Tuesday, January 26, 2010

France and the Burqa...Again



Read the story here.

So we all know by now that France has an issue with the niqab.

What does everyone think of this? France has given several arguments for this stance, the strongest one that it is impractical. However, to me it seems more related to Islamophobia than France actually having an issue with it. If France didn't have other issues with Muslims, then maybe their position would seem more credible.  But certain incidents such as banning the hijab and burning cars seem to kind of weaken their position.

Some opinions:
Nasr Hamid abu Zeid: "This is why I believe that it would have been possible to solve the problem - if there really is a problem - in another way. This law has provoked many reactions among Muslims in French society and throughout the Islamic world. This can only lead to increased tensions in relations."

Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun: "When someone wears the headscarf in school, for instance, it is a deliberate decision to not take part in certain kinds of classes as for instance sports or biology.  The headscarf is - to my mind - the triumph of ignorance. The laws of laicism, that is, the separation of state and religion is very, very important."

Egyptian filmmaker Safaa Fathy: "The French government is attempting to prevent the growing radicalization of Arab and Turkish Muslims who live in suburban areas. There, young girls of only eight years old are already forced to wear a headscarf.  What we are dealing with here is a political-religious movement, which I witnessed emerge and grow in Egypt at the end of the 1970s and the start of the 1980s.  I support the existence of a law that protects girls from the pressures brought to bear from within the Muslim community, as this concerns a community that forces women to wear the headscarf. The headscarf is a sign of a woman's membership in the Arab-Islamic community."

Her last comment is very interesting.  From your experience, is there a lot of pressure on young girls to veil, from their families, communities etc?

What does everyone think about women who are nurses, doctors, etc wearing a niqab to work? Is it impractical, or does it not make a difference?

And how do you feel about France wanting to ban the niqab? Is it their right? Or is it an infringement on the rights of their Muslim citizens?

36 comments:

NoortheNinjabi said...

I know a lot of little kids who love wearing hijab young because it means they get to look like their moms. Heck, my ex-roommate's 2 year old niece got into my scarf drawer and tried playing dress up because she thought it was fun. It's not necessarily pressure, it could just be that they like it.

Doctors, nurses, engineers, anyone...Wearing niqaab isn't the all out evil people make it. France will alienate its citizens and oppress niqaabis if they do the ban.

And as a note, the opinions you presented seem to have forgotten the whole religious purpose behind both hijab and niqaab, what with one being named in the Qur'an and the other being documented well in the Sunnah...

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Re the opinions, I got them from a webpage where the discussion was about the political nature of the veil/niqab, which is probably why they didn't cite religion. The debate is about whether France should allow it in the public sphere, not whether it is Islamic or not - that's a whole other debate. Whether France should take into consideration if the veil/niqab are Islamic is another question. I don't think it matters to them that some Muslims see it as a requirement. And this is probably why the opinions I presented do not bring up religion.

Stacy aka Fahiima said...

I don't think that a country has the right to bad the niqab outright on the streets. As for certain professions, the niqab can be somewhat of a barrier. I am comfortable with niqab overall, but think that it can make communication hard in certain work environments. For example, I think that schoolteachers who wear niqab should have to remove it while in the classroom so that students can see their facial expressions.

I don't see the aspect of pressure for young girls. Young girls typically want to wear hijab because they see their mothers and aunts wearing it around them. Little girls that are around 5-10 years old will often wear hijab, but take it off to play. It is not pushed in the communities even where niqab is more common.

NoortheNinjabi said...

Cairo,
That's part of the problem. They're choosing to purely politicize something that doesn't belong in that sphere, if separation of church and state is to be believed.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Stacy: I have seen lots of cases where young girls are made to veil, but like you and Noor have suggested, perhaps they don't form the majority.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Noor: that's a great point. If France is as secular as it claims to be, they shouldn't feel this threatened. It also means that they should not be interfering in religious matters. I'm sure they know this, which is why they keep turning it into a purely political matter.

They also seem to ignore that in Islam there is no separation between church and state.

LK said...

Everyone I know chose to wear hijab at their own pace. Many wore it as children and learned what it was for once they were in their 20s. Everyone I know struggled with it in their teens, but no one I know was forced to wear it.

I actually know a lot of women who have FOUGHT to wear it.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Good point LK - a lot of women have fought to wear it.

Like you said, I think a lot of young girls wear it and then later learn what it means, which is great. I don't agree with the woman's quote - I definitely don't think that all young girls wearing hijab are forced to, although I know it does happen.

Anonymous said...

did you read these arguments pro and contra? http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2010/01/201012515127437808.html
I think the strongest argument in the French report is that it allows one person to remain anonymous in the public sphere.
Regards Anna

Sarah Elizabeth said...

This is a phenomenon unique to Europe.. There are rarely niqabii's in America.. I see one or two once in a great while, but it really does not happen here much at all..

It makes me wonder why it is an issue in Europe and not in America..

I also know that when you try to force someone to do something, they are going to rebel that much harder against it..

Forcing women to uncover is probably having the opposite effect and making women want it that much more.. whenever we have our rights taken away outright, we will fight against it... Whether it be forcing to veil or unveil both are going to have the opposite effect on the person psychologically, which is why freedom is the most rational, peaceful way to do things..

I can see the problems it can pose within society as far as being able to identify people, etc.. Secularism means allowing religions to practice freely though, so it is certainly much deeper than that.

Let's face it, Western culture views niqab and burqa as an outright oppression of women, even sarkozy admits that.. So, this is what it is about, Western societies enforcing their own values and beliefs within their countries.

Imagine liberal Westerners trying to wear the clothes they want and party and act as they want in a conservative Muslim society.. Same issue.. Conservatives are trying to act and wear what they want in a very liberal society..There is a tension based around world views.

Jasmine said...

I am really really against the niquaab. Its the same as wearing a balaclava to me, it really is and I am stunned and amazed to learn that other people dont see it that way.

I think it is incredibly dangerous to grant people immunity from being recognised.

How are we supposed to know that that IS a very very religous Muslim woman and no a perv under there?

I dont think its OK to allow someone with totally covered face and hands to:

- Pick up children from schools
-Go into female changing rooms
-Go to female only events
- work with children

Anyone can put on a burka and claim to be a devout muslim woman and not be.

I really really cant see any sense or logic in allowing ANYONE to walk around unidentified with no distinguishing features.

I understand that maybe, MAYBE from the Islamic perspective its a sign of piety (which I disagree with personally) but how would you feel if Jewish people wanted to walk around with no face? What about Rastafarians? Would you be comfortable and want to fight for their right?

Or would you simply think its mad to allow a group of people to operate freely in society without being identified?

Actually I think the Muslims are being treated as equals in this case. No one else can hide their identities, but Muslims want the right to. Thats double standards. Its not Islamaphobic to want to know who youre sharing a changing room with - its common sense.

Stephanie said...

I believe it's Islamophobia pure and simple. I haven't personally seen girls being "forced' to wear it, but frankly, and this may be unpopular, I think this is well within the right of the parent to dictate what their child will and won't wear. While I wouldn't force my daughter to wear a headscarf, I will force her to dress modestly, no cleavage, belly showing, etc. Some Christian groups have clothing requirements such as wearing dresses, wearing some type of headcovering, etc, but I don't see this as a big issue, largely because these groups aren't seen as a threat to the makeup of society at large.
I also disagree strongly with the statement that hijab is somehow inviting ignorance and a supposed aversion to sports and biology. Actually, banning what would be considered a religious obligation by many women would certainly push them out of the public sphere and lessen their access to education, etc.
So no, none of the arguments make any sense. If someone were to say outright, "this is France and we want to keep it French. Islam and Islamic attire can't be part of it" I would strongly agree, but at least I would respect the honesty. To me this is the crux of the issue.

ellen557 said...

I really think it's disgusting. *No one* should tell a woman how to dress, whether that be a government or her father or whatever. It is for her to decide - if she is comfortable wearing hijab or niqab or wearing no cover, then it is up to her.
I just... ah! I get so annoyed. France claims to be secular but they are trying to play God! I bet if they said that you can't take your top off at a beach then there'd be problems ("How can they tell me what I can and can't wear?!") and the law would never work. So why is it that this law is allowed to get even talked about??

Muni said...

I have to agree with Jasmine, the niqab makes me somewhat uncomfortable, since the person wearing it could be anything.

As a person, living in a shared community/environment you should show what you are/feel by your facial expressions, devout or not, it's everyone's right to put a face to the form walking around them.

This is uncomfortable to me as I often find my self being hypocritical, because usually I wouldn't mind someone wearing a miniskirt bcoz it's "their right and decision" to wear it, and niqab should fall under the same "rights" category right?

In my case, nop!

Muni said...

I also have a comment regarding this one by Sarah Elizabeth:
"Western societies enforcing their own values and beliefs within their countries. "

Isn't it their right? It's their country. It's interesting that surely, muslims will become more radical in light of such initiatives.

Wrestling With Religion said...

I think it is reasonable to require women to remove the niqab in certain situations and jobs, for purely practical reasons - it hinders identification and communication. Other than that, I don't personally feel that a law should dictate what people can't wear just because some other people don't like it.

Having said that, yes, a country can decide to ban it if that's what the majority of its citizens want. That's how democracy works. It has baffled me to learn that people in the west do want to ban stuff like niqabs and minarets. But I guess it says a lot about relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the west. That is the real problem underneath all of this.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Anna: thanks for posting the link, I will check it out :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah Elizabeth: "Western societies enforcing their own values and beliefs within their countries."

That's true, and my question is whether this is wrong? Like you said, foreigners in Islamic countries do not live the way they do at home, e.g. you don't see them in miniskirts, walking drunk on the street, etc. I guess the problem with applying this to the niqab is the fact that some women see it as a religious requirement.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: thanks for showing us the other side of the debate. I personally also disagree with the niqab in certain situations and professions, as do most Muslims I know.

It's also important to note that many Arab countries are not okay with the niqab either. Until recently most Egyptians were not comfortable with it either.

"Actually I think the Muslims are being treated as equals in this case. No one else can hide their identities, but Muslims want the right to."

That's a great point!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Stephanie: I guess no country can really make a statement like that. When Egypt institutes religious laws etc they can't really say "we're under pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood" so we can't expect that kind of honesty from any country.

France does frequently say it is about it's identity and secularism, so in a way it has made that argument.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Ellen: at the same time we don't see Muslims complaining about Saudi forcing women to wear niqab. If Muslims want to talk about freedom of anything, they shouldn't only criticize the West but should also look at themselves. Like you said, NO ONE should force someone else to dress in a certain way. Not France and not Saudi Arabia.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Muni: I think a lot of people have the feeling of being uncomfortable around someone wearing the niqab. I do too and I think it is about the facial expressions. It's just difficult to know what they think/feel. Maybe once you get used to it it's different.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Wrestling: exactly, that is how democracy works. We saw it in Switzerland when they banned minarets and we see it now in France. We might also see it in Holland in the form of Wilders getting elected. So yeah, democracy does have some shortcomings (although it is still the best form of governance we have).

Mrs. S said...

I think France's issues with Muslims and immigration as a whole weaken it's credibility in regards to the ban's justifications. I'm interested if legally, the French government can outright ban the niqab or do they have to ban "face coverings" in order to get around any freedom of religion laws? I know in Italy there was a case where a town sought to ban the niqab through an old law they had against masks in public rather than outright say no niqabs.

In the end the French can dictate whatever laws they want regarding clothing. I think it's interesting, though, that many of the niqab ban proponents are so vocal against laws in contries with majority Muslim populations where hijab and/or niqab are required. At the risk of moral relativism, it seems that the same courtesy of self governance should be extended to all countries.

Shahirah Elaiza said...

I have no problem with women who choose to wear the niqab. At one point when I was in KSA I wanted to wear it myself because, well let's just say I wanted my privacy.

Well anyway, there are security issues as some people have mentioned here. I've heard stories about women getting murdered and raped (yes in that order) in the Masjid Al Haram and Masjid Al Nabawi toilets by men who posed as niqabis. I find this very disturbing. If it can happen in the Holy Land, it can happen anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Cairo: I don't whether you read dutch and french:
In french: link to the original report:
http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/13/pdf/rap-info/i2262.pdf
(May be you can use it for your studies.)

In dutch: some important elements in the report:
http://weblogs.nrc.nl/wereld/2010/01/27/niqaab-is-tipje-van-fundamentalistische-ijsberg/

Regards, Anna

ellen557 said...

Cairo - Exactly! I can't stand Saudi's dress code, just as I can't stand the idea of France restricting what women choose to wear. I would put both of those countries in the same boat.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Mrs S - that's a great point - if the French argue that their gov't can do what it wants then they should not complain about what's happening in other countries.

Like you said, because France does have a lot of issues with Muslims, their credibility isn't very high.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Shahirah Elaiza: wow. those are horrible stories :S I heard a lot of those in Egypt as well - men hiding under niqabs. Although I'm not sure if they were all real or the gov't was trying to influence people to be anti-niqab.

Welcome to my blog by the way :) I really liked your comment on the other post as well!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Anna: thanks a lot for those links! I think they could definitely help my classes and thesis!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Ellen: amen! :)

kizzie said...

I think their decision is right, I mean Egypt is doing the same thing and France doesn't have the right to do that?
The Niqab is un-necessary, against religion , anti-social and pointless.

Sara said...

asalamu alaikum wa rahmutallahi wa barakatu!

People on here say that they dont feel safe around Niqabis..

Ok, I dont feel safe around drunk men. Why isnt alcohol banned?

I think people need to look deeper into the issue and stop looking for flimsy exuses to ban the niqab.

And as for feeling uncomfortable because you cant see facial expressions? Surely you feel comfortable communicating over the phone every single day so why would communicating to a human being who you dont feel "comfortabe" for no reason other than you can see their facial features! Ha?????

Just like people have the right to protect their private parts, they have a right to protect their face if they wish.

They have no right to question why they want to protect their faces. IF they have a security problem then im sure the niqabi will have NO problem revealing her identity to a WOMAN.

And clearly a woman's voice is a dead giveaway of her identity. You dont need to see her facial expression to feel safe.

anyway Im very sick of people trying to ban something they donte even understand.

Muni said...

Sara, you make a good point about the drunk. But why is it that women wear the niqab?

I would like to understand the reason because there will always be people who, like Kizzie will deem it:
"un-necessary, against religion , anti-social and pointless."

Is it a way to seek privacy or is it a religious declaration, and what is religious about hiding your face?

It is a right if people choose to wear it, but the rights argument is like quick sand!

What are your thoughts and what does a niqab wearer feel when she is always defending her choice?

Cait said...

"Western societies enforcing their own values and beliefs within their countries."
Of course they are! What else can you expect? I am all for a woman being able to choose for herself, but if you live in a society, which we all must, you have to adjust to it to a certain extent. If I were to live in Egypt, for example, I would definitely not dress, act, or speak in the same way as I do here in Germany or at home in the US. I realize that wearing shorts and smoking in public would freak people out, in the same way that walking around completely anonymously and without any visible form of recognition in Western countries freaks people out. We all have to operate within the societal bounds of the country in which we choose to live. Period.

anna said...

another interesting link:
http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/buruma34/English
regards Anna