Oppression and the Muslim Woman

Since we were on the topic of Islamophobia in lecture, I thought it would only be appropriate to touch on the recent laws made in France banning face veils in public. There is some very intense debate on whether this infringes on the rights of individuals to practice their religion and even debates between Muslim women who support the law and who do not support the law and say that wearing the niqab or burqa is one’s own choice. To give you a taste of this type of debate, here’s a video:

Both sides have their merits. Mona Eltahawy states that the niqab dangerously equates piety with the disappearance of women, and therefore she wants it banned everywhere. Hebah Ahmed counters this by stating that the ban is just another ploy by men to control women, in particular their dress, and that by taking it to a government level is violating not only individual rights but what democracy is based on. Both women, who are Muslim, have most likely had vastly different experiences with the burqa and niqab, as Eltahawy repeats a motif of force regarding this issue whereas Ahmed repeats that it is not a matter of force, but choice for women to choose to wear the niqab or burqa.

Personally, Eltahawy’s argument (and the debate as a whole) reminds me of this particular, classic picture:


I think enough has been said, that we can’t project our Western beliefs onto women who are themselves individuals, not a homogenous population like we discussed in lecture. We can neither say that each Muslim woman has the choice to wear the niqab or burqa any more than we can say each Muslim woman is forced to wear the niqab or burqa. However, the fact that a law controlling how individuals dress is happening to Muslim women in France and not, say, the white population with regards to the lengths of skirts or the dresses is, at it’s most basic, unfair. France would never legislate a law that said women would be fined if their skirts were above the knee. Could you imagine how much outrage that would garnish? Similarly, France would never legislate a dress code for men, except that they did in 2004, but for turbans (‘headgear’) only. So clearly there are some racist undercurrents here, which brings me to my real concern.

What’s more interesting for me is an analysis of this law and how it relates to Islamophobia. Consider this statement: “Muslim groups report a worrying increase in discrimination and verbal and physical violence against women in veils. There have been instances of people in the street taking the law into their hands and trying to rip off full-face veils, of bus drivers refusing to carry women in niqab or of shop-owners trying to bar entry” (Chrisafis 2011). Is this ban not excluding this group of women from the social sphere? In France anyone who wears the niqab or burqa faces a fine if doing so in ‘public’. But then this raises issues about what is public and what is private. For example, veiling is still allowed if one is in a private car, or the home, but as soon as one steps out of this private sphere they’re, quite simply, breaking the law. France isn’t the only one doing this. Other places in Europe are following suit. So what do you guys think about this trend of banning veiling? Since, as the video above demonstrates, there is no black and white answer, where on the grey spectrum do you lie?

Further reading:



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4 Responses to Oppression and the Muslim Woman

  1. chairmanmeeeow says:

    Personally, I am completely against the ban on veiling in France and am disgusted that other European countries are entertaining the idea. As you mentioned above, a law pertaining to women’s skirt length would never even be considered in the Western world. Something like this would enrage both women and men globally and would most definitely not be enforced. So why do we think we can set a ban on how people of any gender, race, class (etc) clothe themselves? Clothing can be seen as simply a facet for free expression (just like wearing makeup, dyeing one’s hair, or having your nails done), and impeding on one’s clothing choices while they are supposed to be living in a “free country” is totally dehumanizing.

    Additionally, what if a ban was set in France stating that Jewish individuals couldn’t wear the Star of David (say on a piece of jewelry, etc)? Wouldn’t this be seen as incredibly anti-semetic and morally wrong? How can the French government even begin to justify this blatantly Islamophobic act when the same scenario applied to a different racial/cultural/religious group is so overtly unethical?

    • pinkpanther2287 says:

      It’s interesting that you raised the point about the hypothetical law that would forbid Jewish individuals from wearing the Star of David and the anti-semetic meaning it might take on. I feel this French law banning the veiling of women is because they “fear the other” (this term is known as xenophobia). They are ignorant to the values and beliefs of the Islamic faith. Although cases like this can be described as “Islamophobia,” it is not an explicit fear people have towards Muslims. Rather, it is a lack of education and knowledge about “the other.” During World War II, Jewish people were discriminated based on their religion. Different forms of Christianity were the dominant religions practiced in Europe. As a result, anyone who identified as practicing Judaism was executed. However, eventually this extreme case of religious discrimination came to an end. Islam appears to have taken the place of Judaism in the sense that Muslims are being discriminated for practicing and carrying out their religious traditions. Although Muslims are not being killed (as Jewish people were), this is the governments attempt to homogenize society and force people to conform to Western beliefs and traditions. Lives are not being taken, though the government is killing their freedom of religious expression.

  2. snicklefritz66 says:

    I am in complete concurrence with chairmanmeow. I think that this ban is disgusting and a complete infringement on individual’s freedom of expression and freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice.
    The comments about Saudi Arabia are irrelevant for the reasons that they abide by entirely different laws and different customs, not promising the citizens freedom of expression or religion.
    The example of the laws forbidding skirts above a certain length, and forbidding the Star of David would both be seen as comparable to the law forbidding burqas. This is a law banning freedom of choice and freedom of expression from Muslim women, and oppressing them and their culture even more.
    I personally can’t even believe that this kind of law has passed, considering the outrageous prejudice it is publicly showing against Muslim women. If this were a law pertaining to the dress of any other marginalized social group, it would have had a much more difficult time being passed.
    I do not agree that the burqa is making Muslim women disappear, however, banning it is making their right of freedom disappear.

  3. crazyforcats9 says:

    I can not agree more with the comments made by snicklefritz66 and chairmanmeow. All women should have the right to dress and express themselves as they see fit, and most definitely that includes showing their faces. This article has opened my eyes to the freedom of choice seen in the Western Society we live in and how little i’ve valued it.

    The picture you selected makes a great statement and I think that we need to acknowledge the truth behind it. Each culture and race holds its own set of values and opinions. The image represents that clearly and I feel raises the point each religion should have the freedom to dress the way they’d like free from the criticism of other cultures. However, the difference is that they should not force this upon the women. The key word is choice, and that the mandatory veiling is a law that is making the people of this culture lose their freedom.

    As obvious as it may be, I cant help but raise the point that if the roles were reversed (that is, men were being told they must cover all the body except the eyes) there would be an even stronger uproar. Do you think the law would have been passed if the gender roles has been reversed?

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