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May 21 2014

Multiculturalism

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In our ‘women in secularism’ conference in Virginia, USA, some Western scholars blamed government of France for the banning of burqas. I do not understand why they think Muslim women like to wear burqas and it is government of France, not Islam, violates Muslim women’s human rights. My mother used to wear burqas. Once I wore one of her burqas only to feel how she feels when she wears that. It was hot and suffocating. I could not feel I was a human. I just felt I was a nobody. I felt I did not have any identity and I did not exist. There was no reason for my mother not to feel the same I felt. But my mother could not stop wearing burqas only because her misogynistic patriarchal society wanted her to wear burqas.

If burqa is not good for Western women, it is not good for Eastern women. If burqa is good for women, it should also be good for men. But men don’t wear burqas. Men wear burqas when they go to kill or commit crimes, because they need to hide their faces. Women are forced to wear it because they are women and because men may look at them and get sexually excited. Instead of blindfolding men, society is forcing women to wear burqas. Women have to suffer only because men can not control their sexual urges. How pathetic the whole purpose behind the burqa is!

Liberal women discussing about multiculturalism believe that ‘Western people are racist, they hate Muslims’. It can be true. Suppose it is true, or it is very true, but it is wrong to think that because the West is against Muslims, it is alright for Muslim women to wear burqas. Whatever happens, it is never alright for anyone to wear burqas. Wearing Burqas is not the ‘culture’ that we should respect. We must not accept misogyny in the name of culture. If Western women need to fight misogyny, Eastern women also need to fight misogyny. Misogyny is Muslim culture, so Muslims should have the right to practice misogyny — this idea is racist. In the name of fighting Western racism and so called Islamophobia liberal Westerners show their own hidden racism which is the most dangerous kind of racism.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    jean-nicolasdenonne

    Not sure whose critics of the burqa ban you are talking about and what their exact position is but I would like to point out that in the many critics of the law in France and Belgium, the islamophobia charge is not particularly relevant (it is generally pointed out that the motivation for passing that law was to throw a bone to the xenophobic vote, but it is not used as an argument against the law per se.)

    The main charge of the critics is that the way you dress is in the domain of speech and that governments should not regulate how people dress or express themselves. The fact that the burqa is probably never the choice of the women wearing it is irrelevant because you open a can of worm where the government decides it “knows best” and use repression to curtail individual “speech”. And once that precedent is set, it becomes more difficult to prevent further curtailing of other speech, endangering the existence of art works such as Piss Christ (which was destroyed in France, coincidentaly) or ‘provocative’ writings.

    Free speech is already under constant attack in France (which was rated somewhere along Russia when it comes to free speech issues) with a priori censorship of anti-Semitic stand up comedian Dieudonné (whose a total weaselbag, but that is no excuse), a judicial system not very sympathetic to the freedom of the press and, as elsewhere in Europe, rather problematic anti-racist laws.

    Not that I disagree with your point of view on the burqa but I feel it is not a reason to go overboard and defend problematic laws.

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

    I don’t hate Muslims whoare just people but I certainly hate the religious ideology that is Islam and the horrendous things it leads Muslims to do that they wouldn’t do if they knew and thought and beleived other better things.

    Wearing the oppressive, symbolically women vanishing and vanquishing burqua is one of those things and,sadly, by quite a margin not the worst.

    Well said Taslima – some “cultural traditions” deserve to disappear into obscurity and deserve no respect but only condemnation from people with any sense or heart.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    I think burqas are horrible but there are reasons for thinking an outright ban on them is not the best way to get rid of them.

    On the other hand…and this was something I thought about saying on the panel…I always suspect that when we in “Western” countries say that it’s because we have the luxury of being able to say it – because burqas are such a rarity here. What if they weren’t? What if they became more and more common, so that it became more and more difficult for women and girls to refuse to wear them?

    That situation was part of the reason for the ban on religious garments in schools and other state buildings in France – because the hijab was becoming more and more obligatory so it was getting harder and harder for Muslim girls to refuse.

    So, it’s complicated.

  4. 4
    Phillip Helbig

    Is the law (if not technically, then in practice) to wear clothes in public in most countries just a lesser version of strict laws concerning clothes in Muslim countries? In other words, a difference of degree, not kind? Certainly the reasons people give for wearing clothes in public (which basically boil down to religiously motivated morality and the idea that men otherwise couldn’t control their sexual urges) are the same ones used to justify burqas and headscarves.

  5. 5
    jesse

    This gets into something I have brought up once in a while. Yes, wearing burquas in oppressive in any number of ways. But context is also important here.

    I mean, Jewish women are forced to wear wigs. How many people here knew that Orthodox Jewish women you see every day were operating under a dress code? None, I bet, because the wigs are not visible. But many conservative Jewish women cover their hair also. It wasn’t always wigs; in my grandma’s day many wore headscarves. Some modern Jewish women still do.

    But they are white people, you see. You don’t notice them because the white woman wearing what looks like a bandana on her head and a conservative skirt looks enough like “western” clothing that you don’t even see it.

    So do we ban the Jewish women from wearing headscarves and wigs? knee length skirts? It’s just as oppressive, for the very same reasons. Tell me, by what criteria do we decide that some article of clothing is oppressive enough to be banned? I could make a pretty good case that bikinis are misogynist and that women don’t “choose” to wear them, either.

    Do we ban women from shearing their hair after funerals (something many Jews do?) Rending clothing? All these are patriarchal symbols.

    That’s the problem We see people in France — xenophobes and racists — who want to ban burquas because they are visible symbols of an identity some folks would rather not have to deal with. But the problem is yes, it becomes a racist statute because it wouldn’t apply to Jews (see example above) or Amish, for instance. And it would be directed at racial minorities. (You can’t ignore the racialization of Islam generally in the last decade on the part of westerners discussing it).

    This doesn’t alter the fact that female dress codes in Islamic countries, given legal sanction, are oppressive. Nobody who talks seriously about multiculturalism would deny that. That also doesn’t alter the fact that telling people they can’t express part of their identity is just as oppressive, and honestly completely avoids addressing the problem at hand. it would be like saying we could deal with misogyny by outlawing rap music and hair metal.

    In Islamic countries there’s a real legal force behind forcing women to wear burquas, or niqab, or hijab. In countries with ostensibly secular governments there isn’t. In Islamic countries Islam is (by definition) the dominant culture; in France or the US or UK it isn’t. That’s a huge, honking, elephant-sized distinction. Just like it’s a huge distinction to make when you have a country that is culturally Christian because most people happen to be such (France, the US, the UK), one in which that is legally enforced (Spain until 1975) or one in which there is a lot of legal discrimination against non-Christians (this was one of the catalysts for the Lebanese civil war, btw) and one in which Christians are a disenfranchised minority (Iran).

    Here’s a quick-and-dirty litmus test I have for when I see laws regulating religion: if the local neo-nazis or racist xenophobes love it, then you need to rethink your position. Sometimes it’s a stopped clock situation, but other times it’s not, and we all need to be careful of those.

  6. 6
    Phillip Helbig

    I think there are some differences between conservative Jews and Moslems in this respect. One is that Jews don’t force their daughters to wear wigs. Like body modification or recreational drug use, I think some things should be forbidden for children but allowed for adults. Also, at least in the last couple of thousand years, the Jews don’t have a tradition of making people conform to their views. In fact, it is quite difficult to convert to Judaism even if one wants to. Israel is officially a Jewish state, but non-Jewish people don’t have to eat kosher etc. Another point is that the law in France talks about covering one’s face. In other European countries, this is the defining aspect, because culture depends so much on non-verbal communication which is much more difficult if one’s face is covered.

    One has to see context as well. Some proponents of the headscarf argue that it is just a piece of cloth. Well, a Nazi flag is also just a piece of cloth. The whole point is what it symbolizes. If someone wants to do silly things because of his own religious beliefs without imposing them on anyone else, then OK. However, since Islamic dress is required of all people (Moslem or not, citizens or not) in Islamic countries, I think it is fair to see this as a bigger danger to freedom than Jewish wigs.

    As you mentioned, some people don’t even notice that they are wigs. That really indicates that it is important for the person involved, not that the idea is to get everyone to conform to this.

    Another reason for accepting the right of a society to outlaw the burqa or whatever is that in every country in the world, the majority decides what everyone is allowed or required to wear. In no country in the world is it legal to be nude everywhere, for the simple reason that the majority doesn’t want it. By the same token, one should accept it if the majority decides to ban the burqa.

    If one supports the right for people to determine their own state of (un)dress, which would mean allowing the burqa, then OK, but this would have to apply to everyone, so nudists would no longer have to conform in public (or, in some countries, even in private). Many cite freedom in their desire to wear the burqa, but this, like discrimination, is just a phrase used in the hope that it will be easier to legally implement their desire. They are interested in freedom, but only for themselves. When there is a demonstration in support of the right to wear the burqa which cites freedom as the basis, offer to take part if you can do so nude. This calls their bluff every time.

  7. 7
    Arup Kumar Biswas

    I had always supported Taslima’s causes & concerns, so to say, I think myself as one of her staunch supporter since the day when I read her ‘Nirbachito Column’…. Thanks.

  8. 8
    Pen

    I kind of agree with jean-nicolas @1 – the problem, and the tragedy, here, is that the freedom of the woman apparently isn’t an option here. It’s a straight-forward tussle between their husbands/fathers and the state over which one of them is going to have the authority to tell her how to dress.
    The state telling people how to dress can only acceptable under very limited circumstances. You see, I think they are sort of getting round this by saying that society requires us all to show our faces in public. Which when you think about cctv, etc, means we have no entitlement to anonymity. It’s a proposal with pros and cons to it. Anyway, it means no balaclavas, scarves over your face when it’s cold, etc., and they had to make a special exemption for motorcycle helmets.

  9. 9
    jesse

    @Philip — my issue s that the bans on Islamic dress play into what I call the pod-people theory. Like, “Oh, if you allow that there will be CREEPING SHARIA” as though that was realistic. It isn’t.

    What, suddenly enough Muslims will immigrate and then the whole country will be under Islamic Law? That’s just stupid, just like it’s stupid to say that about Jews or Catholics (in the US they used to say that if we let too many Catholics in we’d be taking orders from the Pope). I live in a city where 1/6 of the population in Jewish, and the Orthodox have had some tussles with the local authorities but that’s about it, we can all still eat ham sandwiches. For the most part nobody notices.

    It gets down to something that’s important to remember: you can’t jail ideas. I think there is a very, very important issue to be discussed when talking about women who are forced to wear coverings by social pressure. But you just can’t deal with that by outlawing the dress used by any particular group. It never works. Heck, it doesn’t even work in places like Turkey, where the bans on religious expression got the fundamentalists more support.

    You want to see creeping religious law, go to Utah. Should the federal government outlaw bonnets and ankle-length skirts? The FLDS has been pretty clear about imposing their version of Christianity on everyone else, and they get people elected to office.

    Which gets us to the other problem: when you start going after one religion you privilege others by definition. That’s something else to be rather careful of.

    Again, I note that there is a big difference between the context you’re dealing with in France, say, and in Saudi Arabia. The real problem as I see it is that Muslims are visible, at least if they dress in a traditional fashion. All of a sudden you have to deal with them, and some folks find that uncomfortable.

    As to showing people’s faces, well, the simplest thing to do is just show the face when you go to the airport or whatever. They do it here all the time. Woman goes to border guard, unveils, it matches ID, no problem. The whole thing takes all of five seconds.

    FYI there was a time not so long ago that we in the “west” were talking about whether Buddhism was compatible with democracy and if we should therefore disallow Asians from immigrating. In fact, in the US we jailed hundreds of thousands of Japanese for that very reason. Because you know, Japanese culture was obviously so much worse and different and unique in its atrocities and blah blah blah. I hope you realize how that turned out.

    To me banning religious dress is a way to avoid actually addressing issues of misogyny and the rights of women, as though such issues were limited to Muslims (or whomever) and as though there were some magic bullet.

  10. 10
    Phillip Helbig

    “As to showing people’s faces, well, the simplest thing to do is just show the face when you go to the airport or whatever. They do it here all the time. Woman goes to border guard, unveils, it matches ID, no problem. The whole thing takes all of five seconds.”

    The whole point of the veil or whatever is not to show one’s face. So, the really strict people don’t do it at the airport. They don’t have driving licenses because there would be a picture on them.

    There have been cases in Europe where people wanted to wear a burqa while working at a state office, dealing with customers etc.

    So, in other words, as usual, the moderate people are not the problem.

    In France and so on, I think the main motivation for the burqa ban is the feeling that it disadvantages children.

    Of course, no law explicitly bans certain types of religious dress, unless it bans them all (and that is not uncommon). Really, it’s not different than the “no shirt, no shoes, no service”.

  11. 11
    David Valjean

    What can I say about Taslima Nasreen. Her ideology of equality and atheism has pushed more than 1,000,000,000, yes that’s ONE BILLION, people into early graves since 1900. Democide is the murder of people by governments and governments have murdered more people in the name of equality and fighting racism in 114 years than all the religions and religious wars combined since the dawn of time. This woman claims to care about people and to fight oppression but given the chance she would oppress and kill far more than any religious zealot ever would. And all in the name of humanity and humanism. Without God’s saving Grace we are no better than animals.

  12. 12
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    lolwtf David Valjean?

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