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?