!

Where as there is an obligation to have hair covered for Muslim women, there is no obligation to have the face covered. In that respect, in opinion the veil in this country is a symbol for many of us, as segregation/oppression not Islam.
My solidarity is with the women of the world who, are forced to choose between the niqab or death. If a choice is embedded with conditioning, conforming and a history of blood shed, then it is not a choice, it is a reaction!


We are of Muslim background and have daughters we can speak for ourselves. We do not wish to see OUR daughters walking DOWN the streets with BLACK SACKS OVER THEIR HEADS, IN ORDER TO FEEL CONFIDENT, OR, TO BE RESPECTED. WE DEMAND RESPECT AS HUMAN BEINGS![...]

Just like racism is institutionalised so is women's oppression. When young women want to change how they look, with the thinking this will change how they feel about themselves. (Plastic surgery e.t.c)We question the society we live in, that forces women to such drastic actions. Likewise, when women want to cover themselves in veils (especially the younger generation) we should be questioning the society that informs people psychologically, to go to such extreme lengths. (Not shouting the race card!)

To suggest that women wear the veil because it prevents men lusting over them is to degrade men. Secondly, many women who wear the veils in this country have family that has originated from countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Take a visit there. There is hardly a veil to be seen.

Wearing the veil is also banned in Mecca and also many other Muslim countries. Have they banned it because they are racist?? It is banned because it represents subjugation of women. To say it makes a women feel near god is utter rubbish and distortion of Islam. It is a Dark Ages abusive cultural practice.

I am Muslim myself. I do not support the state in legislating, what people wear or don’t wear. However, I welcome the debate on the veil, long time over due in my opinion. I find the veil offensive and I find women who support it misguided. (because I live in England I can have an opinion, however if I were to say this in a strict Islamic country, I would face being stoned to death or prison!!) [...]

This is of course where the problem lies. In an open tolerant society we have to require a degree open and tolerant behaviour from all residents. Unfortunately it seems clear that some groups of Moslems are grossly intolerant of any other religion or culture and refuse to tolerate others chosing to do as they please. The veil issue is, in my opinion, just another symptom of the underlying problem, namely a culture that attmepts to enslave women and to treat them as possessions. There have been a number of cases where Moslem girls who have attempted to have non Moslem boyfriends/husbands have been killed to satisfy family "honour" and this is just another aspect of the same sick intolerant culture.

I don't know what the solution is but I'm absolutely certain that robust refusal to let their culture control things is one way to do it. Other things one could consider would include a lack of support for the devout from social security - in other words you show up wearing a veil (not a headscarf) and your entire family is removed from the list of people eligable for social security, housing assistance etc., deportation of those who advocate violence against their host culture or who seek to overthrow the rule of law and replace it with their own sharia one and most definitely a refusal to permit segregation of the sexes at any government funded place or event.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin