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Jun 19 2012

The veil a choice? Hardly!

ENTRY UPDATED and incorrect photo replaced with a video made by Reza Moradi and a quote from Mansoor Hekmat:

For those who are in love with the veil and keep going on about how it’s a ‘right’ and ‘choice’, here’s a video just for you.

Someone definitely forgot to tell the child it was her ‘right’ and ‘choice’. But then such terms are for western public consumption.

Like foot binding, FGM, suttee, and chastity belts, the veil is a form of control over women and girls. Socially speaking and for most, it is anything but a choice and a right.

And for children, as I’ve said many a time, it is a form of child abuse.

As Mansoor Hekmat has so eloquently said:

We say that putting a veil on the heads of children and adolescents who have not come of legal age should be prohibited in law, because it is the imposition of a certain clothing on the child by the followers of a certain religious sect. It so happens that the defence of the civil rights of the child and the child’s right to choose (not an absolute in itself) require that this imposition be legally prevented. The child has no religion, tradition and prejudices. She has not joined any religious sect. She is a new human being who, by accident and irrespective of her will has been born into a family with specific religion, tradition, and prejudices. It is indeed the task of society to neutralise the negative effects of this blind lottery. Society is duty-bound to provide fair and equal living conditions for children, their growth and development, and their active participation in social life. Anybody who should try to block the normal social life of a child, exactly like those who would want to physically violate a child according to their own culture, religion, or personal or collective complexes, should be confronted with the firm barrier of the law and the serious reaction of society. No nine year old girl chooses to be married, sexually mutilated, serve as house maid and cook for the male members of the family, and be deprived of exercise, education, and play. The child grows up in the family and in society according to established customs, traditions, and regulations, and automatically learns to accept these ideas and customs as the norms of life. To speak of the choice of the Islamic veil by the child herself is a ridiculous joke. Anyone who presents the mechanism of the veiling of a kindergarten-age girl as her own ‘democratic choice’ either comes from outer space, or is a hypocrite who does not deserve to participate in the discussion about children’s rights and the fight against discrimination. The condition for defending any form of the freedom of the child to experience life, the condition for defending the child’s right to choose, is first and foremost, to prevent these automatic and common impositions.

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  1. 1
    Ace of Sevens

    To the best of my knowledge, no one is claiming the veil is always a choice except for some Muslim fundie wackos. Unless the issue is whether Iran should ban veiling or morality police are a global phenomenon, I’m not sure how this is relevant to policy question in France, the UK and occasionally the US. Women are forced to get abortions in China. That’s no reason to say that reproductive freedom requires banning abortion everywhere. The goal should be to ensure that people are allowed to make choices, not to decide what we think they would have chosen or should have chosen and make the choice for them.

    1. 1.1
      Marsha

      And again, we’re talking about laws enforced on women’s bodies, and religious laws and customs forced on women. If there were laws that MEN had to wear a certain article of clothing, if we were seeing young boys dragged away or flogged by “morality police,” if we were hearing about legislation (in Iran, China, America, etc.) making certain medical procedures MANDATORY and/or ILLEGAL for men’s bodies – then we could have a fair conversation about what’s a “choice.”

      1. M. A. Melby

        WHO exactly is saying that the veil is a “right” and a “choice” in IRAN?!

        This article and your response is painfully insulting to anyone who has the opinion that women should be able to either cover or NOT cover as a right to her own determination.

        Should I grab the hijab from my students’ heads in order to “liberate” them from it?! What sort of sick person would do that? Who would be short-sighted enough to disallow those that cover into my classroom? What sort of fascists would do that?

        Seriously, stick it in your pipe and smoke it.

        France as the exactly WRONG way of approaching this. Making it illegal for women to cover in certain ways IN PUBLIC only serves to further marginalize an already marginalized group and force the women who will not go outside with their face uncovered (either by social requirement in their families or their own personal religious practice) completely under house arrest. YEAH – that’s progress huh?

        How about we all agree that no nation, no police, no over-whelming social pressure should force a person to cover their heads? Can we agree on that? How about we also agree that no nation, no police, no over-whelming social pressure should force a person to show their bodies against their will when there is NO practical reason for such a demand?

        If there ARE actually people so deluded that they think that laws requiring women to cover are a “right” and a “choice”, if they think it is the STATES’ right to require such things, please make that clear. If this criticism is directed at THEM (whoever they are) then we are in agreement on that as well.

      2. Ace of Sevens

        But such things are only laws enforced on women’s bodies in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran and a handful of other countries. Unless I’ve missed a huge part of the public conversation, arguments about veils being a choice only come up when discussing measures to ban them as has happened or been proposed to various degrees in France, the US the UK and probably a few other places. Usually the rationale behind the ban is that wearing the veil is not actually a choice and we need to free women from being forced to wear it.

        The fact that some women are forced to wear it some places is not any reason to believe that no woman would choose to wear it anywhere. I live in in the American Midwest in a town with a substantial minority of Lebanese-descended Muslims. Some of them veil, some of them don’t. There’s not even strong social pressure.

        If there were laws that MEN had to wear a certain article of clothing, if we were seeing young boys dragged away or flogged by “morality police,”…

        That does happen if their beard is too short or sculpted or if they wear a Slayer t-shirt or something. Women get the worst of it, but this isn’t an issue that’s exclusive to women.

        My point is that telling women they aren’t allowed to veil is also forcing laws and customs on women’s bodies. You don’t see anyone suggesting we make all men shave because beards aren’t a choice in Saudi Arabia. If there’s some reason to argue that veils aren’t a choice other than as support for a policy to ban or discourage them in a country where they are theoretically optional, I apologize for misconstruing this, but in that case, I would like to know what Ms. Namazie is arguing against when she talks about people who think that veils are a right and a choice.

        1. M. A. Melby

          I’ve also lived in the U.S. in areas with relatively large Muslim populations. I used to live about an hour drive to Dearborn, MI. I now live in a city with a large refugee Somali population as well as a great deal of medical tourism that brings Saudi Arabian economically advantaged people into the area.

          Daily, I see people who cover in varying ways – from a simple scarf to a burka. I am sure many of them experience extreme social pressure within their families to cover a particular way, and the tourists probably do not have much choice in the matter at all.

          However, as you pointed out – making a DIFFERENT choice for someone is not the same as giving them choice. Making covering illegal is using force – a blunt and powerful instrument – to solve the issue of oppressive nature of social expectations. That doesn’t always end well.

          I, for one, am offended at the idea that if I should ever choose to cover – for whatever reason – that I would be subject to the force of law to make me comply. The idea of being forced to publicly show my body by the state seems just as ugly to me as being forced to cover it.

          To be free of the veil is liberation. I can imagine, to some, being stripped of a veil would feel like violation.

          I realize that I am privileged to be in a place where it just doesn’t seem like a big deal. Isn’t that the ideal? Whether or not a religion should impose restrictions on what men and women can and cannot wear is a separate issue. Whether it is right and good to tell a child that they need to cover her head or her face because that is what god wants – is a separate issue.

          Ideally the government and the church are two different things. Neither should impose the veil, but the state should not restrict it without practical reasons.

  2. 2
    Sri

    I was wondering if you knew of a site that could translate the original article? Google turns it into nothing but gobbledy-gook. Thanks.

  3. 3
    F. Bacon

    Some American women choose to wear religious garb because they wish to be accepted among their own religious groups. If an Amish woman chose to wear trousers or bright-colored prints they would be shunned.

    There’s another aspect to be considered…e.g.; if a Conservative Holiness woman were forced to wear tight-fitting attire or short skirts, she would feel naked in public. Is it their choice that they have been indoctrinated this way or that they chose that particular denomination?

  4. 4
    Sam Salerno

    Maryam you know how to set the record straight.

  5. 5
    Sean

    That image is not from Iran, it is a picture of a frightened girl at a protest in Azerbaijan.

    http://tinyurl.com/7fq6hjk

    The associated articles either say nothing about the little girl or claim she and her mother are being taken away for shouting “freedom” at a protest rally.

    In either case, I agree with the posters here who state that it should be a personal choice for Muslim women to wear the veil or not. Many Muslim women report feeling naked and embarrassed if they are forced to go without their veil. The anti-niqab laws in France are authoritarian, discriminatory and rob Muslim women of their choice. Should we force women to go topless to “liberate” them from laws that allow men to walk around bare-chested but not women?

    It’s up to the Iranian people to change their customs and government, not us.

    1. 5.1
      M. A. Melby

      I was with you completely until the last sentence.

      I think it is absolutely appropriate for “us” (I assume you mean Westerners or something) to give support to women’s rights groups in various areas of the world.

      Just putting up our hands and saying it is “up to the Iranian people” when, especially with no support from others, the ones with the guns win regardless, even independent of what the dominant culture would dictate or any attempts to protect the rights of a minority.

      What’s even worse is that sometimes our own country’s foreign policies are what is keeping tyrants in power.

    2. 5.2
      Maryam Namazie

      Thank you Sean for giving me the correct information about the photo. Unfortunately that is the only thing that you are correct in. I will do a separate post on the veil asap.

      1. Taru Dutt

        Love you Maryam!

  6. 6
    Winterwind

    This is one issue on which I have always respectfully disagreed with you (and Taslima Nasreen), Ms Namazie. I understand why you are so strongly against the veil, and certainly laws forcing women and girls to cover up are horrible and should be condemned in the strongest terms. However, I think you go too far when you say the veil is never a choice and should never be worn.

    I believe that respecting female agency and autonomy means respecting the choice to wear the veil, too. I know Muslim women living in Australia who choose to wear it. I know you would say that it isn’t a real choice because they are submitting to social pressure, but isn’t that true of many choices women make, in terms of both clothing and other issues? For example, how many women or teenage girls actually want to wax their legs, dye their hair, wear miniskirts, makeup and bikinis, but feel they are forced to in order to fit in with their peers or look attractive for men/boys? Are we going to say that wearing a miniskirt or bikini is always bad because some people wear it for the wrong reasons (submitting to social pressure, objectification) rather than the right reasons (personal choice, empowerment)?

    I believe the veil can (at least in theory) be worn for positive reasons, for example, to maintain a connection to one’s culture, or to remind oneself of one’s duty. (I don’t believe that “modesty” is a positive reason as most people understand it; that is, putting the responsibility on women to not look “attractive” in order to avoid provoking sexual assault, as if the assailant has no responsibility.) If we are going to second guess women’s reasons for wearing particular items of clothing, and tell them that they can’t wear it because they’re not really making a choice when they say they are, then I believe that harms women’s freedom rather than helps it. People could apply the same argument to bikinis and make-up (in fact I believe some hardcore feminists do). Or even the feminists who criticised the Nude Photo Revolutionaries Calendar, saying that because some women are photographed nude for negative reasons (sexual objectification), therefore nude photos of women are always bad and never a real choice.

    You might well ask if I would respect autonomy/choice if a woman chose to undergo, say, genital mutilation. I think we should take into account the fact that FGM causes irreversible damage to the body, and is therefore far more significant/dangerous than the veil, which can be worn and removed with no lasting effects. Hence an argument can be made for regulating FGM that cannot be made for the veil. However, if an adult woman of sound mind chose for some bizarre reason to mutilate herself, I think I would have to support her, although perhaps a counselling session should be mandatory first. I believe strongly in personal freedom, I support euthanasia, and I cannot hold that adults of sound mind have the right to die without also holding that they have the right to modify their bodies if they so choose.

    On a more pragmatic note, I have volunteered with tutoring (until last year) schoolgirls originally from countries like Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, most of whom were wearing veils, and most of them seemed to be doing fine to me. They were like any other girls their age: talkative, outgoing, and a little bit rude to me (I sometimes get mistaken for a high school student and teased/disrespected by snotty kids because I’m quite small and young-looking. It sucks, but hey, what can you do?). They were very bright and I witnessed them doing well at their homework, as well as playing games online, using Facebook, gossipping and talking about parties. I don’t feel the veil was preventing them from participating in a typical Australian school life. I feel that if I had expressed any negative attitudes about the veil or told them that they were oppressed, they would have taken it personally and reacted negatively, losing trust in me, which would have been bad for everyone involved.

    Finally I’ll just say that as I am neither a woman or someone who grew up in an oppressive Islamic regime, I obviously have a lot of privilege, and may simply be clueless about the ways in which religion oppresses women’s bodies. This is merely my opinion and I’m always open to hearing other views and if necessary changing my mind.

  7. 7
    alanflynn

    I must agree with the liberal ‘free to choose’ voices eloquently expressed here. Let us freethinkers abjure intolerant proscription, a practice which is so cherished by religious fundamentalists. A woman, or a man, should be free to walk down the street in the burqa or in the buff according to their personal preference. As long as there is but one muslima in the world who wishes to veil, then her right must be respected.

    1. 7.1
      alanflynn

      And well-spotted Sean#5. From the link you’ve included we can see a wider shot of this photo, which shows the Azerbaijani flag on the arm of one of the thugs detaining the little girl. Someone has clearly misrepresented this image for their own ends and even Maryam has been deceived by it. In violating the principle of truthful reportage they bring discredit to the anti-Islamist cause.

  8. 8
    Upright Ape

    There are plenty of voices against Maryam, and they are all 100% wrong. To ask if head covers should be forcefully removed is a strawman attack; she has never recommended it. Even if wearing the veil is not a social expectation, or the result of pressure from males in the family (which it often is), it is still coercion. For the simple reason that islam threatens disobedience with eternal hell fire. It is rathera silly when I hear non-muslim westerners coming out in defense of the “choice” to wear the veil; they have no clue how real the threat of eternal punishment feels to a true believer. Comparing the veil to shaving legs is downright idiotic. No one will have to fear violent punishment for not shaving her legs. Oh, as for France, good fir them. At least common criminals cannot hide in plain sight wearing the burqa.

    1. 8.1
      Martyn

      I have to agree with you ‘Upright Ape’.

      I’ve pretty much abandoned this site. There are far too many politically correct ‘free thinkers’ here.
      (A contradiction in terms, it seems).

      You only have to read many of the comments left on Taslima Nasreen’s blog to see most of the idiots posting are of an American bent.

      ‘Freedom this’, they scream – even when it comes to defending prostitution, ie, men who abuse women.

      ‘Freedom that’, they scream – even when it comes to defending powerful companies who abuse people, ie, companies who sell people engaged in sex for their own financial gain.

      And ‘freedom’ they scream again, whilst defending the veil.

      As far as I’m concerned, they should fuck off back to Greta Christina’s blog. She’ll gladly defend prostituiton, the veil and many other things betraying – in her ‘sex-positive’ way – women.

      And that’s the problem with this site, too many ‘sex-positive’ Americans throwing around their opinions whilst not knowing shit about the world in which they expressing opinions about.

      Ah, well…

      1. M. A. Melby

        Apparently we have a failure to communicate.

        When someone from the U.S. starts ranting about “rights” and “liberty” we are actually talking about “rights” and “liberty” we are not endorsing choices, making value judgments about choices, or even saying that the “choice” one makes is free of coercion. When we rant about “rights” and “liberty” we might be talking about something we absolutely loath, that we wish would be wiped off the face of the earth, that we understand is oppressive and terrible and no thinking feeling human being would endorse.

        We just mean that the police shouldn’t fine you, jail you, beat you, or kill you if you do such a thing.

        That’s it.

        To say that a veil or a different covering or any other religiously motivated clothing (such as Mormon undergarments, Jewish Orthodox hats, monk’s robes, or whatever else) is a “right” and a “choice” is not saying that wearing such coverings are free choices, devoid of social or psychological coercion, or the coolest thing since Swiss Cheese.

        It is saying that the police shouldn’t pull you out of your home and rip your clothes off.

        Again – the fact that wearing the veil to many girls and women is absolutely the product of social or psychological coercion does not negate the fascist nature of government essentially disrobing people because the daddy-state doesn’t like it.

        More moderate Muslims who do not cover their faces were unhappy with the law in France – not because they think covering your face is awesome – but because they are smart enough to know that such laws are counter-productive in helping alleviate the isolation those women experience.

        To outlaw hijab or even just the veil is like using women in a tug-of-war – each side holding onto an arm so that she cannot freely move. Instead, I think a better tactic is to do what we can to get the other person to let go.

        As far as Upright Ape’s point “they have no clue how real the threat of eternal punishment feels to a true believer.” I’ll respectfully say that is not even remotely true of a great many Americans.

      2. M. A. Melby

        As far as a company’s “right” to abuse it’s employees – you’ll find that is more of an ultra-conservative asshole stance – not a “politically correct free-thinker” one.

        Of course, you also seem to think that all prostitution is abuse against women (except for male prostitutes I suppose) regardless of the particular arrangements – so we might just have a different definition of abuse.

        As far as, “…most of the idiots posting are of an American bent.” and since your non-argument is just so compelling…here’s a treat: http://youtu.be/0Yi-LvnM_5M

    2. 8.2
      Winterwind

      For the simple reason that islam threatens disobedience with eternal hell fire. It is rathera silly when I hear non-muslim westerners coming out in defense of the “choice” to wear the veil; they have no clue how real the threat of eternal punishment feels to a true believer.

      Yes, because none of us used to be religious or come from non-Western backgrounds. Yes, all women wearing the veil are doing so because they know they’ll burn in hell if they don’t. Islam is a monolithic entity and all Muslims have the same beliefs and values, and wear or don’t wear the veil for the same reasons.

      As I was talking specifically about Muslims in the West, being a Westerner does not disqualify me from having an informed opinion.

      How many Muslims in the West are “true believers”? Because I know Muslims who consider themselves believers, yet do not wear the veil, do not pray five times a day, shave their faces, drink alcohol, wear skimpy clothing, have extra-marital sex, masturbate, or are gay. And I know Muslims who have told me that if we go deeper into all religions, we find that they are much the same. If they truly believed that all non-Muslims were going to burn in hell, I suspect they would behave differently.

      Comparing the veil to shaving legs is downright idiotic. No one will have to fear violent punishment for not shaving her legs

      I was referring to Muslims who do not fear violent coercion, but may feel other social pressures to wear the veil. Where I live, plenty of Muslims are bare-headed and do not live in fundamentalist ghettos. Conforming to modern Western standards of beauty is actually a perfect analogy for conforming to traditional Muslim standards of modesty.

      At least common criminals cannot hide in plain sight wearing the burqa.

      What percentage of people wearing a burqa are criminals in disguise? Do you have any statistics on this or are you talking out of your arse? Next, let’s ban the turban because Sikhs might be hiding illegal drugs in them.

      And ban the bindi/pottu Hindu women wear: they’re only wearing it because they’re afraid they’ll be reincarnated as a dog in their next life. And they’re also afraid their menfolk will beat them if they don’t wear it. (It’s true, if I catch my mum not wearing her pottu, I’ll round up a few of my Hindu friends and bash her. That’s why she wears it; it’s not because it gives her a sense of connection to her own mother, or because she wants to continue the traditions of her ancestors or anything.) And ban Christian nuns from wearing wimples. And Catholic women should be banned from wearing crucifixes: they’re only doing it because they don’t want to burn in hell. There’s no reason anyone might wear a religious symbol, except violent coercion.

      An argument actually can be made against the burqa, because it hides people’s faces. People insist on conflating the burqa with the hijab, which does not hide the face.

      1. M. A. Melby

        I couldn’t have said it better myself – seriously. It’s good to know I’m not completely out to lunch, considering that my experience is limited to the American Midwest and I know a lot more about Christianity than any other religion.

        All I know is that if my city were to impose such a ban, on any sort of covering, it would feel evil – extremely evil. The vast majority would not be affected if we banned face covering, as I suspect most of the people who wear the burka or niqab are tourists. (It would probably cause some serious political trouble because some of the building downtown are owned by people from Saudi Arabia and some of our medical tourists are high-profile.) MANY people here wear the hijab or khimar. (I hope I am identifying all of these correctly.) You often see adult women, one covered and one not, that appear to be in the same family or group of friends. Many men dress traditionally as well, especially when going to mosque.

        Would I feel bad if I never saw another women with her face covered – because the practice had been completely abandoned? Absolutely not. Covering the face does not seem practical or reasonable.

        Do I think it would be preferable that girls and women did not feel pressured to cover – of course. However, without that religious and social pressure – a hijab is a convenient way to hold your flip phone to your ear and a khimar is a beautiful scarf.

        The pressure, the coercion, the religious expectation – the threat of force and punishment – is the problem. I would think we could ALL agree on that.

        1. Upright Ape

          I know, nothing is as evil as forcing people to show their face for their driver’s license photo.

          1. M. A. Melby

            You can give someone a driver’s license that doesn’t actually work as a form of identification if the person is uncomfortable either getting their picture taken or uncovering their face.

            It’s not an unreasonable accommodation. Should someone be able to get an photo ID while his or her face is covered – NO. Could the male police leave the room while a female who religiously covered gets her mug shot taken? Sure. Should a private business be able to ask that people not cover their faces while in their establishment because of security concerns – such as banks? Yes.

            Should the two women, one pushing the wheelchair of the other, traveling toward the clinic in a public walkway be stopped, arrested and fined because they are both wearing a burqa? NO.

            [It's bad enough that they suffered the indignity of my son thinking they were dressed as ghosts and yelling "BOO!!! SCARY!!!" (Unfortunately, the humor was lost on them.)]

            Using the force of law to punish people for not revealing their bodies in ways that (for WHATEVER REASON – good or bad) they are uncomfortable with – is really uncool.

            For someone who likes to point out strawpeople – you sure do like to make them. Nobody is saying that there is not coercion involved in covering (especially for those whose faces are covered) – for a great great many girls and women.

            I am glad to know that we probably agree on not banning coverings that do not actually cover the face.

            Our point of difference here is that you seem to think that you can fix coercion WITH coercion.

            I doubt we differ on our goals; we just differ on our tactics.

          2. Ace of Sevens

            Who said anything about driver’s license photos? I realize some people have argued that, btu has anyone you are responding to said so? The issue is whether veils should be banned in public spaces in general.

          3. Upright Ape

            A burka-wearing women will not want to take an ID photo without her face covered, that a law enforcement officer may want to see at some other time (and would have to see her face to confirm its validity). Otherwise there is no point in wearing the burka.

          4. M. A. Melby

            Right – You don’t need to have a photo ID. Not everyone has a photo ID. People get licenses for all sorts of things without a photo ID.

            If the police are taking your mug shot because you were arrested, then there may be a compelling state interest to have a photo taken that can be used in your criminal record. However, it is not an unreasonable accommodation to have females take the photo. I was just putting that out there.

    3. 8.3
      Sean

      To ask if head covers should be forcefully removed is a strawman attack

      No, it isn’t. If you are going to talk about banning something, like marijuana, the hijab or the niqab, the natural question is to ask “how are you going to enforce the law?”

      Muslim women in France who refuse to remove their niqab are subjected to heavy fines and may be detained by the police. They are banned from entering public buildings and may be prohibitted from attending school, all for exercising their choice. That certainly qualifies as “force” and oppression even if they don’t physically rip the niqab off a woman’s face. This video of a French Muslim woman being arrested for the “crime” of wearing an article of clothing is stomach- churning:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ti18IwEOucE

      On a side note, it is interesting to observe how “morality” laws are enforced in New York City, where my brother and his family live. The cops get to detain my nephew (who is white, btw) any time they like and shove their hands down his underwear, feeling around his crotch looking for drugs. If they find any, depending on the type and amount, he may end up in prison for a long time getting gang-raped by hardened thugs. So much for Western moral authority.

      “At least common criminals cannot hide in plain sight wearing the burqa.”

      Law-abiding bank robbers in France will surely be disappointed to learn they can no longer wear burqas, but will have to switch to balaklavas, which are legal under the ban.

      1. Upright Ape

        New York City? Nice diversionary comment. Also irrelevant. And by the way if the piece of clothing is not removed, how do you know the person behind it is really a woman?

        1. Ace of Sevens

          Unless this was an argument that veils are not a choice only in particular places which do not include New York City, it’s relevant. Why should it matter if it’s a woman under there? Men have the same rights to dress how they want as women.

    4. 8.4
      Upright Ape

      Ah, I have ruffled a few relativist troll feathers. Great.
      Now on to the issues:
      So you claim there is coercion involved in forcing women to wear the veil-that if, for example, they cover their faces in August in northern hemisphere, it is neither due to threat of violence from the families, neither from allah. And you challenge me to prove it otherwise?
      Fine. If you want to believe that the don’t feel the high temperature or enjoy sweating to death, it is your choice. I will maintain it is not. If religions stop making the threat we can judge if they will still wear it. Until then, I will maintain that it is coercion. Want to prove me wrong? Write your own physiology paper.
      And of course burkas should be banned. It is a matter of public safety. If any other kind of face cover is tolerated that should be banned as well. Except that balaklavas are not a religious garb, so you may ask people to remove them in public spaces, unlike the burka that has to be “respected”. Comparing the two is incredibly silly.
      I am amazed that someone may compare a sikh head cover to the burqa. The sikh garb does not cover your face. It doesn’t allow a fugitive from the law to hide in plain sight. People may hide something in it? People may hide something in their pockets.
      I can’t answer for Maryam, who has never advocated banning muslim head covers (and hence, contrary to trolls claim, in fact it is a straw man attack to say she has), but I can answer for myself:
      I do not advocate forceful removal of head covers. I do, however, advocate shaming those who wear them. They are disrespecting the women in the Islamic world who are subjected to imprisonment and torture for failure to wear the covers.

      1. Ace of Sevens

        Only if you take a very broad view of violence. Frequently, it’s a threat of social ostracism or that people will gossip about you. A threat from Allah is no threat at all. People do all kinds of things because of social pressure. Veils are hardly a unique situation there.

        Plenty of women just feel uncomfortable having men look at their hair or face or whatever is covered by the covering their group likes. The reason they feel this way is they were socialized into it, but the same is true of body parts covered by any clothing. There are a good number of conservative Baptists in the US who insist that women must wear long dresses or skirts in public. This is sometimes due to threats of physical violence and always due to threats of divine judgment or social consequence. Should the US make a law that women must wear pants?

        For a broader example, women who are raped frequently are grilled about what they are wearing. If they were dressed in anything deemed too sexy, then they must have wanted sex from whoever. It’s not a stretch to say that women are being forced to cover up by threat of rape. Mandating tube tops and minidresses would be a really bad way to deal with this problem.

        Shaming women who wear veils is a terrible idea. It puts them in a catch 22. They can get shamed by their families or the public at large. This will only serve to further isolate from society and make the problem worse.

        Bans are a clumsy attempt to address a symptom instead of the real problem: domestic violence. The police need to send a strong message that they take threats of violence seriously and that religion is no excuse

      2. Upright Ape

        See, this is what I mean when I tell you that you don’t have a clue of what you are talking about. You clearly were never a muslim, and as far as I can tell, not a hell-believing christian either.
        “A threat from Allah is no threat at all.” Incredibly silly. To a believer, that is as real a threat as it gets. You are simply clueless.
        And if you think shaming women who were those clothes in the western world should not be shamed and that is a terrible idea-well, clearly you never had any female relatives in the Islamic world jailed and beaten for not wearing it, either. Those who do wear it in the western world give the islamists all the gloating material that they need-and are used as justification. There is nothing wrong with letting them know they are being used.
        And whoever said anything about mandating mini-dresses? Is that a new straw man argument? Gee, you just keep churning them out.
        And yeah, bans of face (not head) covers are just a clumsy attempt-at stopping common criminal from hiding in plain sight?

        1. Ace of Sevens

          I was a hell-believing Christian. Muslims also pray five times a day because they think Allah would be mad if they don’t. Should we ban that? Christians attend church weekly because they think Jesus would be made if they didn’t. For some denominations, this will be four times a week and they give up significant economic opportunities to do so. Should we ban church? Orthodox Jewish men wear beards or sideburns because they think YHWH will be mad if they didn’t. Should we make men shave?

          You can’t protect people from imaginary stuff, just the real world. More importantly, forcing women to go unveiled isn’t going to make them think Allah is OK with it. It’s just going to push the idea that society hates Muslim women and they need to withdraw for purity’s sake. That’s the idea that you are trying to counter.

      3. Winterwind

        You keep talking about the burqa covering the face. The hijab, however, does not. Are you only against the burqa, then? If so, don’t conflate the two, because that only obscures the argument.

        As for child veiling… only if you are willing to ban Sikh boys from wearing turban can you talk about banning Muslim girls from wearing a hijab. That would have serious implications, because parents have a great degree of control over what their children wear. I don’t believe the hijab or the turban cause enough physical or emotional damage to constitute child abuse. The onus is on you to argue otherwise. The burqa could well interfere with children’s ability to participate in society and develop normally. To me, a law mandating that only children of 14+ years can wear a burqa is at least defensible.

        Personally I believe parents who buy their children cheap unhealthy junk food for every meal are doing great harm to their children, but there’s no law against it. There are laws against parents supplying their children with alcohol and tobacco, however. Where does the burqa fall on that scale? I don’t believe the hijab rates at all.

        1. Maryam Namazie

          You need to read my position before commenting on it. I am for a burka ban; I am for a ban on child veiling. I am not for a ban on adult veiling but I still think it is oppressive and should be criticised. WIth regards Child veiling I am also opposed to all forms of religious symbols on children – including those with parents of other religions. Yes it might have serious implications but children’s rights are serious. We have been moving away from the concept that children are their parents’ property in many areas. But we still make special allowances for religion. Why? I look forward to the day when children are more important than religion.

          1. M. A. Melby

            I think many people – including myself – were responding to a post of yours (the original one) that did nothing but address a emotionally charged picture to a vague group of people that “keep going on about how it’s a ‘right’ and ‘choice’” and conflate that group of people with those who “are in love with the veil”.

            Even in the new post, the video said “Ban child hijab” not “Ban child niqab”.

            If you make your position unclear, it is no wonder that people are responding to arguments that the post reminds them of and appears to be about instead of your actual position. Notice that you didn’t mention France – but many of the posts are about France – because that is a much more contentious issue in many people’s minds than whether or not children *choose* the veil (who thinks that?) or whether or not the veil should be mandated anywhere (who thinks that?).

            For the sake of all of us uninitiated who have not been reading your blog for a long time, it would be helpful to give a link to a previous post if reading the current one out-of-context would be misunderstood otherwise.

            Your opening sentence, “For those who are in love with the veil and keep going on about how it’s a ‘right’ and ‘choice’, here’s a video just for you,” refers to “the veil” IN GENERAL, in all circumstances, in all places. Now, you say that, “I am not for a ban on adult veiling but I still think it is oppressive and should be criticized.”

            *face palm*

            So what you really MEANT was “For those who are in love with the veil on children and keep going on about…”

          2. Maryam Namazie

            I can’t explain every position I have everytime I write something because someone is new to my blog. If you want to know more you can go to my website and read my articles on the veil – http://www.maryamnamazie.com. I think child veiling is child abuse not just a neqab! All forms of veiling. I think adult veiling cannot be banned though we can still criticise the veil. I think the burka should be banned because it is a bodybag for women. I am not sure how many times I must repeat it in the very same post till it becocmes clear. Whilst I may not think you can ban adult veiling, I can still be opposed to it as a toold for restricting women and women’s oppression, now can’t I. I don’t want to ban religion but I despise it and speak out against it. It is not the same as attacking people who are religious… and on and on and on.

          3. Winterwind

            Ms Namazie, my comment was in reply to Upright Ape. I was trying to clarify his/her position, because he kept referring to the niqab/burqa and how it covers the face. Unlike you he does not seem to be against the Sikh turban and other religious symbols, or supportive of a ban on veiling.

            I understand where you’re coming from, but if you support a ban on all religious symbols for children, I think you’re going too far and encroaching on their freedom. I also think that on this issue you are adopting a hardline, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” approach which is too simplistic. “If you’re not for a ban on child veiling, you support the veil and sexual apartheid” is simply not true. The issue is more nuanced than that.

            You say that children are not the property of their parents. We all agree on this. However, parents have some say in how their children dress. For example, when my sister was in early high school, my parents insisted that she wear a knee-length skirt although she wanted to wear a shorter one. She frequently rebelled against them, and now she’s older she wears what she likes. My parents were enforcing their own standards of “modesty” on my sister, but I don’t believe they did her any lasting emotional harm or treated her like property. Were they criminals? Parents do have the right to make some choices for their children – not only a right, but a responsibility – because children are not adults and lack the experience and maturity to make every decision for themselves.

            You compare the veil to genital mutilation, foot binding and suttee. You would ask if I supported parents making a choice to mutilate their daughters. I would not, but then I don’t believe a hijab is in the same category as mutilation, because it does not cause irreversible physical and emotional damage. The burqa/niqab are different because they can interfere with children’s social interaction, stop them from participating in society and perhaps interfere with social development.

          4. M. A. Melby

            Thank you for clarifying further and thank you for the link.

            We certainly do disagree on some things – very much so.

            As a parent, I understand that the state has a compelling interest to restrict my authority as a parent in many ways. I respect that, and realize that those laws are necessary to protect all children.

            However, I also am uncomfortable allowing the state to mandate parental behavior and the treatment of children too specifically and without a very strong case that those laws will effectively protect children.

            It was not too long ago when children were simply taken from poor families and given to rich ones – without the consent of the biological parents or through deception. This still goes on in the name of the children’s “well being”. Native children were forced into boarding schools “for their own good” to essentially be raised by the state.

            You said, “I am also opposed to all forms of religious symbols on children – including those with parents of other religions.”

            There is a real danger when giving the state too much control over raising children. However, much I understand the desire to provide children with a secular up-bringing – to make illegal all forms of childhood religious expression seems beyond the pale totalitarian.

            My own church, a post-Christian church where many of the adherents are atheist and secular humanists, deists and the like, have a very low-key “coming of age” program where the teenagers are generally given a necklace with a chalice on it. I bought a little tie-dyed shirt with the name of my church on it and a chalice for my 2 year old because it was cute. In your world, I would be fined or arrested for child abuse.

            That is not reasonable.

            I absolutely think that some forms of religious indoctrination and religious practice rise to the level of abuse. Some of those religious practices should be met with the force of law – such as medical neglect, beatings, or rape. Those are things does in the name of religion that are also against secular law. Religion should not be an excuse.

            However, we allow parents to dress their children. Unless that dress endangers their health, it should not be disallowed.

            It is not the state’s place to use force to stop people from dressing their children a particular way FOR NO OTHER REASON than that the manner of dress is inspired or required by religious practice.

            Forcing religion on a people is against a healthy concept of civil liberty, but so is forcing secularism – but worse – to force secularism may increase religious radicalization and damage the cohesion of multi-cultural states.

            Good comparisons can be made between nations whose laws accommodate religious practice within reason, have employment laws protecting religious minorities, and protect students from threat – to those that outlaw religious expression, have no employment protections, and maintain policies that exclude certain religious groups from mainstream education.

            Which tactic seems to promote peaceful integration and the abatement of violent oppressive hard-line views?

            There is a “sweet spot” somewhere between outlawing offending religion/allowing anything to be permissible with religion as an excuse; and using the guys with guns to prohibit religious expression/socially marginalizing religious groups.

        2. Maryam Namazie

          Well then my post entitled ‘you are on the wrong side’ is just for you! I am amazed how easily you can speak of the humiliation and degradation of fellow human beings because cultural relativism is fashionable! And that too of children! I remember arguing with campaigners who said Female Genital Mutilation was a cultural practice that had to be respected and it was up to the parents to decide. Times do change, and we will change them so that people do not dare to so easily speak of putting women and girls in body bags or covering them from view as if it is just business as usual.

  9. 9
    M. A. Melby

    Namazie, the new post makes a much clearer point to me. The original one just seemed like lashing out against the “right” and “choice” argument *in general* – so I responded pretty angrily.

    My apologies.

    The question of whether or not covering for children should be banned is much less clear-cut to me. I would certainly not support a ban on types of covering that do not cover the child’s face, since those types of covering don’t seem to impeded social development the way a face covering might.

    I’ve seen children cover all the time – but never have I seen a child with a face covering. Even families where the older women wore burkas, their children did have have their faces covered. It would be interesting to see information about at what age girls are generally expected to cover their faces in various religious groups. It’s my understanding that girls are only expected to cover their faces in most groups when they are teenagers.

    Personally, certainly I disagree with religiously or culturally imposed face covering for anyone at all. However, to make a good case for a ban up to a particular age, evidence for the assumed social delay caused by covering should be presented. I have no doubt that covering the face of a very young child would be a huge social and developmental detriment – especially as she learns language.

    Since, as far as I am aware in *most* countries, there are very few groups that strictly enforce wearing a face covering and still fewer that imposed a face covering on children – that banning covering the face of young children might be successful in many places. It would just have to be framed in a way that makes clear that imposing a face covering on children causes definable harm and that such a ban is not motivated by religious bias (if tried in the U.S. at least). It would also be politically useful if Muslims who are against the practice were highly involved.

    How much parents should be regulated in how they treat their children is not an easy issue. When discussing adults – a hardline libertarian stance can make sense. When children are involved, my usual ideological concept of civil liberty gets confused. At that point, it’s just some sort of balancing act and the answers are never near perfect.

    1. 9.1
      M. A. Melby

      typo: I meant to say that the children did NOT have their face covered even though the older female members of their family wore burqas with a face covering.

  10. 10
    Sean

    “Anyone who presents the mechanism of the veiling of a kindergarten-age girl as her own ‘democratic choice’ either comes from outer space, or is a hypocrite who does not deserve to participate in the discussion about children’s rights and the fight against discrimination.”

    I am not aware of a single Muslim country that mandates that kindergarteners wear the veil. My understanding, confirmed by About: Islam, is that girls begin to wear the hijab, which is just the head scarf not the full face veil, when they enter puberty.

    http://islam.about.com/od/dress/f/hijab_girls.htm

    That said, I am also not aware of any country where 5-year-olds have a lot of discretion about the clothes the wear. Mommy and daddy pretty much call the shots at that age.

    That some Muslim women may wear the veil as a result of social coercion of some kind does not negate the fact that many women wear it voluntarily and would feel naked without it.

    It is interesting that people with a Western filter look upon a grown woman voluntarily wearing a head scarf as “oppressed” but are near oblivious to the sexualization of children and girls that occur in Western society. Young girls are pressured into wearing sexy and revealing clothing they may not be particularly comfortable in, especially if they don’t meet the Western paradigm of female attractiveness.

    Perhaps Muslims should be sending money to women’s groups in the US fighting parents who buy thong underwear and micro-bikinis for 7-year-old girls.

    http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx
    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700180194/The-end-of-innocence-The-cost-of-sexualizing-kids.html?pg=all

    I’m curious what anybody here would consider the solution to this problem…force them to wear modest clothes?

    1. 10.1
      Maryam Namazie

      Sean – you think just like the Islamists – you’re not per chance a post-modernist leftist? The Islamists make this comparison all the time. What they and you very obviously fail to see is that the veil is also a form of the sexualisation of girls and from a very young age. I am opposed to all forms of sexualisation but you are clearly not. The problem is that you find the sexualisation of young girls in the west problematic but not that of young girls from Muslim families or in Islamic societies. You’re afflicted with a culturally relativist outlook that romanticise the oppression faced by girls and women who you deem not of the west even if they were born and lived here all their lives. But as women’s rights activists chanted on the streets of Iran 30 years ago to oppose compulsory veiling, it may do you good to start thinking – neither east nor west – just plain old universal.

      1. Sean

        Thanks for completely ignoring my argument and reducing me to a caricature. Your argument is pure strawman and doesn’t logically follow from a single word I wrote. As for who I think like, I think like me. The beauty of being a freethinker is I don’t have to pin a label on myself and then mold my opinions to accommodate the label, as you do to me. I can recognize that people I disagree with, like religionists, can have valid viewpoints.

        What part of “it should be a personal choice for Muslim women to wear the veil or not” don’t you understand? Does it sound like I am in favor of forcing women to wear veils, or just in favor of letting them make that choice themselves? My views are completely consistent: I am against the coercion of women, robbing them of their choices, and shaming them for not conforming to any particular socially-imposed ideal.

        Nowhere did i say it is okay to force woman to wear the veil (nor has anyone else here), only that I regard forcing woman to remove it through punitive laws is unjust, discriminatory and counterproductive. Calling people “veil lovers” because we respect this choice is a cheap shot. I don’t believe for an instant that Sarkozy enacted that law to help Muslim women, but to capitalize on Islamophobia by launching an attack on them and backing them into a corner where they can’t win no matter what they do. I would expect anyone genuinely concerned with the rights of Muslim women to repudiate that ban in no uncertain terms.

        Telling me that I “romanticize” the oppression of women is absurd. I regard Muslim woman as full and equal citizens of my country, which is precisely why I think we need to respect their traditions, even if I don’t personally favor them. Islamophobes, by contrast, view Muslims as alien and inferior and insist that they submit to our superior culture, assimilate themselves into it, or go the fuck back home. Worse, they demand that Muslim countries embrace our cultural values…or else. This isn’t “thinking like an Islamist”; this is undeniable fact.

        1. Maryam Namazie

          Reducing you to a caricature? If the shoe fits…

          1. Sean

            Stay classy, Namazie.

    2. 10.2
      M. A. Melby

      “Perhaps Muslims should be sending money to women’s groups in the US fighting parents who buy thong underwear and micro-bikinis for 7-year-old girls.”

      What?!

      *bangs head on table*

      So that’s the type of cultural relativism Namazie is talking about?

      1) The over-sexualization of children is a valid issue in the U.S. and elsewhere.
      2) It is an issue that feminists and others can speak out about, even in mainstream media outlets, with very little fear.
      3) Though there are certain cultural norms that sexualize children that are mainstream, extreme examples of the sexualization of children (such as child glamor pageants or child plastic surgery) are not mainstream and are despised by the dominant culture. (Examples are in the news BECAUSE it is despised not because it is prevalent.)
      4) Shaming, dehumanization and disrespect by the dominant culture of adult women and teenagers who choose to wear revealing clothing is actually a “thing”. In fact, they are regularly blamed for their own rapes and harassment.
      5) Teenagers refusing to wear halter-tops and T-bars are generally not ostracized by their families, shamed or beaten.
      6) No religion that I know of threatens children or adults with eternal torture and hell-fire if they do not wear mini-skirts and hot-pants (quite the opposite).

      So – you’re really being painfully stupid.

      1. Sean

        I’m failing to see where you addressed my argument, where the disagreement is, or why the need for the ad hominem. Do you think it’s okay for parents to buy thong underwear for 7-year-olds?

        You speak about girls and women being beaten and abused for wearing sexy clothes, which I agree happens, but you gloss over the enormous pressure exerted on young girls by advertising, television and by their peers. They are pressured at a very early age to wear those halter tops, low cut jeans and whatnot by a society that says that girls have to project an image of sexual availability to be accepted. Very often that pressure comes from parents, as child sexualization is rather difficult without the collaboration of parents who hold the purse strings. This is the precise opposite of the Muslim world, where women are expected to project an image of chastity when in public.

        Girls not conforming to the social norm of their peers which is to be thin and wear revealing clothes are often ridiculed and marginalized. The cruel irony is that the same society that pressures girls to dress like this then turns around and shames them as “sluts” for doing so.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna-whore_complex

        Is it permissible to ask to what extent a young girl wearing revealing clothes is expressing her individuality, and to what extent she is playing the role the media and her peers have created for her?

        I highly doubt that threats of eternal hellfire are a serious impediment to most people’s behavior. They never influenced mine when I was a Christian. Any casual observation of our Christian fellows shows that they are just as likely to engage in perceived “sinful” behavior as secularists and atheists are, if not more so. They drink, do drugs, have pre-marital sex, cheat on their spouses, have abortions and wear sexy clothes—they just tend to be more hypocritical about it.

        1. Maryam Namazie

          Sean your argument is like the Islamist one. Tell them you are concerned about Sharia law, they will bring up the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Say you are opposed to veiling, they will say that women in the west are prostitutes… It’s a way of not addressing the issue at hand by bringing up other issues that may or may not be linked. Whether they are is irrelevant. I am opposed to the sexualisation of girls here in the west but I am also opposed to it in Islamic communities. I am opposed to both. You are clearly not. It may be more honest of you to defend the veil rather than raise the situation of girls here in the west. Yes it is bad. Yes I oppose it. What do you have to say about the issue of child veiling? Try not to bring the Palestinian occupation into it. You are afflicted with ‘whataboutery’.

          1. Winterwind

            It’s true that many Islamists will attempt to derail criticism of Islam by saying, “Look at the West! They’re worse than we are!” However, I believe Sean’s point was relevant. For the moment, let’s put aside countries like Iran where veiling is forced on people by law. Let’s put aside women who are veiling because they fear violence from their relatives. We all agree that’s wrong. That’s not where the disagreement lies.

            You go further, saying that the veil is never a choice. Even Muslims free from threats of violence or legal force, who wear the veil, are only veiling because of social pressure and therefore not making a real choice. Sean makes the same point I made earlier, which is that none of our choices take place in a vacuum, and that women are under social pressure in lots of ways. We all agree that the sexualisation of women is a problem, and young women these days are under pressure to conform to a very narrow standard of beauty, and to be sexually experienced. But no one is proposing a ban on make-up, bikinis and miniskirts, or suggesting that women who choose to wear those things are not making a real, valid choice because society pressured them into it.

            And for those who say that you can’t compare modern Western standards of beauty to Islamic modesty, because miniskirts are not enforced by the threat of hellfire, let me tell you that you don’t understand what it’s like to grow up in a body-obsessed culture. I was in high school six years ago, and I know that for all my classmates, the threat of social ostracism and being labelled an outcast was far more painful and immediate than the threat of religion, which none of us really believed in. And despite being male I have personally struggled with poor self-image and self-esteem; no doubt it’s much worse for girls. Growing up I was ashamed of my body because I thought I was too skinny (as people kept telling me), and I thought that everyone should look like the muscled, bronzed, waxed, shining white male models who were the standards of beauty enforced in magazines, TV shows, and films. And I thought there was something wrong with me. I went through a period where I only wore long-sleeved shirts and refused to wear shorts in public because I thought I was hideous and people were judging me. I used to hate my body and wish I’d been born with different genes. These days I wear what I like and don’t give a shit about other people, but don’t tell me that you can’t compare modern standards of beauty to Islam because there’s no threat of hellfire. For young people in school who don’t conform to the norms of beauty, life itself can be hell.

          2. Sean

            There is a degree of whataboutery inherent in any debate. If we say “women in Islamic countries are oppressed because they are made to wear the hijab,” it begs the question, “compared to what?”

            It is perfectly appropriate to compare different value systems, so long as the comparisons are valid and relevant. People who resort to this Cold War chestnut are invariably those who want debate over Islam or any other subject to be a one-way street, with their side being the only side given any attention.

            It is perfectly appropriate to call people on their hypocrisy and double-standards. When Christians and Muslims claim that atheists cannot have morality because we lack religious faith, are we supposed to hold our heads down and take the punishment without pointing out that the religious are no more moral than we are, or that their moral precepts are often obsolete and poorly suited to modern ethical dilemmas?

            Criticism of Islam does not occur in a vacuum, neither does the question of wearing the veil apply only to Muslim countries. Context is everything, and criticism of Islam—valid or otherwise—occurs in a context of over 100 years of aggression against Muslim territories and nations by Western countries who justified that aggression on the false assertion that Muslims are barbarians and our culture is superior. I can think of nothing more appropriate in this context than testing those claims of cultural superiority, and comparing the condition of women in the West with their Muslim counterparts both here and abroad.

            As I’ve repeatedly stated, I support the right of Muslim women to make their own choices. I trust most people are sufficiently nuanced in their thinking to distinguish support for a woman’s choice from support for the veil.

            There is an enormous amount of concern-trolling on behalf of Muslim women by organizations whose real agenda is to stir up hatred against Muslims and channel that hatred into support for further aggression against Muslim nations…all in the interest of “liberating” them, of course. It is interesting and appropriate to note these people have much to say about the oppression of the 2,000 women in France estimated to wear the veil, but are completely silent about the massive unemployment, poverty and discrimination faced by Muslim immigrants in France and throughout Western Europe.

            With the threat of war hanging over them, women in Muslim countries have a hell of a lot more to be concerned about than a piece of cloth on their heads. People who are too blinded by ideology or hatred to recognize this fact are in serious need of a reality check.

          3. M. A. Melby

            Winterwind – I think your argument might be similar to Sean, but you have been very clear with the scope of your comparison.

            He seems to go further.

            Unless of course, you think that laws in Iran that are used against it’s own people are nobody’s business – and anyone who judges those laws or seeks to support opposition to those laws – is an imperialist (possibly an American exceptionalist) unless they are Iranian.

            Sean, correct me if I’m wrong.

        2. M. A. Melby

          “You speak about girls and women being beaten and abused for wearing sexy clothes”

          You misread me. I said that girls and women who REFUSE to wear sexy clothes generally do not face the same problems as those who refuse to wear a veil or any form of hijab.

          I realize there is social pressure for girls and women to dress in various ways and there is also an extreme body-obsession in the West. However, at some point the comparison is apples and oranges.

          The U.S. is extremely segmented and there are various pockets of dominant cultural norms. The same goes for a great number of countries, I am sure.

          For example, if you compared my conservative Christian upbringing to a moderate Muslim upbringing – you’d think that Christianity was a much greater threat to the agency of women than Islam. If you compared a largely secular ultra-modernist hedonist upbringing that devalues motherhood and homemaking, sees children as a nuisance, maternity leave as a drain on the economy, breastfeeding as disgusting, and women with stretch marks as worthlessly ugly – you’d think that Islam values women and children, the veil as a dignity, and role of mother honored.

          It’s fine and dandy to “set aside” a HUGE group of people in order to force Western-style sexualization of girls and women to the VEIL – but you have to “set aside” that HUGE group of people. In fact, it seems you have to set aside those who actually see the veil or hijab as an genuine article of faith.

          My list was created to show how these two situations ARE NOT THE SAME a great amount of the time. There are situations true of hijab (and especially the veil) that are NOT true of Western sexualization.

          To compare them in limited scope or only among very specific groups, can be valid to a degree.

          However, when Sean says thing like this:

          “Perhaps Muslims should be sending money to women’s groups in the US fighting parents who buy thong underwear and micro-bikinis for 7-year-old girls.”

          He seems to be comparing Muslims that may gain monetary support from Western feminists to fight against sharia law and the imposition of the hijab on girls. (I say hijab, because he asserts that the veil is not imposed on young girls.)

          to

          U.S. feminist groups getting support from Muslims (which Muslims I’m not sure) being sent money to fight against the sexualization of girls.

          ….so I call shenanigans.

          He also said this, “It’s up to the Iranian people to change their customs and government, not us.”

          So – essentially – it’s none of “our” business to care about people being beaten into submission by the force of law – because it’s THEIR culture.

          This isn’t even cultural relativism – it’s enabling.

          If wearing a veil, not wearing pants, wearing burka, not driving, not having paid employment, not leaving the house without a male relative, submitting to a forced marriage, etc were part of the culture – you would not need to use the force of law to coerce compliance.

          You only need to use force when you are making people act in a way counter to how they WISH to act.

          Just apply this sort of enabling attitude to any other group. For example, suppose in a society those who are darker skinned are forced to comply to those norms through beating, sanction, threat of death – I suppose it would be none of “our” business?

          To speak out against those things is not to impose “our” cultural norms on “them” – it it to call out those that are imposing “their” cultural norms on their own population.

          Sean also said, “If we say “women in Islamic countries are oppressed because they are made to wear the hijab,” it begs the question, “compared to what?””

          No, it doesn’t.

          “Women in Islamic countries are oppressed because they are made to wear hijab, compared to how oppressed they would be if they weren’t.”

          The statement in NO WAY begs you to completely change the subject by asking anyone to make value judgements across cultures and making problematic comparisons that only make sense in a very limited scope.

  11. 11
    Rebekah

    Sigh. Such passion and effort wasted defending a symbol of misogyny. Can anyone imagine these same people defending a proscribed garment or symbol with racist or fascist meaning in a similar manner? Of course, not. This is something borne of political pandering to a specific group and massive history of entitlement upon which religion can draw.

    In fact, I find it hard to imagine these same leftists even defending free speech with such vigour. Those who fall all over themselves to rationalise the veil as acceptable in modern democracies are often the authors and proponents of hate speech laws and university speech codes that hinder public criticism of religion.

    The thing is we need free speech in democracy to have a functioning marketplace of ideas. The exercise of religious prejudices and superstitions supports no broad interest of which I can think.

    1. 11.1
      Ace of Sevens

      Just because you can’t imagine it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Take a look at Ed’s blog and you’ll see plenty of that. Besides, I don’t think there’s a good parallel. When people try to ban klan robes, it’s because they think it’s an implicit threat to racial minorities. No one says that people are being forced to wear the robes and we need to free them.

      1. Rebekah

        I oppose the veil irrespective of whether it is “forced” because of what it represents. You immediately frame the issue in those limited terms because you probably recognise the appalling difference in the acceptability of misogyny versus racism in Western society. Misogyny is actively defended under the guise of ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’ for cultural and religious tradition. A similar defence of racial prejudice is unthinkable, as it should be.

    2. 11.2
      Winterwind

      Sigh. Such passion and effort wasted defending a symbol of misogyny. Can anyone imagine these same people defending a proscribed garment or symbol with racist or fascist meaning in a similar manner?

      That’s where we disagree. I don’t believe the veil, turban, cross or bindi are always symbols of misogyny or anything else. They can be, but they can also be symbols of many other things. Not all religious people are fundamentalists, and religious symbols are not always symbols of hatred.

      A Nazi swastika (as opposed to a Hindu or Buddhist swastika) would only be analogous if:

      1. Only a small percentage of Nazis despised non-white races and wanted to kill them

      2. Many moderate Nazis happily mixed with, befriended and occasionally intermarried with non-white races

      3. Many Nazis claimed that their ideology was about peace, love, compassion and tolerance and acted accordingly

      4. Many Nazis spoke of the deep respect they had for other races, and how we are basically all the same if we look past the superficial differences

      Yes, religion has historically been used to justify in-group/out-group thinking, genocide, racism, slavery, etc. Let no one forget that. But to characterise modern religions as hateful supremacist ideologies is intellectually dishonest.

      I support Maryam Namazie in 95% of her work, but on this issue I strongly disagree. She characterises those of us who disagree with her as pro-veil and apologists for gender segregation, which is like saying that people who defend women’s bodily autonomy are pro-abortion. No one is pro-abortion, especially not the women having them. What we are is pro-choice.

      We have a strong case against religion based on science, rationality, and the real negative effects religion has in the world. We don’t need to exaggerate or set up straw-men of religion, by suggesting that everything religion does is a symbol of hatred, or that all religious people are brainwashed idiots who don’t have a real choice.

      My mother wears a pottu. I have friends who wear the hijab, bindi or turban. I occasionally go to the temple and wear sindooram and vibhuti on my forehead. I have tried to be reasonable in the face of uncharitable and dismissive arguments, but all I can say now is that if you think we are equivalent to Nazi sympathisers, then fuck you.

      1. Winterwind

        P.S. Time and effort spent defending freedom are never wasted.

      2. Rebekah

        I am not even sure how to respond to someone who would put symbols like the cross and bindi, with no gender-specific elements, along side the veil and turban, which are taught/imposed in gender-specific fashion. If you cannot see the problems in your categorisation, then it is no wonder you are in denial of the innately inegalitarian nature of the garments.

        “But to characterise modern religions as hateful supremacist ideologies is intellectually dishonest.”

        Not at all. In fact I am simply calling them out for the hatred and supremacism manifest in their foundational texts, which even the most ‘liberal’ of believers choose of their own volition to maintain and revere.

        Someone I read once (sorry I can not give more specific credit) likened this issue to political platforms. If political parties still had colonialist, anti-suffragette and so forth. elements in their platforms, would you accept a flimsy excuse of ‘tradition’ or ‘historical importance’ for their maintenance, even if the current programme (i.e. actual legislation) of the party in no way reflected those past views?

        So why do people routinely excuse the naked violence and hatred in the Bible and Qur’an simply because the respective adherents do not (for the most part) overtly manifest those views at present?

        1. Winterwind

          I am not even sure how to respond to someone who would put symbols like the cross and bindi, with no gender-specific elements, along side the veil and turban, which are taught/imposed in gender-specific fashion.

          I am not even sure how to respond to someone who is so ignorant of Hindu traditions that she thinks the bindi has no gender-specific elements. Right, that’s why my dad wears a bindi all the time, just like my mum. Oh, wait. He doesn’t.

          You might be confused because you’ve seen Hindu men wearing kumkum, sindoor or vibhuti on their foreheads in the temple, on holy days, or if they’re extremely religious. The same way that Muslim men cover their heads in the mosque, on holy days, or if they’re extremely religious. They do not wear it all the time the way traditional Hindu women are supposed to. In fact, the bindi/pottu worn by women all the time is different from the kind worn by people on special/religious occasions. You know how those pretty dots on our foreheads come in different colours and shapes? They mean different things.

          Secondly, it doesn’t even matter whether these symbols are gender-specific. There are lots of gender-specific clothes in our society, such as skirts, bikinis, bras and to a lesser extent high heels and nail polish, which I doubt you’re in favour of banning. What matters is whether they are symbols of misogyny. I never disagreed with you that the veil was gender-specific. I disagreed that it was always a symbol of women’s oppression. How would you react if I said the miniskirt should be banned or strongly discouraged because it was never a real choice and always the result of women’s oppression? I think you’d tell me to mind my own business. If you don’t like looking at miniskirts, look in the other direction. Similarly if you don’t like looking at headscarves.

          In fact I am simply calling them out for the hatred and supremacism manifest in their foundational texts, which even the most ‘liberal’ of believers choose of their own volition to maintain and revere.

          Maintain and revere in what sense? In the sense that they actively practice those hateful supremacist behaviours?

          The constitution of Australia – the foundational text of our nation – explicitly disenfranchises the Aboriginal people of this land. It states that the land was legally empty before European settlers arrived. It legalises genocide, theft and second-class citizenship. The same holds for the American constitution, which dispossesses the Native Americans from their land. Every time an Australian or American obeys their nation’s laws or elects a representative to parliament/Congress, they are validating their constitutions and supporting a legal system that is literally built on the bones of massacred peoples. Does that mean all Australians and Americans should be shamed for displaying Australian and American flags in public, because those flags were once symbols of genocide and white supremacy and will be forevermore? Does that mean all Australians and Americans should be shamed until they leave Australia and the US and become naturalised citizens of other countries with less shameful pasts?

          You seem to be suggesting that symbols and communities with shameful pasts can never be rehabilitated, in which case all of us who live in the West should burn our flags, nuke our own countries and migrate to the developing world right now.

          I agree that symbols do not exist in a vacuum and cannot be reinvented instantly. I agree that displaying something like a swastika or a Confederate flag would be perceived by most people as a threat, incitement to violence or a hateful statement. However, on the continuum of problematic symbols, there is a lot of space between the Australian flag on one hand and the Nazi flag on the other. You believe all gendered religious symbols fall on the Nazi end. I believe they fall closer to the middle.

          Someone I read once (sorry I can not give more specific credit) likened this issue to political platforms. If political parties still had colonialist, anti-suffragette and so forth. elements in their platforms, would you accept a flimsy excuse of ‘tradition’ or ‘historical importance’ for their maintenance, even if the current programme (i.e. actual legislation) of the party in no way reflected those past views?

          No, I wouldn’t, but if only a tiny minority of the people in that party had those supremacist views, and most of them had modern outlooks and explained away their party platform by various excuses, the situation would be more complicated. Secondly, if a symbol which was once worn to indicate affiliation to the party had over centuries evolved to acquire a wide range of cultural meanings and values, it wouldn’t be fair to project one interpretation onto people wearing that symbol.

          1. Rebekah

            I am not even sure how to respond to someone who is so ignorant of Hindu traditions that she thinks the bindi has no gender-specific elements. Right, that’s why my dad wears a bindi all the time, just like my mum. Oh, wait. He doesn’t.

            Well the information on Hinduism that I find does not say the bindi is only for women, in fact it explicitly states that men wearing a dot is also a bindi. Nomenclature aside, you conceded that men do the exact same thing, even if they use different terms or claim different meaning. That sort of disingenuous and spurious posturing characterises your arguments.

            Secondly, it doesn’t even matter whether these symbols are gender-specific. There are lots of gender-specific clothes in our society, such as skirts, bikinis, bras and to a lesser extent high heels and nail polish, which I doubt you’re in favour of banning.

            Yet another laughably spurious argument. No religion or ideology of any sort dictates women wear bras or high heels or miniskirts as part of its sexual morality code. In fact forcing girls to wear those (e.g. those trashy American beauty pagents for young girls) is deeply frowned upon, even by women who wear them of their own volition as adults like me. Bras actually are interesting, because they at least reflect a physiological difference with men. Men have heads and could wear hijab just as easily, but the patriarchal norms as usual put the burden of modesty on women. And that is the issue you conspicuously refuse to acknowledge.

            Maintain and revere in what sense? In the sense that they actively practice those hateful supremacist behaviours?

            You know exactly what I mean by “[m]aintain and revere”. That is so disingenously obtuse that it is unworthy of a response.

            No, I wouldn’t, but if only a tiny minority of the people…

            Ah, yes, “tiny minority”, the favourite phrase of religious apologists. Mainstream Islam of all varieties is doctrinally homophobic and misogynistic, only a “tiny minority” of liberal Muslims are not thus. The same is true for Catholicism, Mormonism and many Protestant deniminations. Until you can deal with that reality I have nothing further to say to you.

          2. Ace of Sevens

            No religion or ideology of any sort dictates women wear bras or high heels or miniskirts as part of its sexual morality code.

            Yes, but some dictate ankle-length skirts or dresses, including lots and lots of Baptists. Should we ban those?

          3. Winterwind

            Rebekah:

            Well the information on Hinduism that I find does not say the bindi is only for women, in fact it explicitly states that men wearing a dot is also a bindi.

            If the information you have read about Hinduism tells you that the bindi/pottu is non-gendered or has no gender-specific connotations, then it is wrong. False. Incorrect. Take it from someone who was actually raised in the religion and knows more about it than you do.

            Nomenclature aside, you conceded that men do the exact same thing

            By that logic, Muslim men covering their heads with a skullcap is exactly the same as a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

            … even if they use different terms or claim different meaning.

            Yes, it doesn’t matter if Hindu men claim the bindi has a different meaning. You know better because you read about it somewhere, just like you know what the hijab means better than the women who wear it. Religious people have no power to define their own symbols. Only white atheists who read scholarly articles on religion do.

            Thank you for whitesplaining the meaning of the religion I was brought up in to me. I would have no idea what any of my own culture’s symbols meant if you hadn’t told me.

            That sort of disingenuous and spurious posturing characterises your arguments.

            It’s a shame that you consider facts to be “disingenuous and spurious posturing.” No wonder your views are so mind-bogglingly stupid.

            No religion or ideology of any sort dictates women wear bras or high heels or miniskirts as part of its sexual morality code.

            I’m not sure how stating the obvious helps your case. We were talking about social influences on women, not just religion. Secular society has its own morality code.

            In fact forcing girls to wear those (e.g. those trashy American beauty pagents for young girls) is deeply frowned upon, even by women who wear them of their own volition as adults like me.

            So if you’re fine with adult women making the choice to wear miniskirts and high heels, presumably you’re fine with adult women making the choice to wear the veil. Maryam thinks the veil is never a choice.

            Bras actually are interesting, because they at least reflect a physiological difference with men. Men have heads and could wear hijab just as easily, but the patriarchal norms as usual put the burden of modesty on women.

            Muslim men are instructed to cover their heads as well. They were skullcaps because they have short hair. Traditionally in the Abrahamic religions, men with longer hair wore longer cloth coverings. You can still see this headgear in Saudi Arabia – it looks very similar to a hijab. Here is an Aramaic Christian image of Jesus showing him wearing a “male hijab”:

            Aramaic Jesus

            The same verses in the Qur’an that prescribe modesty (hijab) for women prescribe it for men, too:

            Tell the believing men
            that they shall subdue their gaze
            (and not stare at the women),
            to maintain their chastity.
            This is purer for them.
            God is fully Cognizant
            of everything they do.
            And tell the believing women
            to subdue their gaze, and to be mindful
            of their chastity, and not to show off
            parts of their adornment [in public] beyond
            what may [decently] be apparent
            or obvious thereof;
            hence, let them draw their covers
            over their bosoms. (Qur’an 24:30—31)

            Yes, patriarchal norms put the burden of sexual gatekeeping on women. That is not merely a religious problem but a human problem. Have you not been paying attention to Elevatorgate, TAM, and all the other slut-shaming shit that goes on in our very non-Islamic societies?

            And that is the issue you conspicuously refuse to acknowledge.

            What I refuse to acknowledge is that the hijab is always a symbol of misogyny and never a woman’s free choice.

            You know exactly what I mean by “[m]aintain and revere”. That is so disingenously obtuse that it is unworthy of a response.

            You didn’t answer the question. Do you think the Australian and US flags should never be displayed, and are always symbols of genocide, racism and white supremacy, because of the licence to genocide, dispossession, and discrimination enshrined in their foundational texts? If not, why are religious symbols different from national symbols?

            Mainstream Islam of all varieties is doctrinally homophobic and misogynistic, only a “tiny minority” of liberal Muslims are not thus. The same is true for Catholicism, Mormonism and many Protestant deniminations.

            Yes, but despite being a gay man, I am not frightened when I see people wearing crosses, hijabs or skullcaps in public. As a dark-skinned man I would be extremely distressed and afraid for my safety if I saw people wearing KKK hoods or Nazi flags in public. The Muslims I meet on the street are not likely to stone me to death. If you fear for your safety as a woman when you see hijabs in public, you are paranoid.

            Until you can deal with that reality I have nothing further to say to you.

            I have no idea what reality you live in, but it doesn’t correspond to mine at all. Feel free to refrain from saying anything further to me. Everything I have read from you so far indicates that you are a fucking idiot.

    3. 11.3
      Siverly

      #Nicely put, Rebekah. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right. And the veil is a bold-faced symbol of misogyny that can’t be aoplogised away, even when some women are aplogising for it.

  12. 12
    Sean

    Alleged whataboutery and “cultural relativism” tend to be mutually exclusive, which is what makes these red herring tactics so obviously bogus. If you try to answer the question of whether the veil is oppressive strictly within the confines of the Muslim cultural context, you are accused of cultural relativism. But if you try to broaden the debate into an analysis of the Western cultural framework under which the veil ostensibly qualifies as “oppressive” you are then accused of whataboutery and trying to change the subject. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.

    Just to clarify, of course you have a right to form an opinion of any subject you like. Of course you have a right to make value judgments of other people’s cultures and beliefs based on whatever cultural standards you wish to apply.

    But when you use terms like “cultural relativism” as an accusation/pejorative, you are clearly implying that you believe there is some absolute, objective cultural standard to be applied here which in this case, just happens to be the Western one. If that’s not true, I’d like to know what you and Ms Namazie think that standard is.

    If on the other hand you think the question can be decided strictly within the Muslim cultural context without reference to external cultural perspectives even when the people claiming the veil is oppressive are coming from a Western perspective, then you are a cultural relativist. As I’ve said, you can’t have it both ways.

    If you want to apply a Western-based paradigm to a Muslim cultural issue, at the very least you should be intellectually honest enough to allow that paradigm to be challenged without employing red herrings as Ms Namazie does here. It is not comparing apples and oranges to compare how Western women are pressured to dress versus how Muslim women are. It goes right to the heart of the matter.

    What has been conspicuously absent in this debate is any rational argument as to why the veil is oppressive. I’ve offered one rational reason why I think it might be, yet I’m accused of cultural relativism. Everyone else seems to assert it as some self-evident truth.

    How about we back off from all the obvious attempts to derail the debate here and focus on that issue at hand. Give me a rational reason why you think the veil is oppressive and explain to me how we deal with the fact that most Muslim women don’t agree with you. Explain to me why your view gets to trump theirs.

  1. 13
    So should we outlaw covering or not covering? Cause we have to outlaw something right? « SINMANTYX

    [...] came across this post in Freethought Blogs, “For those who are in love with the veil and keep going on about how [...]

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