April 11, 2011

Political grandstanding at the expense of Muslim women

Filed under: Europe, France, Law, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:22

Josie Appleton points out the logical inconsistencies of the various European “Ban the Burkha” movements:

In spite of the grave crisis of the Euro, the French cabinet will today (19 May[, 2010]) find the time to discuss a draft law banning the wearing of full-face veils in public places. Spain has just slashed public wages and is on the verge of economic collapse, yet the minister of work yesterday made the effort to visit Lleida and voice his support for the mayor’s plan to prohibit full Islamic facewear in the streets. Last month, Belgium’s coalition government had dissolved and there was talk of splitting up the country, yet the parliament managed to unite 136 out of 138 deputies to vote through a law banning the burqa and niqab.

How is it that European leaders, in such difficult times, have invested such energy in the matter of women’s facewear? Why was a Spanish schoolgirl who insisted on wearing a headscarf so fascinating as to draw the media’s attention away from government cuts? Why such detailed discussions on the intricacies of Islamic veils? Newspapers feature pullouts on the different forms of Islamic veil, and commentators explain why the niqab is so much worse than the shayla or the chandor, and indeed how the hijab is fine and even liberating for Muslim women.

The burqa-ban laws were introduced with such displays of speechmaking that anybody would think the fate of these countries hung on this single point of principle. One Belgian deputy admitted that ‘the image of our country abroad is more and more incomprehensible’, but said this near-unanimous vote banning the burqa and niqab rescued ‘an element of pride to be Belgian’. A French commission on the veil said the veil was ‘contrary to the values of the Republic’ and the parliament should make it clear that ‘all of France is saying “no” to the full veil’. The Spanish work minister said this clothing ‘clashes fundamentally with our society and equality between men and women. The values of our society cannot go into retreat.’

Lovely sounding stuff in front of the microphones, to be sure. Good photo ops for ambitious politicians, to a clamour of general approval and risking the loss of very little: there were so relatively few women wearing these articles of clothing — and few of them or their husbands/fathers/brothers likely have the vote anyway.

Now, pay heed to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Many of these women now have a choice: disobey the family head by going out in public without wearing the niqab/hijab/burkha (and risk beatings or even honour-killing), or follow the dictates of the family head and risk being arrested by the gendarmes.

How, exactly, is this going to benefit those poor women?

Update: The ban in France was passed in October and goes into effect today:

The centre-right government, which passed the law in October, has rolled out a public relations campaign to explain the ban and the rules of its application that includes posters, pamphlets and a government-hosted website.

Guidelines spelled out in the pamphlet forbid police from asking women to remove their burqa in the street. They will instead be escorted to a police station and asked to remove the veil there for identification.

[. . .]

In Avignon, Vaucluse, Reuters TV filmed a woman boarding a train wearing a niqab, unchallenged by police.

“It’s not an act of provocation,” said Kenza Drider. “I’m only carrying out my citizens’ rights, I’m not committing a crime … If they [police] ask me for identity papers I’ll show them, no problem.”

France has five million Muslims, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed actually to wear a face veil.

Many Muslim leaders have said they support neither the veil nor the law banning it.

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