A dangerous piece of fabric

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. Rather than having it rattling around my head, I thought I’d just spew it out and ask for your help in working this out. Yes, I’m making a dick of myself by writing about something I don’t know very much about, but hey, that doesn’t stop Paul Sheehan writing about feminism.


The niqab. And France.

Believing that banning the niqab in public will stop women being oppressed is like believing that burying CO2 in the ground will fix climate change.

And we’re talking about 2000 women – out of out of a total French population of Muslim women of 1.5 million.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the ban is about liberating women. That the veil is their prison, imposed by men. (I wonder if this recognition extends to other parts of life, or if it’s just about sticking the boot into Islam and giving French men another 2000 women to perve on. Cynical? Moi?).

But it’s bullshit. I am fundamentally opposed to the idea that because women are forced to wear the niqab, then the right thing to do is force them not to wear it. How the fuck is that not also oppression?

A few years ago I met some women at a conference on Islam and the media, “Aussie converts” who wore the headscarf. They said they loved wearing it because it was a symbol of their pride in their beliefs, and it meant that in public, men stopped leering at them and looking them up and down. In public, they were people, not potential fucks or body parts to stare at. And, on a facetious level, they enjoyed not having to worry about their hair.

Of course, their experience is going to be very different to that of someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is just one of millions who have suffered in the name of Islam. (Mind you, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on making women suffer.) But it seems to me that banning the niqab has nothing to do with liberating women, and everything to do with telling Muslims that We in the West are Better. Because We allow Our Women to be Almost Nude in Public. (Almost nude, because women still don’t have the same semi-nudity rights as men.)

Update: I was just cleaning out my inbox and found this: Women unheard in the din about burqas:

If a woman has freely chosen to wear the full veil, then a law overriding that choice in public places is a clear curtailment of her civil and political rights. Those in the West who argue that women, even through the exercise of their own choice, should not be entitled to put themselves in a position which potentially demeans them, would do better to fight against violent pornography and unregulated prostitution.

If a woman has been forced to wear the burqa or the niqab, then it is barbaric to ostracise her socially, criminalise her, and restrict her access to public services. To isolate her further from the broader society and to discriminate against her while she is vulnerable, in the name of protecting her rights to be free from violence and discrimination, is nonsensical at best, dangerous at worst.

And as an aside, I wonder if Australian school kids are still being taught that Qantas is the only word in the English language that has a Q but no U? Burqa is in common English usage these days.

9 responses to “A dangerous piece of fabric

  1. nice post. that’s exactly how i feel about it. not only that but a ban will probably produce opposite results – women more restricted to their home, more defensive entrenchment of conservative beliefs as a community feels itself under attack. this proposal is nothing more than an attempt by sarkozy to improve his very poor popularity ratings.

    • Hi stargazer, welcome to the Nipples. You’re right about it imprisoning women inside their homes. And then there’s the issue of punishing women for the acts of men (considering that most radical Muslims are men).

  2. Quite right. A ban on burquas, niqab and headscarves is not about women’s rights it is about reducing Muslim rights and forcing ‘assimilation’ so that no one stands out or the face (pun intended) of Islam is less visible. Its just popularist policy to ride the wave of anti-migrant sentiments and I am surprised that despite all the analysis and current affairs that politicians don’t realise that actions like this actually make Muslims in western countries feel les included in the population and leads to increased radicalising, especially young Muslims, even more and cause greater problems for all members of society and potentially increase the risk of terrorism or civil unrest.

    Only Trinny and Susannah should have the right to tell you ‘what not to wear’

  3. I think it’s a French distrust of religious institutions in general, Muslims are just the latest victims.

  4. yes good point Kimsonof, France is quite a secular state – at least in terms of politics.

  5. So if they start wearing hats that cover their hair will they be allowed in France? Ultra0-orthodox Jewish women (I believe) also cover their hair, often with wigs or hats. I wonder that the French government thinks about them?

  6. Sorry that should be married women.

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