Quantcast

«

»

Sep 22 2013

Niqab or Not?

As of now there is a great and grand debate going on about the Niqab in the UK.

You see there are two stories.

First we see Birminham Met.

Birmingham Met banned the Niqab on Campus. I disagreed with opinions spoken by a certain atheist whose ideas I don’t like for a variety of reasons that TLDR boil down to “Espouses right wing bigotry and fears about Islam”. A lot of people think this is acceptable. I don’t think so.

The Niqab is enforced on women who often have very little freedom. Education is vital to fighting this and therefore educational access should be increased. You cannot stamp out an evil like the Niqab or the Burkha by banning it’s wearing in public places. You aren’t banning the outfit, you are banning the wearers. You want to make these women public, and you want to give them the tools to break their own cages. You don’t want to dump their cages at home and then assume there is no problem.

I am severely anti-Niqab. If banning it would make Muslim women who wear it free I would be in favour of it. But it doesn’t. All it does is forces Muslim Women to be even more segregated from society.

Which is what it’s purpose has always been.

Secondly? The “alleged” enforcement of Burkha and Niqab in a free school in Derby in Northern England. The Madinah high school is one of the many “free” schools “empowered by Religion”. Something I am completely against since it is the utilisation of tax payer money without any oversight to provide a segregative and nonsensical education. I don’t think the bloody Church of England should get this benefit, what makes you think Islam should too?

Teachers and non-Muslims students are being forced to adhere to a dress code that they don’t believe in. Now these two cases are actually rather similar.

I don’t think you should be forced to wear the Niqab. Nor do I think banning the Niqab is a solution. You see the problem is change is slow.

I am a Manchester City fan. Our greatest “Rival” are the lovely folk at Manchester United. The Citizens vs. The Devils if you will. In the early 90s being a blue around Trafford was risky business as was being a red around Longsight. Now you could say that these colour differences were arbitrary and you are absolutely right. Manchester had a single club that was split into United and City and the colours are just “Red on Blue”". But just that rivalry over a few short years caused so much violence. Now there is nothing stopping a Muslim lady from tearing off her Niqab except “social pressure”. In the same way that there is nothing stopping a young United fan wearing sky blue.

Except to the young Uniited fan in the early 90s such a gesture would have been unthinkable to himself. And to his peers and surrounding people who would have  shown disapproval even if they stayed in contact with him. And worse is the possibility of personal attacks.

That is the Niqab. That is the Burkha. There may be no rule in Islam suggesting you MUST absolutely wear the outfit but the social and peer network encourages you to do so and punishes you if you don’t. Just as there is no way of actually standing up and insisting you can wear Blue around the Reds (in the 90s, today’s Red vs. Blue rivalry is a lot more genteel) despite being perfectly right.

To fight the Niqab or the Burkha we cannot ban it lest it turn into a symbol of defiance and rebellion.

Why do I oppose it in the second but not the first? Because forcing someone to NOT wear the Burkha is just as bad as forcing someone to wear it. You see we don’t have to wear the damn thing. We see it as the equivalent of hats or track suits. It’s not. It’s something intrinsic to the identity of many Muslim cultures and even if historically it was never the case.

In the first case, the Birmingham Met was effectively forcing Muslim women to dress in anything but a Niqab. Considering the sort of women in Niqabs and the men who dominate their lives, Birmingham Met in effect was ensuring that this group of women stays at home and doesn’t get education. There is no bluff to call. The argument was “it’s a security risk” to which my response is “what security risk”?

Muslim women are not likely to rob you. They are unlikely to pull off a heist. You may say that the Niqab is empowering to some but that’s fine. To most it’s a device used to remove agency. To those it is empowerment it is because they are for want of a better word. Ninjas.

They utilise the anonymity of the Niqab to their benefit. It is a costume or a disguise. To those who the Niqab harms? It is a paper bag to hide the features and individuality of the woman underneath.

No. When People Say Security around Muslims they mean “Stop Terrorists”. Because no one is suggesting we ban crucifixes lest the IRA show up..

Do you think the Niqab survives education? Do you think it survives the empowerment of women through education? Do you know why Islamic Fundies fear education? Because it breaks the hold they have over their women. An abusive partner controls the agency, they make it hard for the other to have friends, to have a social life, to work. This isn’t quick, this is slow and steady. The Niqab has to be forced on kids to normalise it or else it is just ridiculous. You have to tell women that they will be sluts if they don’t wear it. You have to make the Niqab a superior choice to get women to wear it. You have to make ignorance a better choice than education. Islam has made people stupid by stagnation. It is not a living faith for many of it’s adherents but a dead one. Of tired old commandments that do not fit modern life. So it’s adherents must remain in the past.

You may say that high heels are oppressive to women. I quite like a woman in heels to be fair, but there is a difference. You see no one is saying that you MUST wear heels or you must dress in this manner. If we lived in a truly free society then the Niqab would not matter. You are free to dress like a North African Berber/Bedouin if you so choose.

But we are not in such a society. The mistreatment of women in Islamic Culture is rather a problem and the total lack of agency of women in Islam is well known enough. Thus the Niqab is a problem because it is a symbol of what’s wrong. It must be broken and to break it we must turn into the symbol of oppression that it really is and enlighten and uplift rather than ban and effectively turn the Niqab into a symbol of rebellion. We must divorce Islamic Identity from the Niqab.

The words that come to me at this point are from Terry Pratchett’s Thud. It’s about how the new and non–traditional dwarf priest doesn’t need an actual axe because he thinks about axes and so has an axe of the mind. And how an old prejudice and hate was broken down through a shared  love of something.

Old words can take on new meanings and we must do that to the Burkha and the Niqab and the Hijab.

Do you think simply banning these will help? Or does it just make an easy cause to get behind. Say not to Niqabs! It’s nice to shout that out loud but really it means nothing apart from distrust and anger aimed at women who already are told they should not go outside. We are in effect giving them a reason and enforcing the rules of their cultural oppression.

It’s what I have said for ages. You don’t make change by thinking about it in extremes. You make it by the middle ground. The KKK and the Black Panthers were symptoms of the problem. And they were made irrelevant by the middle path. A slow path but one that doesn’t waver from progress.

Women in Islam may not throw out these outfits of oppression in this decade or even the next but there are changes. There are noises and eventually these women will realise that the lies they are told to keep them quiet are just that. Lies.

And to do so we must not eschew these women from society but welcome them in and break down the defences of the Niqab rather than simply ban it all together. We must make these real barriers to women into the ideas they are supposed to be rather than the physical barriers that they really are.

6 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    poolboy

    Men, women: wear what you want to wear. Don’t let people shame you or threaten you into wearing something, or to NOT wear something.

    One piece of clothing or another is NOT inherently evil. Don’t even focus on clothing. It’s the intent behind it. Focus on the pressure behind it.

  2. 2
    Francisco Bacopa

    I do some private tutoring work at The University of Houston. There are many niqab conforming women there. You have to understand that much of Houston’s Muslim population comes from a very wealthy privileged class. And believe me, they may have only their hands and faces uncovered, but they show off their bodies in ways the other students who have much more skin showing haven’t even considered.

    They often wear what seem to be individually tailored silk blouses. No way you can get that ready to wear. Width of the shoulders, shape and size of the breasts, and the inward curve of the waist are totally out there in ways that I rarely see in Western fashions. And the pants seem to be individually tailored too. Anything designers of 80′s jeans has nothing on what they got, and whatever they have they have the means to make it look good.

    I’m not saying I perv on these women almost young enough to be my daughters, I’m just noting that they have their ways of being sexy with the niqab so that they stand out among a supposedly much more “immodest” population.

  3. 3
    Pen

    I totally agree with the argument about protecting women’s right to education (justice, health care, etc) regardless of clothing, as a first priority and as a first step to making sure they really can go where they want. I also think, incidentally, that the niqab only dehumanises women if people choose to treat a woman wearing one as though she isn’t a human.

    I also completely agree that free schools ‘empowered by religion’ should not exist. I do wonder how you reconcile the desire to ban the niqab as uniform, when we accept, in general, that schools and institutions can force students and employees to adopt specific clothing. My daughter is now wearing a skirt for the first time in her life, with much resentment. Twenty-five years ago, I felt the same way. OK, I realise you can make an argument for how it isn’t as bad as a niqab, because wow, it shows not only our face, but our legs as well! It seems to me that the important point is that we don’t want it and had it forced on us.

    The best social/legal argument to create against the niqab would be the demand that in this society we’re all required to show our faces at all times, for security purposes, no exceptions. That’s what happened in France with the attendant ban on balaclavas and the requirement to remove motorbike helmets when not actually driving. I’m not actually completely opposed to this solution whereas I would oppose a legal ban on the niqab as niqab. We could enforce certain choices here, just as Iran can enforce the hijab for visiting female foreigners.

    One last thing about this battle of wills. Nowhere does it become about the freedom of women, because it’s impossible to guarantee such a thing in this situation. It boils down to who will have authority over women’s dress, their own culture or the state. It’s a real catch 22 situation.

  4. 4
    smrnda

    I live in a town with a significant Muslim population; some women wear niqab/burkha and I’ve never heard of any campaign for banning it. If the goal is liberating women, focusing on access to education is far more important. To the extent that the niqab is a problem, getting women educated and capable of living independently, as well as creating a tolerant, pluralistic society, will get results while banning it will not. It’s an extension of a particular type of patriarchy that won’t go away because the niqab is banned.

  5. 5
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Although I live in a city with a relatively high muslim population, the most hijabs I see are in college. Because traditionally a headscarf isn’t very popular among Turkish muslims (it used to be banned in public spaces until quite recently). But I know some of the struggles some of theses girls have, the threat of being married off, the long-sleeved clothes they have to wear etc. You need to change what’s in the heads, not what’s on them. Nobody suggests we ban long-sleeved shirts because those girls are forced to wear them.
    And they may not be wearing a headscarf unlike many of the muslim women in college, but they’re also not getting a college education. Often German school-certificates are treated not like a passport to the future but as a kind of dowry.
    Saying “we need to ban niqabs/hijabs/burqas so nobody can force you to wear one” also means “we cannot and will not protect you against somebody forcing you to wear one.”
    I think the bans are mostly for the benefit of westerners who are then no longer reminded about the fact that muslim women actually exist and might face oppression.

  6. 6
    Ani J. Sharmin

    You aren’t banning the outfit, you are banning the wearers. You want to make these women public, and you want to give them the tools to break their own cages. You don’t want to dump their cages at home and then assume there is no problem.
    I am severely anti-Niqab. If banning it would make Muslim women who wear it free I would be in favour of it. But it doesn’t. All it does is forces Muslim Women to be even more segregated from society.
    Which is what it’s purpose has always been.

    There may be no rule in Islam suggesting you MUST absolutely wear the outfit but the social and peer network encourages you to do so and punishes you if you don’t.

    As much as I disagree with these various religious dress restrictions (niqab, burka, hijab), and as uncertain as I am about what to do about it, I don’t want to ban them, primarily for this very reason. If someone is wearing it because she’s being forced by her family, getting that education could be the first step to breaking free from them and building a life for herself.

    There are Muslims who are totally disingenuous when they talk about how the niqab (or burka or hijab) is a choice; for some it is, but for many it’s not. Many women are being pressured by their family and other members of their religious community to wear it. In certain situations (like when they go to mosque) it may be mandatory. (In my family, I do not have to wear it, but when we were sent to Islamic Sunday School, I had to wear it there, because it was the rule; it did not matter that I didn’t want to or that my parents didn’t care if I wore it or not.) For Muslims to attach a social stigma to *not* wearing it, and then to claim it’s a choice, is totally dishonest.

    The “alleged” enforcement of Burkha and Niqab in a free school in Derby in Northern England. The Madinah high school is one of the many “free” schools “empowered by Religion”. Something I am completely against since it is the utilisation of tax payer money without any oversight to provide a segregative and nonsensical education. I don’t think the bloody Church of England should get this benefit, what makes you think Islam should too?

    There are people’s who’ve decided to go down this path of “if Christianity gets this special privilege, we should get it, too” in order to fight for what they claim is equality. But I don’t think such a situation can ever be truly equal, because it’ll always favor certain religions (those with more members, those with more similar beliefs to the majority, etc.). Better to be secular and not give this kind of tax support to any religions, rather than giving it to more of them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite="" class=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>