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.