Britain should ban the niqab

Interview-photo-by-Shokooh BakhtiariHere’s me on Channel on whether Britain should ban the niqab/burqa? Err yes. See it here.

By the way, Fitnah’s third issue is almost ready for publication and will focus on secularism. It’s good to remind everyone to look at the November issue of Unveiled which focused on the veil and burqa. I am posting my editorial as well as an interview on it with Marieme Helie Lucas below for those who haven’t seen it.

Neither Veil nor Submission
Maryam Namazie

The niqab (and burqa) must be banned to protect women’s rights and secularism – and not just out of concern for security. It’s a shroud, strait jacket, and mobile prison for women and girls who are bound and gagged and made invisible. According to Algerian writer Karima Bennoune, the veil represents ‘the ever-encroaching fabric erasure of women’s bodies.’

Calling it a ‘right’ and ‘choice’ is as formal as formal can be when it is often deemed compulsory and imposed and policed by Islamists – often using brute force. Also, let’s not forget, the veil is a tool like many others to control and restrict women and girls. To me, saying it is a right and choice is like saying FGM, the chastity belt, foot-binding, or Suttee are such.

A ban is not a violation of the right to religion. Whilst the right to religion and belief is absolute, the right to manifest and express one’s beliefs can be and is at times restricted for a number of reasons, including protecting public security, health, order, and the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Men in Shi’a Islam might have the ‘right’ and ‘choice’ to marry four permanent wives and unlimited temporary wives, for example, but it is nonetheless banned in many places because it is deemed to be exploitative. Uniforms are another way in which the right to dress is restricted in society for health reasons.

The European Court of Human Rights confirmed this when it ruled in favour of Turkey’s right to ban the veil at universities (now under question due to Erdogan’s efforts to Islamicise the country). If dress can be restricted to protect health or public safety, why not to protect women’s rights and secularism?

Moreover, rights often conflict with one another. What about the adverse impact of the niqab and burqa on the rights and choices of unveiled or differently veiled women? It is not as harmless as is often portrayed. In the Shabina Begum case, the House of Lords granted that restricting Shabina from wearing the jilbab to school was permissible in order to protect the rights of others who feared being coerced into veiling. As Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says: “The ‘right’ to veil is always followed with the right to beat up women who do not.” Clearly, the right to veil has a corresponding right to unveil or not veil at all. The unveiled or improperly veiled woman is always held up adversely in comparison to the chaste, veiled woman.

Moreover, this is more than merely a question of ‘dress.’ It is important to remember that the niqab (as well as the burqa and the veil in general) is a highly contested political and social symbol. Many Muslims or those labelled as such are at the forefront of the fight against the burqa, niqab and veil – often at great risk to themselves.

In Iran, the slogan ‘neither veil nor submission’ has become a rallying cry in the ongoing fight between women and Islamic regime’s morality police. In another recent case in Sudan, Amira Osman Hamed who faces flogging for refusing to wear the hijab says: ‘I’m Sudanese. I’m Muslim, and I’m not going to cover my head.’In this day and age, the veil in general and the burka and niqab in particular are associated with Islamism’s efforts to limit rights and impose Sharia law. The enormous increase of veiled women and girls across the world and in Europe is a direct result of the rise of the contemporary Islamist movement and the ensuing pressure on women and girls to veil. Women are always the first targets of Islamism. And veiling restrictions on women is a particular signifier of things to come. The lawyer putting forth Turkey’s case for restricting the veil at universities said it well: ‘the hijab is not just a dress but a sign of political conviction; it shows near and present danger.’

A good case in point is Madani Free school in Derby where girls as young as 11 have to wear the burqa; all teachers, including non-Muslims, must wear the veil. Those who criticise the fuss over a ‘piece of clothing’ miss the point. The niqab and burqa are the most visible signs of Islamism’s war on women. It also represents sex apartheid and Sharia law and all that follows. In Madani School, burqa-clad girls must sit in the back of the classroom. On school trips, they must give way to boys and male teachers who cut in front of them in queues. Music is banned… (As an aside, child veiling is tantamount to child abuse. In the same way that children are not labelled Conservative or Marxist children because of their parents’ political beliefs, children should also be free of religious labels and faith schools until they are ready to make a choice of their own upon reaching 16.)

Calling for a ban on the niqab or burqa is not about criminalising Muslim women anymore than banning FGM criminalises girls and women who are mutilated. Whilst a ban won’t solve everything (there has yet to be a single prosecution with regards FGM) changes in the law, including bans, are important steps in changing culture and attitudes and defending rights.

Moreover, calling for a ban is not about cultural imperialism or colonialism. Islamist efforts in many places are forms of colonialism too. The burqa and niqab are not traditional forms of dress but newly imposed ones for a majority of contexts. Plus there are bans on the niqab or veil in a number of countries outside of Europe. This is not about East versus West. In Egypt, the Ministry of Health has prohibited the wearing of the niqab by nurses in hospitals. Egypt’s top Islamic school, al-Azhar, has issued a ban on wearing the niqab in classrooms and dormitories of all its affiliate schools and educational institutes. Al Azhar also obliges women to show their faces in court via a decree issued in 1880. In Iraq, the niqab has been banned by a fatwa. In Kuwait, women wearing the niqab have been banned from driving. In Azerbaijan and Tunisia, veils are banned from public buildings and schools. In Syria, until recently, teachers were banned from wearing the niqab…

Unfortunately, many secularists in Europe have shown a lack of clarity and moral courage when it comes to banning the burqa and niqab. Secularism is a human right (as philosopher AC Grayling says) and one that needs to be actively defended, promoted, and articulated; it is a fundamental precondition for women’s rights and equality.

Secularists have a responsibility to seize the initiative (particularly given the far-Right’s attempts at hijacking the issue to promote their anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry). Calling for a ban is not in and of itself racist though racism and prejudice are very real and need to be opposed on par with sex discrimination.

A ban has nothing to do with a ‘clash of civilisations;’ it has everything to do with a global struggle between secularists, including many Muslims, on the one hand and theocrats and the religious-Right on the other.

A Manifesto against Totalitarianism which I signed in 2006 with 11 others including Salman Rushdie on the Danish cartoon controversy still applies today:

“We reject the ‘cultural relativism’ which implies an acceptance that men and women of Muslim culture are deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secularism in the name of the respect for certain cultures and traditions.

“We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia,’ a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatisation of those who believe in it.”

And to that I must add the wretched concept that confuses a criticism of the niqab, burqa and veil as a stigmatisation of those who believe in it and wear it…

The veil is nothing but the flag of the Muslim far-right
Interview with Marieme Helie Lucas

Maryam Namazie: Limitations on the veil in schools and an all-out ban on the burqa or niqab are often seen to be authoritarian. Your views?

Marieme Helie Lucas: First of all, it is useful not to conflate the two issues: that of veiling girls in schools and banning the face covering. I will thus answer them as two separate questions.

When talking of veils in schools, one automatically refers to the veiling of under-aged girls, i.e. not the veiling of women. The question thus becomes: who is to decide on girls’ veiling – themselves or the adults who are in charge of them? And which adults?

I know of only one book that looks at this issue; it is a pamphlet entitled ‘Bas les Voiles’ (by Chahdortt Djavann, Gallimard 2003) that was published by an Iranian woman exiled in Paris at the time when the Stasi Commission in France was collecting the views of concerned women (and men) before the adoption of the new law on religious symbols in secular state schools. The author states that the psychological damage done to girls by veiling them is immense as it makes them responsible for men’s arousal from a very early age. This point requires special consideration given the new trend to veil girls as young as 5 as shown in the numerous campaigns throughout North Africa. The author goes on to explain that the girl’s body is thus turned into the site of “fitnah” (seduction or source of disorder) meaning that she cannot look at it or think of it in positive terms. This attitude builds girls that fear, distrust, and feel disgust and anguish at their own bodies. At such an early age, little girls have no way of countering this shaping of their self; they are entirely under the thumb of anti-women men. The women growing up from these psychologically damaged girls are likely to need a lot of help to be able to reconsider themselves and their bodies in more positive terms, to reconstruct their self image, to conquer their bodily autonomy, to abandon guilt and fear – and to give back to men the responsibility of their sexual acts. I think it would be very useful for more women researchers to delve into the psychological damage done to girls who are veiled from an early age. [Read more…]

Is the niqab a human right, security concern or symbol of oppression?

LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society public debate
Date: Tuesday 15 October 2013
Time: 6.30-8pm
Venue: CLM4.02, Clement House
Speakers: Akeela Ahmed, Edie Friedman, Taj Hargey, Maryam Namazie
Chair: Professor Chetan Bhatt

Is the Niqab (face veil) a human right, a security concern or a symbol of oppression? Given the most recent events, this debate will shed some light on this controversial topic.

Akeela Ahmed is the Director of the Christian Muslim Forum.
Edie Friedman is the founder and Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality.
Taj Hargey is the Director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford.
Maryam Namazie is the founder and spokesperson for One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.

This event is free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis. For any queries email or call 074 2872 0599.

To ban or not to ban the burka

Again the “veil controversy”. And as usual full of misinformation and deception.

Let me clear a few things up:

First off, no one is calling for an all-out ban on the veil though proponents often give this impression. Even the French ban is not an all-out ban; it merely bans all “conspicuous religious symbols” – not just the hejab but also the cross and skullcap – in public schools. The burqa ban too is a ban on face covering not an all-out veil ban.

Secondly, supporting a burka ban is not racist or discriminatory in and of itself. Proponents deceptively imply that the “authentic” Muslim woman is one who supports the veil, the niqab and burka and any opposition is an attack on “Muslim women”. But there is no homogeneous “Muslim community” anywhere. In fact, many women, including “Muslim women,” vehemently oppose the burqa and niqab and even the veil itself. Today, one of them – Amira Osman Hamed – is being tried in Sudan for refusing to wear the hejab (head covering).

Even the highest Islamic institution of Egypt, Al Azhar, obliges women to show their faces in court via a decree issued in 1880. And numerous Islamic scholars oppose the niqab or face covering and consider it un-Islamic.

Moreover, as Algerian secularist Marieme Helie Lucas says, the rights of the unveiled are just as implicated as those who are veiled. The “right to veil” rapidly becomes the right to beat up those who do not. Yes, certainly there are women who freely choose to wear the niqab or burqa but on a mass social scale, they are impositions.

Thirdly, whilst the niqab or burka are often framed within the context of “a woman’s right to choose”, it has to do with much more than mere religious identity and religious beliefs. Apart from the fact that it is a symbol of women’s subordination, it is also a tool of Islamism. The increase in the burka and niqab are a direct result of the rise of the far-Right political Islamic movement and part of that movement’s broader agenda to segregate society and impose sex apartheid.

To ban or not to ban the burka? Ban it, of course.

And not merely because of security matters or for purposes of identification and communication as is often stated but in order to protect and promote the rights of women and girls – all of them – and not just the few who wear the burka and niqab…

Frankly, I think every secularist and women’s rights defender should support a burka/niqab ban. That they don’t shows a lack of moral courage and clarity in the face of the religious Right’s barbarity and misogyny.

For me personally, nothing better portrays the outrage of the burqa and niqab than the below photo of an Afghan woman who is hardly discernible sitting amongst rubbish bags. The burqa and niqab dehumanises and relegates real live human beings – many of them children – to a life in a mobile prison, straight jacket – to a life within a rubbish bag.

How can anyone defend it or worse refuse to call for a ban?





If you are still unsure, here are a few must read articles: 

Secularism vs communalism: learning from the ban on full face covering veil in France by Marieme Helie Lucas

The Law of Brothers versus the Law of the Republic by Karima Bennoune

The burka empowering? I think not! by Maryam Namazie

Read them and let sanity prevail.