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Oct 26 2013

Niqab: a human right, a security concern or a symbol of oppression?

Here’s a video of the niqab debate I took part in last week at the LSE. It’s not the best footage but you can see the discussion if you’re interested:

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  1. 1
    Bicarbonate is back

    Hi Maryam,

    You’re right the film is not great but your speech is. Really clear and to the point. You say at 3:59 you say,

    When looking at the question of rights, one must also consider the impact of the niqab and burka on other women and particularly other Muslim women. It is not as harmless to others as it is often portrayed… the unveiled or improperly veiled woman is always held up adversely in comparison to the chaste veiled woman.

    I’d like to weigh in as a non-Muslim woman in the context of a university in France where between 2000 and 2006, when I was there, more and more women started wearing the hijab and the jilbab. This changed the atmosphere and particularly of all the places like hallways, the library, cafeterias (outside the classroom and teachers’ and staff offices). I felt increasingly uncomfortable and couldn’t figure out why. I have always been opposed to the veil but couldn’t understand the source of my discomfort other than my stand on the issue. Then I noticed that I had unconsciously begun to change the way I dressed, no more mini-skirts, for example. In thinking about these feelings and changes in behavior I observed in myself, I realized that I was afraid of appearing slutty in comparison to the veiled women or in the new atmosphere the veiling had created. I noticed that more and more, there were hallways where there were very few women, veiled or unveiled, and that walking through those places I felt something akin to fear or, at best, felt out of place.

    In analyzing my feelings, I realized it was quite complex. Part of my reaction was simply feeling at times like a minority, that part of my reaction didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was how I felt limits on my freedom and personhood at first very physically and confusedly and that it took me a while to be able to put this into words, to think of it in terms of freedom and personhood and to be able to state, with hesitation at first, that a woman wearing a veil affects more than herself.

    I now support banning hijab, jilbab, niqab and burka in public space — at least I support it most of the time, but am still going round and round about it in my mind.

    This university is outside of Paris in the Northern suburbs. I currently live inside Paris city limits and now am noticing more and more veils here too.

    1. 1.1
      Sofia

      Very interesting insight of you, thanks for sharing. I’m a non-muslim woman who spent a couple of years in Cairo and while I was always fighting for freedom of expression I also had an uncomfortable feeling about supporting the veil and the niqab, but couldn’t really figure out why. In the beginning the anti-niqab speeches didn’t make 100% sense, because the covered women kept pressing that they are completely happy and comfortable wearing it and they are free to do so. But then I realized that we cannot forget that the implications of them not wearing it have serious consequences, plus they are usually indoctrinated from childhood, and also, let’s not forget that the people who came up with the idea of covering were in fact, men. But this speech of Maryam cleared up the rest of my doubts and she is completely right, it divides women and puts them into catergories, I saw countless references in Egypt for that (for example the false popular idea that covered women get harassed less, or many friends of mine who simply wouldn’t consider marrying an unveiled woman, bars that won’t allow veiled women in, etc.). So yes, while veiled or niqabis argue that it is just a piece of clothing like anything else, I disagree, it is much more than that and therefore really need to be addressed differently. Thank you for your work Maryam, you are one of my great inspirations!

      1. Sofia

        insight *from* you, sorry :)

  2. 2
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Niqab: a human right, a security concern or a symbol of oppression?

    Maybe all three?

  3. 3
  4. 4
    ireminisces

    Asalamu alaikum,

    Thank you for sharing this lovely post. Please can you give me some tips on Romance over at ireminisces, thank you so much…

    Take Care

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