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Thursday
Jul222010

Veiled Threats

In my post International Water Cooler, I mentioned the movement to ban Islamic face veils in France.

Some of you were surprised, some already knew and most just skimmed.

I want to weigh in on this one, as a Muslim, as a woman who does not cover, as a feminist and a lover of freedom.

The movement to ban face veils in France is wrong and misguided.

Am I denying that there are women who are forced to wear the veil?  No.

Am I denying that it can be and has been and is being used as an instrument of patriarchy and oppression?  No.

Still, this movement to ban is idiotic and represents the depths of ignorance to which "the mob" can sink when victimized by selfish political expediency.

Whether or not the veil is required is a contested issue within Islam.  I'm not interested in discussing that in the least, nor where I stand on that. I simply want to address a movement that I beleive is mired in racism, xenophobia, intolerance and ignorance.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and his supporters would like to ban the Islamic veil because they believe it's an instrument of patriarchy and supports Islamic fundamentalism and, therefore, is at the root of terrorism.

Okay.  I can see the rationale behind categorizing the face veil as fundamentalist and patriarchal.

Except.

Except that I had a friend who converted to Islam and despite being a single white woman who was raised in America, with not one Muslim man in her family, chose to cover her face in mixed company.

Except that my mother chose to cover her face in medical school, even though not one man in her family required it of her.

Except that my sister in law, who holds a post graduate degree, is a working mother, is one of the most outspoken people I know and is a generally strong woman chose to veil her face despite constant discouragement from those elder to her (who are Muslim).

Except that a lot of Muslim women choose to cover their faces because they want to control the level of interaction that they have with the opposite gender.

Why they choose what they choose is not the point.  That they have chosen of their own free will to exercise their religion in this manner is the point.

Their donning of a face veil is not denying a single other person the right not to wear one.  The veil might offend the people of France or make them uncomfortable, but that is not a valid reason to pass legislation banning it.  There is no philosophical point of demarcation between Sarkozy forcing women remove the veil and the Taliban making them wear it.

Fundamentalism denies exception.  It operates from the philosophical standpoint that a specific set of ideals work wholly and appropriately no matter what the circumstances.  This approach is one to which I am firmly opposed, regardless of the application.

It is why I put aside the traditional aspects of my faith and wholly and actively support legislation concerning a woman's right to choose, LGBT rights and other "non-traditional" values.

I will not live in a fantasy world where everyone and everything fits into the neat little boxes that those before me created.

I will not ignore entire sectors of the world population, their emotions, their needs and their humanity so that I can live with the perception that all is right in the world and the only people that matter are the people that agree with me.

That is a hateful and unproductive way to live, and it is the path to humankind's complete and total destruction.

Nicholas Sarkozy is a fundamentalist.  He and his supporters will not address the exceptional.  They have found their straw (wo)man and they are lighting the fires.  They do not realize that for some women, having to show their faces to men who are not mahram is an oppression.

Being a favored son of western civilization does not prevent Sarkozy from oppressing women or from being a fundamentalist.  He and his conservative supporters are making it abundantly clear that anyone who does not fit into their neat little box does not belong.

These people do not love liberty, equality and fraternity.  They love their own specific ideas about them.  The difference is significant.  And scary.

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Reader Comments (57)

I completely agree with you. As long as it is a CHOICE for the women wearing them it shouldn't even be an issue.

There are many other examples of the oppression of women that are sanctioned by Western society, at least covertly, so not only is this contradictory to personal liberty, it's also based on flawed, hypocrtical reasoning.

In the end, Muslims scare the bejeezus out of a lot of people in the West. Since we can't get rid of them, they must at least appear to be like "normal" people. That's the way I see it.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFinn

Agreed 100000%.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternancy

"There is no philosophical point of demarcation between Sarkozy forcing women remove the veil and the Taliban making them wear it."

That says it all for me. Banning something is no less restrictive than requiring it. I am so horrified by this. What's next? Forcing men to shave their beards? Banning specific religious texts? Refusing to allow women to wear skirts in public because fundamental Christian groups require it from their women? And to those who would say that fundamental Christians don't blow up buildings, I say "anti-abortion terrorism".

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

I think what touches a lot of non-Muslims has nothing to do with the oppression or non-oppression of women. If that were truly an issue here it would be fixed in *our* society and culture first. A lot of people use the "poor women in Islam" routine for their own political points.

But what I think does honestly touch non-Muslims is a perceived lack of reciprocity. *Why are "western" women required to wear head scarves in some places where Islam is the main religion?* For example. Also, I was told that exposed knees is a form of nakedness in some explanations of Islam. If I was ever lucky enough to go to Mecca, for example, could I wear my walking shorts?

Well I have an answer, though. I wouldn't wear something that the people whose country I was visiting deemed inappropriate. I know this is also true of many *western* women who venture into the *Muslim world.* But what we hear from some Muslims in *our* country is "don't infringe on my culture even though I am here."

Reciprocity is what befuddles the issue. I've seen guys who were friends of mine, from Pakistan, denounce the policies of the US loudly and right out in the open - and that is their right.

Imagine if I stood, as an American, in a square in Islamabad and denounced the policies of Pakistan loudly and right out in the open.

Yes - because of the cultures - that may be an unfair comparison. But I'm saying, there are valid issues Muslims have with us. But in the minds of some *westerners* the issue is one of reciprocity.

And I hope you are as sick of air-quotes as I am.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

absolutely.

"Their donning of a face veil is not denying a single other person the right not to wear one"

Thats pretty much what it boils down to, isnt it? Someone else wearing a veil doesnt impact my rights for anything, at all.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSlyde

Agreed - thank you for expressing the thoughts I've had regarding this issue so eloquently...

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren B

This ban smacks of cowardice on the part of the French. "Let's go after those Muslims! But not just the radical fundamentalist's with terrorism on their agenda. We'll go after the women. And not all the women. Just 1/10 of 1% of them* who choose to wear the veil in public. That'll show 'em!"

I hope the other 99.9% choose to wear the veil for at least a day in support of their persecuted sisters. Or for however long it takes to ax this silly ban. And not just them. Women of all religious persuasion should join them in protest. That way they Spanish (who are considering a similar ban) and the rest of the world might take notice.

*Every report I've read quotes the number of veil-wearing Muslim hotties (I'm assuming) in France to be between 1,200-2,000.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterB.E. Earl

@B.E. Earl, Oh, and by the way, I'm not saying the French are acting cowardly by going after women. Like women are harmless or anything. No, the cowardice lies in going after a minority within a minority group just to make themselves look tougher. It's like going after a bully in the playground by slapping a kid who may have heard of the term "bully". It's just stupid.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterB.E. Earl

I had very mixed thoughts about the whole issue.
But after reading this, it all makes sense.
Esp, " There is no philosophical point of demarcation between Sarkozy forcing women remove the veil and the Taliban making them wear it."

While I acknowledge many women might be forced to wear the veil--I am now sure its not my right to force anyone to remove it either. It should not be mine or anyones business.

Next, some random country can ban wearing shorts. Then???

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjina

@Miss Britt, After I wrote my comment--I saw this and is almost tempted to delete mine coz this comment echoes everything I thought, in an even better way.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjina

it always baffles me how people can claim that removing the freedom to choose is empowering

You and I have discussed something similar on your blog a while back. But, not surprisingly, I have very similar feelings about this issue as you do.

I'm Jewish (shocker!) and participate in many of the traditions of Judaism, but not as many as some of my friends and relatives. I feel that you and your family are in a very similar situation. While we may embrace our specific religious and cultural identities in different ways, I feel that we both celebrate the diversity within our respective groups. And we have both tried our hand at different types of expressions within our own faiths. Some of them make us not as comfortable, and some of them make us feel right at home. But the ability that we had to give them a shot was a nice feeling to have. Liberating even.

I'm kind of happy that our son's day care was run primarily by Muslim women who wore different styles of dress, some covering hair, some covering sleeves and legs. What was nice about this was (a) Av was exposed to this culture at a very young age; people we meet who may look differently dressed to others were "normal" to him; and (b) that even within this type of modest dress, he saw variety.

And that's precisely what happens within the Jewish community as well: while some women certainly _are_ coerced into dressing in a certain way and living a certain lifestyle, there are many women who embrace this choice -- something which they continue because it's something which empowers them. There are many women who choose to take on traditions which may stick out like a sore thumb while simultaneously embracing modernity and equal footing in other ways. There are many traditional Jewish and Muslim women who are doctors, lawyers, professors and spiritual leaders. It's something which many people forget when they see a specific outward appearance.

So -- yeah. This grips me as much as would a statute banning me from wearing a kippah / yarmulke in public. Not that I do this all the time as it is, but it slaps me around for not being "like them." And it discounts the diversity within my group.

I feel as if I haven't written enough. I'll continue with the next 27 parts of my reply later this evening. :)

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershiny

@Finn, The way you see it is pretty accurate. Sadly.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@nancy, I'm SO surprised... ;-)

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Miss Britt, Exactly.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@RW,

First, that *was* a lot of air quotes.

I don't know if I agree with this issue of reciprocity because it operates on the assumption that I, as an American Muslim, somehow have something to do with the governmental policies towards "other" peoples in Muslim nations.

This conflation of varied cultures, nations and governments makes me extremely uncomfortable and I feel it's very unfair and inappropriate.

If, as an American, for example, I want to cover my head, this argument of reciprocity indicates that I should not be able to do so because the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait require non-Christians to cover their heads as well as Muslims.

The problem is :I am not Saudi, Iranian, or Kuwaiti. Nor were my parents or their parents.

Why would I have to bear the brunt of a foreign nation's intolerance towards the other? Because they're Muslim and I'm Muslim? So, by virtue of that association, I agree with their policies?

Muslims,particularly those settled in the West, should not be held accountable for the policies of the governments of Muslim nations. This conflation of politics and Islam, though I admit was instigated in the beg. of the last century by Muslims, is unfair to those of us who actively identify ourselves as Americans, or Canadians or whatever.

Furthermore, I am unaware of any other nation other than Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran which requires "outsiders" to cover themselves in an "Islamic" fashion. And even this argument is not entirely accurate because if a woman from Pakistan, which is also a Muslim country, visited one of these places, she would be required to cover herself the way *Saudis, Iranians or Kuwaitis* (respectively) cover themselves (which is completely different).

My point being this is often beyond Islam and bleeds over into culturally specific issues.

And the most important thing is that I DO operate on the principle of reciprocity on a personal level. I never, ever, ever wear shorts or miniskirts. However, when non-Muslim women come to my home dressed in this manner, I under no circumstances deny them admission nor my friendship. And neither did my more traditional and conservative parents. If I were an employer, I would not deny them employment on this basis and on and on.

It is my opinion, that as an American Muslim this is my only obligation in terms of reciprocity. I do not base my ideas about liberty or tolerance upon whether I am being tolerated somewhere else or not. So, frankly, I don't care how they do it in Pakistan.

I do care how they do it in France because... you know, they're *supposed* to be like us. But with more butter and less smiles.

Oh, and, no, you would not be able to go to Mecca in walking shorts because (1) you have to wear an Ihram and (2) you'd have to convert first (GASP! There goes my whole point...)

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Slyde, Exactly. Except your right to ogle them shamelessly. Which you totally would. Haha.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Karen B, You're welcome, thanks for commenting.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@B.E. Earl, Okay, this was a great point, and I was all set to elaborate until I read "Muslim hotties"... that was awesome. And, yes, that number is the one I read, as well.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@B.E. Earl, Too late. DID YOU HEAR THAT LADIES, HE SAID WE WERE WEAK... GET 'IM!!

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@jina, Shorts *are* banned in Saudi Arabia. (on women, at least, I'm not sure about men... I didn't seen any men wearing shorts and it was about 150 degrees there) And I'm pretty sure Pakistan. This is why I like America, even though I don't wear shorts. :-)

But, actually, this is part of my point that I didn't thoroughly address... these folks in France want to make a statement about oppressive countries that force people to dress in certain ways by being an oppressive country that forces people to dress a certain way? Maybe they should try reading their policies OUT LOUD. In English. That might help. :-D

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa
July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@shiny,
This was a wonderful comment, my friend. I'm considering just using it as a post in the next few days. I only hope you have 27 more like it and you weren't kidding...

Also? You?! You are my absolute favorite Jew!!

Even better than Jon Stewart. Yeah, you hear that Jon? You're Number Two Jew. Shiny is TOP JEW. And another thing. I just love typing the word Jew. You're so lucky in that way. I bet you type it all the time.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

And not ONE of you corrected me on "They *loves* their own brand of it..." Nice.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Faiqa, A concise response minus the architectural elements, then...

When I say reciprocity I am not talking about nation states. We can get into a long discussion of how someone in Pakistan may feel America is to blame for many of the ills facing his part of the world (and he'd be correct), and an American may shrug his shoulders and say "you live in a failed state and it's MY fault?" (and he'd have a point) and so on. But that's not what I mean. I'm talking about the perception that what is true for one is not true for the other.

I would put it this way. Mostly because of the example of tolerance toward people of the book set forth by Muhammad (the last prophet and beloved of God) while he was personally present here on Earth, there are enclaves of non-Muslims in many parts of what we would consider to be the Muslim world. Are they required to follow the dress-code of their region, specifically; what should and should not be covered in public for men and women as that idea is led by the dominant Islamic culture they find themselves in? If they are (whether put through the filter of a regional custom or not), it is not comparable to a Muslim living in the West expecting to have the right to their own cultural proclivities.

While it is true that in the West the paradigm is supposedly one established to accept diversity, this in no way changes the perception in the minds of many people that "you are allowed to follow your custom here but deny that right to others there." I'm not saying that rather pedestrian view is right - I'm pointing out what the thought within the non-Muslim mind may sound like. Pettiness and all. This can also result in the veil issue you are talking about. One wonders, quite honestly though, if that applies to identification cards where we have seen a beautiful name beside a picture of a person whose face no one can see. A rather absurd item don't you think?

It has been my experience that when treated one-to-one, a person at a time, face-to-face, this entire subject melts away in the face of common human decency and there is no issue. My friendship with Monsour and his family has always been aided by the fact that, as men, we speak honestly and openly with each other and treat each other's questions and opinions with respect. That's not always the case when groups become part of the picture. Groups are aberrated, in most cases.

And though you may make light of the requirements for being in Mecca, it is part of the perception issue I am talking about. He said gently.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

I agree with what you've said without exception! What will it take for us all to live in peace??

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

@RW, And I apologize for laying that trap. :-)

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

@RW, Mmmhmmm. I saw that one coming. And still walked into it.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@RW, But. I still feel like this argument holds Muslims in the "West" accountable for CULTURAL practices in the "East"?

And is this phenomenon of "Give me my rights, even though they don't give you yours" specific to Muslims? I don't think so. I think if we tried, we might find other examples of groups that are less nice to us than we are to them. Yet, "Muslims" must be taken to task for this? Why is that?

Is that denying my right to wear a veil reciprocity when a Christian woman being forced to wear one? Or is that just being vengeful, oppressive and petty (as you stated, I think)?

Indonesia has the largest concentration of Muslims in the world, and they don't make non Muslims adhere to Islamic dress, etc. as far as I know. So, when the supporters of this point of reciprocity say "Muslim," who are they talking about? Not Indonesians. Not Pakistanis. Not Syrians, Moroccans or Turks. And, on and on.

*As for the veiled ID cards... it is my understanding that even in Muslim countries, women are required to remove their veils for ID purposes. We had this issue a few years ago in Florida. My stance? Driving is a privilege, not a right. If the contract requires that you show your face, then you should have to show your face. If you don't wanna, you don't hafta drive. A few Muslim scholars agreed with me on that. :-)

**In terms of Mecca, I always viewed the restriction of non-Muslims as one that prevented it from becoming a tourism curiosity rather than one that implicated that non Muslims were somehow undeserving. Furthermore, the space around the Kabaa is known as the Haram (or Forbidden) where a lot of restrictions are placed upon the behavior of the people visiting. Many of these restrictions (knowing about them) would be lost upon non-Muslims (I venture to say present company excluded, but still). It seems logistical in nature.

I haven't researched the matter, though, so don't take my word.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Faiqa, I meant "Is denying my right to wear a veil reciprocity when a Christian woman is being forced to wear one?" It's late.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Faiqa, You made an excellent example when you asked about Muslim-Americans having to be accountable for this reciprocity, and I have no quibble with it. In my America - as I would hope that France comes to its senses enough to remain a believer that - diversity is not a threat.

However my example was of non-Muslim citizens in Muslim-dominated places. People of the book in Muslim-dominated lands. If they are forced to adhere to the customs while Muslim citizens in non-Muslim dominated places are not required to go without a veil, that is where there is a perceived issue of non-reciprocity.

And as you ticked through the places we can find Muslims and what we mean when we say the word, we see why I started off with so many damn air quotes... sigh...

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

@RW, oh also... it may not be reconcilable. In my long - exhausting - often tedious conversations with my pal from Pakistan, we have come to understand one very fundamental difference that may make a complete understanding most difficult. Here, of course, we try to keep religion and the state separate. There, blame Monsour if this is wrong, having some kind of influence put on the culture by the faith is not seen as a detriment, but a studied positive. Not fundamentalism! - just influence.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

Banning something is no different than making it compulsory. They're trading one form of oppression for another.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSciFi Dad

I live veils when I dress like a woman.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermuskrat

@RW, "Here, of course, we try to keep religion and the state separate." What country are you living in, bub? There's a whole segment, maybe even a majority, who (falsely) believe otherwise. That this is a Christian nation. And the situation appears to worsening. Don't kid yourself. Those folks, and there are whole lot of them, probably think this French ban is a good idea.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterB.E. Earl

Is this the piece you are going to read at BlogHer? Probably not, but it SHOULD be!

I can't tell you how...proud...I am to call you a friend. This post just makes me look up to you even more than before. Bravo.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCissa Fireheart

aww I heart u and thats all I gotta say :P

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShabina

@Becca, It will take every one of us asking that question.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@SciFi Dad, My point exactly.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@muskrat, You mean you "LOVE" veils, right? WAS THAT A TYPO?! That's what you GET for correcting my creative writing.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Cissa Fireheart, No, it's not. And, awww, thanks.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Shabina, I actually had a line in there about how YOU'RE the boss of your husband, but thought that might not be the best tone to set. Haha, I'm kidding. Am I? :-)

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

No arguments from me.
The ban is ridiculous. Period.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

@B.E. Earl, Please note the "try" is italicized and implies everything you've said even though the basic idea is supposed to be based on separation. See what I did to "supposed" there?

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRW

@RW, Caught me...I didn't notice. Separation of church and state is a hot button topic for me and sometimes I get ahead of myself. I should have just thought for a second about who was writing those words before I responded. Whoa! Thinking before responding? That doesn't sound like me! ;)

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterB.E. Earl

I've been lurking for a while now but I have to come out of hiding to comment on this one. THIS WAS FANTASTIC -- you've articulated better than anything I've ever read on the subject...

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKavikat

As much as I love the U.S., and as much as I admire other countries with more freedom for their citizens, I hate that we and these other countries all seem to have the mentality that everyone should be like us and should act the way we act. France and other countries have no business telling someone what they can and can't wear.

I know that there are some sects of Muslim religion where women are forced to wear the veils, but there are also some sects that wear them because, like you said, they want to. For France to ban them is completely and disgustingly wrong. Fear and a lack of education is a dangerous thing.

July 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Kaylene

@B.E. Earl, This got me thinking (and I'm sorry if I'm interrupting). What if we -- and by we, I mean, women, sorry Earl -- started wearing burqas in support? That way, every time someone asks me, "Why are you wearing a veil?", I can say, "Because France is banning Muslim women from wearing veils," and spread awareness.

Which brings me to the question, where can I get one?

July 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Kaylene

@Elizabeth Kaylene, I just realized, though, that it might be offensive for me to wear one since I'm not Muslim. What do you think, Faiqa?

July 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Kaylene

You are right...sarkozy is a racist. Asking a woman, who has worn a veil all her adult life, to wake up one day and uncover her face in public, just because somebody decided to pass a law...is simply unfair. In my opinion, these kinds of actions are what propogate hate.
As a person who recently chose to become an american, I am proud to say that I am part of a country that is tolerant and allows people to assimilate.

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertariq

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