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Banning the burqa is scapegoating

The issue of women wearing the full-body burqa, which is up for the debate in the French parliament this week, has stirred up a hornet’s nest of opinions. It’s not too surprising, given that the question of covering up or not raises religious, cultural and sexual issues.

French president Nicholas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement party has proposed a ban on the burqa. Significantly, white men in suits, headed up by UMP faction leader Jean-François Copé and Communist Party MP André Gerin, are leading the charge.

Gerin calls women wearing burqas “French-style Talibans”. Deputies are calling for a total ban and suggest not only a €750 fine, but also that women who wear burqas should not receive child support payments and be refused citizenship.

Wearing the veil is said to offend French traditions of freedom and democracy, restricts women’s rights and sexual equality, offers a disguise for would-be terrorists, does not fit in with European culture, is a sign that immigrants are unwilling to integrate into their host countries, etc, etc.

So under the guise of progressive, feminist, liberal and security arguments, a tiny number of women are being singled out and persecuted. According to Muslim Women’s Network UK the number of women wearing the full veil in France stands at around 367 out of a population of over 62 million. Other sources put the figure at around 9,000, but it still amounts to victimising a religious minority simply because a few women choose to cover their bodies.

Even if they are pressurised by their husbands or religious leaders, this is not a matter in which the state, the police or legal bodies has the right to interfere. There is also evidence that many young girls in countries like Britain and France wear veils through their own choice rather than parental pressure.

The enthusiasm for telling women what is good for them and what they should wear is not confined to the right-wingers and Stalinists in France. In Belgium a legal ban is awaiting Senate approval. The issue of veiling is just as hotly contested in neighbouring Spain and Italy. Nine municipalities in Catalonia, including the capital Barcelona, have banned the wearing of the burqa in public places. Catalonia’s parliament, however, rejected a regional ban last week.

The gung-ho attitude of Catalonian councils – including socialist-led ones – seems very peculiar, given the fact that there are no Muslims or burqa wearers at all in many of the villages concerned! It cannot be a coincidence that burqa bashing is taking place during election year in Catalonia, Spain, a country experiencing the worst recession in Europe, with unemployment standing near 20%.

Of course we have our own would-be off-with the veilers here in Britain. UKIP leader Lord Pearson has said that wearing the burqa is “incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy”. Tory Phillip Hollobone, MP for Kettering, (where only two women actually wear burqas!) has introduced a private member’s bill to ban the burqa and the niqab in the Britain, on the grounds that it goes against “the British way of life”.

Some Muslim feminists like Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown claim such practices “violate the fundamentals of good societies everywhere”. As to who sets out these “fundamentals” is, of course, another question.

As always, discriminating against a small minority on grounds of dress or religion is simply a smokescreen for really major issues for which the political class have no answers. Targeting minorities for what they wear is an inflammatory way of whipping up racist sentiments under the cover of self-righteous “Western” values. As unemployment rises and the austerity budget bites, the old tactic of finding scapegoats is rearing its ugly head.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
6 July 2010

Jonathan says:

Simon Weston is aware that the: ‘human face is essential’, I’m sure his attitude is that he should not be ‘judged’ by it, as with others with ‘problems’ of a similar nature: not to mention “social anxiety disorder" (pathological shyness). I have not had the honour of a discussion with someone in a Burqa, but as with those with facial problems, social interaction, the equalization power of the tones of voice, pitch, etc, should adequately make up for it. That is if they wish to be addressed. Or maybe, Allah forbid: respect. But all this should not, anyway, be a measure.

You can’t have struggle for equality without suppression of, or adaptation of, or intensification of certain traits of relation and objectification. And this form of society doesn’t allow for the intensification of traits suppressed by the patriarchal forms that have accompanied the last few phases of economic formation. That some would want, need, or expect to not be judged by their sexuality, or lack of it, and be judged and seen separately from that seems to cause more problems under this form than actually allowing the full release of those innate powers and the creation of new relationships, economic, artistic, social, familial, etc, . The fact that there is also an imposition by husbands or brothers, or whoever is a separate issue: those that whinge on about it aren’t really going to do anything to release those powers tightly wound up in society waiting to burst out. And is a theme running through all societies: why aren’t you wearing your wedding ring.

But humans also evolved, self evolved, for domestication is part of civilization, therefore also for aesthetics: this must be true of any of the high animals, for their fashion, their culture. Where to place sexuality in this is not really a mystery.

The implication of our self creation are wide. In the Silver Fox experiment carried out over just 40 years the associated changes are varied and seemingly unpredictable. If one sees tameness as sociability the implications are fascinating. But so are the problems when latter we talk of across the board equality, and retain all the aspects of our species being acquired biologically. The 11 Plus Board used to adjust as to the high rate of passes by females by adding borderline males and subtracting females, a problem that won’t go away up to third level. It also won’t go away in this form of society, and the suppression of women at all levels makes the Burqa an easy distraction. “From each according to their ability: to each according to their need.” Release the ability!

But in this ‘crisis of civilisation’ these issues arise and are used as weapons in the armoury of the Ruling Classes.

Somebody says:

Let's not forget the first person to suggest that he would like to see the veil banned, and who would not speak to constituents if they wouldn't raise their veils - was Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw - so New Labour led the charge which others are following.

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