Burqa Bollocks

June 28, 2009 at 4:44 pm (bloggocks, Islam, media, voltairespriest, wankers, women)

Ever since the staggering news broke that Nicholas Sarkozy believes the burqa is “not welcome” in France, a debate has been raging amongst rent-a-gob talking heads in the UK about whether or not a ban on wearing the burqa should be instituted here. Except the problem is that there is only one side in the debate, and it is flailing at shadows.

The latest example was this morning on BBC1, when Nicky Campbell’s panel show “The Big Questions” featured the item. It was all standard Sunday morning popcorn fare, with Peter Hitchens being crotchety and (in news this blog finds especially reassuring) the return of a familiar face in the form of the still-delightfully-weird Yvonne Ridley. And so “debate” they did, some people against the idea of wearing the burqa, others in favour of it as a religious duty, others still defending the practice on the even more spurious grounds that it is a “feminist gesture”. Much ya-boo-hiss knockabout fun ensued.

The problem they had, of course, is that there is no prospect of a legislative ban on the wearing of the burqa in the UK. It ain’t gonna happen. Furthermore, almost no prominent figures in the UK, whether they approve of the burqa or not, support legislating for a ban. The debate about the ban is therefore completely redundant. For all the difference it would have made in terms of political relevance, Campbell (and Dimbleby on last week’s Question Time, and Old Uncle Tom Cobley and All previous to that) might as well have picked a debate about whether one can indeed get better than a Kwik-Fit fitter, or whether one prefers Daddy to chips.

Of course, the burqa is one of those subjects which provide an endless opportunity for blow-hards in the media and on the blogosphere to vent hot air. The reality is rather different. You can approve of the burqa if you want: personally I think that if you do, you’re defending a culturally specific and socio-politically reactionary practice which is not laid down in the Qur’an, but equally that’s just my view and besides, frankly I don’t really care to debate it out that much as I’m not a Muslim. However, that doesn’t mean that I think the law has any business interfering in people’s right to believe nonsense on any number of unrelated subjects. For instance, I strongly disagree with the idea that the human race owes its current situation to a volcano-dwelling alien called Xenu. Do I (and others) mock Scientology ruthlessly on this blog as a consequence? Yes. Is it then right to call for state intervention to stop Scientologists from practising what they believe, such as the silly tin-can stressometer thing? Absolutely not.

The reason? Secularism, my friend. One of the most mis-used words in the religious and political lexicon, it refers to the state being free from religious control. Religious belief should be allowed free rein a secular society, and if that means that some women choose to wear an archaic piece of clothing then it is their right to do so. The state only has an issue where religion encroaches on its power, and if that is our primary concern then women wearing silly clothes should be the least of anyone’s worries.

All of which rather strikes me as being common sense. Not that it means the “debate” is likely to stop. Yvonne, Peter and all the others do have bills to pay, you know.

80 Comments

  1. Jim Denham said,

    I agree that a ban would be anti-libertarian and counter-productive. To make an issue out of it would also play into the hands of the Islamo-fascists who seek a showdown over this issue.

    But, still, the left needs to be clear that the burqa and the veil/hijab, are oppressive and unacceptable, even though we’re against a state ban.

    The risible Mary (America had it [9/11] coming”) Beard is all too typical of the relativist-liberal “left”, when on last week’s BBC Radio 4 “Any Questions”, she claimed that Islamic dress was, somehow “liberating” for women. I notice that she hasn’t continued to wear a burqa since her “liberating” visit to the Sudan, when she first discovered how “liberating” the burqa is:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00l68v7#synopsis

  2. voltairespriest said,

    Sure – as I said, I don’t like the practice of wearing the burqa. But in the grand scheme of things, is it such a priority issue? Living in the West Mids as we both do, how many burqas do you actually see? I’ve seen a fair few hijabs, a few niqabs even, but in 9 years of living in the area I think I’ve seen 3 burqas, tops.

  3. maxdunbar said,

    Me too and I’ve lived in three cities with large Muslim populations. I think Voltaire is right, in this country the burqa is more an abstract media debate staple than a policy issue.

  4. Darren said,

    Unfortunately, you see a lot of burqas in Brooklyn.

    (Saying that, it could just be that I’ve seen the same burqa-wearing woman a few hundred times. Who could tell?)

    • voltairespriest said,

      Say “good morning” and see if her reply sounds the same each time?

  5. Red Maria said,

    Yvonne, Peter and all the others do have bills to pay, you know

    Said the chap who appeared on BBC World News (or whatever it’s called these days) to debate political blogging.

    Comrades, this is really very straightforward.

    That adulterous cretin, Nicolas Sarkozy says that women garbing themselves in dreary neutrals from head to toe are not welcome in his country.

    He’s talking about nuns.

    Me and him are gonna fight.

  6. voltairespriest said,

    I hardly think a couple of slots on the Beeb to talk about the EU elections (and not, in fact, political blogging) makes me a rent-a-pundit!

    Errm, no he isn’t talking about nuns, who are part of a political force (the Catholic Church) more powerful than the various bozos claiming to represent women who wear burqas. Indeed, a nun’s outfit doesn’t even look like a burqa: see pictures at the top of this post for examples of the latter.

    Equally his behaviour in his personal relationships is not relevant to this political question.

  7. Jenny said,

    I love you, those are my thoughts exactly. Besides, how would this be enforced?

  8. voltairespriest said,

    Love you too – essentially it either couldn’t be enforced (imagine the backlog in the courts), or it would have to be horrendously authoritarian. You’d end up with a reverse-angle image of the Iranian morality police, ripping the burqas off of screaming women in the streets. Hardly an edifying picture of “western freedoms” that even a right-wing government would want to broadcast to the world.

  9. Red Maria said,

    I was only teasing.

    And yes, I know he wasn’t talking about nuns but he may as well have been. Some orders wear habits which are nigh on burkhas. What’s sauce for for the Moslem goose is equally sauce for the Catholic gander.

  10. johng said,

    Whats meant by saying that wearing Hijab is “unacceptable”?

    • voltairespriest said,

      I didn’t say it was unacceptable.

  11. John Meredith said,

    I don’t think ‘unacceptable’ is a useful word but we should all recognise that wearing a burqa is degrading, and be prepared to say so, I think. People of the left shouldn’t just stand aside and watch the organised degradation of any section of society, even if they can’t legislate against a particular practice.

  12. Sue R said,

    The fact is that there are points of conflict between wearing a burkha and the enforcement of social order. It has been the disguise of choice of terrorists and criminals, although, that is not the same as saying that every burqua wearing female is a disguised terrorist or criminal. I think it is legitimate for a society to ask how it can take measures to keep its members secure. As for the hijab, the face is on display but the mind is blinkered. I personally find the flaunting of symbols of female inequality and religious intolerance quite horrible. But that’s just me. Interestingly, one of the flashpoints in Iran is the prescription of female dress and the Muslim Morality police.

  13. voltairespriest said,

    John: where precisely in the UK is the wearing of the burqa a widespread practice? It strikes me as essentially a non-issue here. Similarly the people who are hopping up and down shouting “no ban” are making something out of nothing, because no proposals for a ban are on the agenda.

  14. John Meredith said,

    “John: where precisely in the UK is the wearing of the burqa a widespread practice? ”

    I don’t think it is widespread, although it is a reasonably common sight in London. That is one of the reasons that I don’t think it is a hugely important issue, but it doesn’t hurt sometimes just to make clear that people on the left should (in my view) consider the burqa to be degrading. The niqab too, and, generally speaking, the hijab as well.

  15. Chicken Bait said,

  16. Red Maria said,

    John Meredith:

    Feminists have considered everything from bras to make up degrading. Some Christians consider mini skirts and stilettos degrading. They’re all entitled to their opinion. The state isn’t entitled to impose one section of society’s opinion on what should or should not be worn by women on another’s.

  17. John Meredith said,

    “The state isn’t entitled to impose one section of society’s opinion on what should or should not be worn by women on another’s.”

    It is, in my opinion, if it thinks that the choice is coerced. I don’t think there is a point of principle there at all. If I thought a burqa/hijab/niqab ban could be effective and instituted without violence or social unrest I wouldn’t hesitate to ban the lot of them. Some muslim women would suffer from the ban but far more would be liberated, I think. It is only that a ban is impractical that makes me oppose it.

  18. johng said,

    Jim said we should make it clear that the wearing of Hijab is ‘unacceptable’. That John thinks he has the right to make a decision on behalf of Muslim women about their choices (holding back only because it is ‘impracticable’) strikes me as a demonstration of authoritarian attitudes nothing more. Where exactly is the imaginary conversation about this going to happen, and will this include the many Muslim women who wear the Hijab? Or by dint of wearing the Hijab do they rule themselves out of the conversation about what they will be permiitted to do?

  19. John Meredith said,

    “Where exactly is the imaginary conversation about this going to happen”

    It’s not going to happen, that is sort of the point. And it isn’t authoritarian to stop people being degraded and victimised (althougnbh it IS authoritarian to demand the murder of all Jews as your friends and allies in Hamas do, John). If it was practical to put an end to it, it would be a duty. It just isn’t practical. Of course, johng and friends have painted themselves into the position of having to pretend that forcing women to cover their faces is in some way progressive, or that it reflects the free choice of muslim women. Oddly, no muslim men choose to wear a burqa, none at all. I guess they are just instinctively less pious than the girls.

  20. voltairespriest said,

    JG: I think he’s questioning whether a “choice” is always made at all, but yes, I agree with you that the state has no business proscribing religious beliefs or dress codes. Unless, of course, we are talking about practices which infringe the rights of others, say in the field of equal opps at work or anti-discrimination law in everyday life. However the wearing of the hijab and even the burqa do not fit this latter category.

  21. John Meredith said,

    “but yes, I agree with you that the state has no business proscribing religious beliefs or dress codes”

    And what about FGM? The state have no business proscribing that if it is done for religious reasons? I am sure you will say that it is the state’s business, which means the principle here isn’t whether or not the state should interfere with religious practices, but the severity of the infringment of human rights and the practicality of interevening .

  22. Sue R said,

    The burqa could be an equal opportunity issue, I can imagine the situation where a burka-clad woman is sacked from her job because of wearing the cumbersome garment. In fact it happened a couple of years ago, in Luton or somewhere. The teacher (who was actually the daughter of a local hibz-ut-Tibr cleric) took the education autority to a tribunal over the issue. Over at Harry’s Place, Monty, one of the regular posters, says a friend of his employed a Muslim woman who now refuses to deal with men over the telephone and is suing him for religious discrimination. I don’t like the idea of the state intervening in personal life, but some people don’t have the same mores as us. That’s the whole point. I think this is one reason why Islamic society is so unstable, but don’t worry, they are going to defeat American Imperialism!

  23. maxdunbar said,

    I supported the French headscarf ban and agreed with the presidential commission that it was a positive thing for the authorities to create a space where Muslim women who didn’t want to wear hijab didn’t have to. People seem to treat religious dress as a fashion statement and forget that there is coercion in Muslim communities.

    But this burqa idea is ridiculous. It’s police state stuff and, because it’s completely unenforceable, it is as Voltaire said an academic debate of no real practical consequence.

  24. Jim Denham said,

    Some good letters in today’s ‘Graun’, responding to a particurly silly article by Stuart Jeffries:

    Stuart Jeffries makes the mistake of viewing the burka as a sartorial choice and so assuming it can be compared with the silliness of western fashion (Sarko, brush up your Hegel, 25 June). If one extreme, why not the other? Surely this is offensive to anyone making a serious choice about religious dress?

    The key point is this: the face is far too important to be covered. It is crucial both to being recognised as an individual and to communication between people. Facial expression and body posture (also masked by the burka) contribute a huge proportion of the information we transmit to each other, irrespective of the voice. There is a reason why we refer to “face to face” meetings and still think them important.

    Jeffries denounces President Sarkozy for daring to comment on the burka because Sarkozy is a man. By the same token, Jeffries has no business to speak in its favour. I, on the other hand, am a woman and for this reason I can apparently speak authoritatively on the matter? Oh dear, I really did think we had got over such sexist nonsense by now.

    There may just possibly be Hegelian arguments for total body coverage, but these have been trashed by mixing them liberally with the froth of modern mores. In this instance, I believe Sarkozy is dead right. The burka deprives its wearer of identity and cuts her off from effective communication with the rest of society. It is not a sartorial choice, but an instrument of oppression in the guise of a religious observance. Let us not be too mealy-mouthed and mealy-minded to identify this when it is staring us in the (that word again) face.
    Marian Whittaker
    Harpenden, Hertfordshire

    Even women in high heels, whose minds have been numbed by the abstract freedoms of late capitalism are able to engage, eye to eye, expression to expression, with those they come into contact with. I fail to see how any degree of cultural integration and mutuality is possible if this basic form of human communication is eschewed. And if Jeffries used to think about this in a diametrically opposed way, why should his radical reorientation of thought have any greater veracity? I wonder what Hegel would have to say about this.
    Christopher Coppock
    Cardiff

    Stuart Jeffries finds it striking “that it is again a man who denounces women and presumes they are cut off from all society”. I hope he is aware that there are many French women, like me, who find it extremely difficult to accept in our country “women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity”.
    Claire Dolman
    Derby

  25. Voltaire's Priest said,

    And what about FGM? The state have no business proscribing that if it is done for religious reasons?

    FGM has nothing to do with clothes, nor indeed religion for that matter. The people who campaign against it are as likely to be Muslim clerics as they are to be feminists or progressives.

  26. maxdunbar said,

    ‘FGM has nothing to do with clothes, nor indeed religion for that matter. The people who campaign against it are as likely to be Muslim clerics as they are to be feminists or progressives.’

    Erm… really?

  27. voltairespriest said,

  28. maxdunbar said,

    Okay. Fair enough

  29. Sue R said,

    FGM is a pre-Islamic practice, and it is practiced by non-Muslims in Africa, indeed that is true, but why aren’t the clerics where it is practiced more vigorous in denouncing it? It seems to me it’s only the pressure of being in America and under some sort of limited scrutiny that has led to this man admitting that it is not a Koranic practice.

  30. johng said,

    “I don’t like the idea of the state intervening in personal life, but some people don’t have the same mores as us”

    My understanding is that British citizens are British citizens whether they are muslims or not, and whatever style of religious dress they wear. Who, in this context, is “us”? Is Muslim inclusion conditional in a way that it is not for others?

  31. voltairespriest said,

    Sue: that particular bloke is in the USA (although how you came to think that means he’s under “pressure” or “scrutiny” to state an obvious historical fact. eludes me), but as far as I’m aware many Muslim scholars and clerics in most of the world take the same view. That may not be convenient to your argument, but it happens to be true.

    JG: quite.

  32. John Meredith said,

    “My understanding is that British citizens are British citizens whether they are muslims or not”

    That’s right, and so they are entitled to the same degree of protection from coercive, degrading practices. In an ideal world this would mean protecting them from the reactionary patriarchal bigots that force them into niqabs and burqas. Of course, this is not an ideal world, but we can and should still express our dismay at such displays of oppression and humiliation. I am sure johng agrees deep down. Have you noticed how few of the men who consider the burqa or niqab liberating wear one themselves? Or perhaps johng does, I don’t know.

  33. maxdunbar said,

    lol

  34. Sue R said,

    I have seen the error of my ways. I recant. The state should be forced to enforce burka wearing on all women born into a Muslim heritage or choosing a Muslim heritage.

  35. Sue R said,

    WE ARE ALL MUSLIMS NOW. (Actually, I’ve always fancied being an Inuit, is it ok if I self-describe myself as that?)

  36. lenin said,

    In an ideal world this would mean protecting them from the reactionary patriarchal bigots that force them into niqabs and burqas

    In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a need to ‘protect’ women from anything. In fact, the idea of a white superman protecting Asian Babes from their dark-skinned oppressors is an artefact of a world altogether not ideal. What you really mean to say is that the anti-racist campaigns which people unfortunately supported in a flush of youthful idealism, forgetting their responsibility to the non-adult races, inhibit people like you from engaging in a thoroughgoing progressive kulturkampf. Somehow, you feel, cultural relativism is implicated. And postmodernism – not that anyone here knows what it means, but it must be bad. If not for these baneful cultural phenomena, the result of ‘guilt’ or something, these poor, unfortunate people could be enlightened already. All this depends, sadly, on the unfounded assumption that those who wear the burqa or niqab do so because they are forced to do so by patriarchs – probably not an assumption based on a good sample and a judicious application of the chi-square test.

    The pathetic attempt to divert the issue by pretending that anyone said the burqa is in and of itself ‘liberating’ (which Dumbell predictably finds amusing) is telling. Any item of clothing is liberating or oppressive to the extent that it is bound up in a thick lattice of symbolism that is not exhausted by the issue of ebondark patriarchs oppressing their females. No one has said that any item of clothing is essentially, in itself, either stifling or enlivening. It is what it is because of what is invested in it. What kind of symbolism is endowed on a garment, I wonder, by the constant surveillance, judgments, attitudinizing, media scaremongering and racist attacks that result from wearing it? And by encouraging the racist campaign against garments known to be worn by Muslim women, what favours is one doing for women of colour? We’ve had women who have had their headscarfs ripped off by young brats because Jack Straw started slabbering about it. There is an ongoing stream of verbal abuse directed at Muslim women. The media campaigns rarely stop. Hardly a week goes by without someone saying something thoughtless and contemptible. In the last week, we have had a racist attack on an Asian woman wearing a headscarf by a young thug undoubtedly thoroughly immersed in the anatomising of that particular garment. Various forms of legal and illegal discrimination persist. In such circumstances, I ask you, what would any average person, not wedded to the jackboots, make of such a garment?

    • maxdunbar said,

      Richard

      There’s no real need for this screed because everyone here is against a burqa ban – I can’t think of anyone on the liberal left who supports it. This is why Kafa/Islamophobia Watch were reduced to scrolling through Harry’s Place threads to prove their case against the Islamophobic decents.

      The only point that divides us is that most of us here accept that there is a degree of oppression and coercion within Muslim communities. Read Gina Khan:

      ‘I asked him why he had come home late one night, he slapped me across the face and shouted ‘don’t question my authority. In our religion you are not allowed to speak to me like that.’ It was a defining moment for me. He had used religion to control me.’

      http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=323

      This was important when it came to the French headscarf ban. The presidential commission found:

      ‘[I]t has become clear that in schools where some Muslim girls do wear the headscarf and others do not, there is strong pressure on the latter to ‘conform’ This daily pressure takes different forms, from insults to violence. In the view of the (mostly male) aggressors, these girls are “bad Muslims”, “whores”, who should follow the example of their sisters who respect Koranic prescriptions.

      We received testimonies of Muslim fathers who had to transfer their daughters from public to (Catholic) private schools where they were free of pressure to wear the headscarf. Furthermore, in the increasing number of schools where girls wear the hijab, a clear majority of Muslim girls who do not wear the headscarf called for legal protection and asked the commission to ban all public displays of religious belief.

      A large majority of Muslim girls do not want to wear the scarf; they too have the right of freedom of conscience. Principals and teachers have tried their best to bring back some order in an impossible situation where pressure, insults or violence sets pupils against one another, yet where to protest against this treatment is seen as treason to the community. There are cases where pupils who have had their arms broken in violent acts have lied to their parents in order to avoid denouncing their peers.’

      http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-europe_islam/article_1811.jsp

      This finding added a new dimension to the debate – it wasn’t just about the right to wear hijab but the right not to wear it. This is why Patrick Weil changed his mind.

      Childish cod-psychology aside, this degree of coercion is not an unfounded assumption, and you’re not getting the whole story if you ignore it.

  37. voltairespriest said,

    And postmodernism – not that anyone here knows what it means, but it must be bad.

    As it happens I do “know what it means”, old boy. It formed a recurrent and less-than-interesting part of my degree, which was spent reading often badly-written and intellectually shallow material by people who think that writing simple concepts in the most impenetrable language possible makes them “deep thinkers”. Which, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, is possibly the best synopsis of postmodernism (insofar as one can call it a name as though it were a phenomenon with a coherent core) ever written. All the best writers who appear on undergraduate curricula about postmodernism either simply didn’t apply the term to themselves, or actively disavowed it. Either way, what always struck me about “postmodern” writing was its incredible elitism, masquerading as “radicalism”: the naked claims of “if you disagree with us then you’re clearly too stupid to comprehend the genius contained within our writings” being examples of liberal academia at its worst.

    Moving on to your substantive points though, I entirely agree about the issue of prevalent racism regarding women who wear hijab (or xyz religious garment) and images popularly portrayed of them all too often being demonisings stereotype. Women in hijab are always either shown as passive victim or evil terrorist, and neither image often tells the true story of the person behind the garb. Furthermore the racial attacks that have been carried out have obviously been horrendous. In point of fact, they haven’t been limited to Muslims – violent racists being the bright bunch that they are, a number of Sikhs have also been subjected to attacks by people who thought wearing turbans meant they were Muslims.

    That having been said, it may not be convenient to you or the SWP given your political trajectory over recent years, but I think there is a debate to be had about the innate sexism of various religious strictures that apply to women. However it really ought not to be had in the political context of “banning burqas” or “women need rescuing from the perils of headscarves” etc. What concerns me there is why so many on the left appear to think that (say) the burqa is a major priority issue of the moment, when it clearly isn’t. Incidentally that disproportionality applies equally to those hopping up and down arguing against a ban which isn’t going to happen, as it does to those hopping up and down arguing for it.

  38. Eskimo Sue R said,

    Bigger, better burkhas NOW!!! Long live the political virtue in Islam as manifested in Iran!

  39. John Meredith said,

    “In fact, the idea of a white superman protecting Asian Babes from their dark-skinned oppressors …”

    Good grief, ‘white supemen’, ‘Asian Babes [interesting capitalisation]‘, ‘dark skinned oppressors’? Is it the heat, do you think?

    “All this depends, sadly, on the unfounded assumption that those who wear the burqa or niqab do so because they are forced to do so by patriarchs”

    What a silly idea” The very thought! Of course women wear a black face-covering shroud in 40 degree temeratures because they like it. It is just one of those strange biological facts that no men like it and so no men choose to wearit. Although, as I said, we don’t actually know that Richard Seymour and others do not wear burqa in solidarity with their feminist muslim sisters.

  40. Eskimo Sue R said,

    Actually, boys, I’m wearing a silky, sheer, clinging burkha and I’m naked underneath….I’m getting hot, hot, hot…think I’ll slip if off….up along my long, long legs all the way to my thighs….(continued page 94)

  41. Red Maria said,

    Side splitting.

  42. johng said,

    Strangely enough there is this unfortunate tendency for the religious to be religious. Some people (amazingly) who are religious believe in their religion and seek ways of conforming to it. Its really odd I know, but thats one possible reason why people choose things that are not comprehensible to you. Because they have different beliefs. This is always rather challenging of course. But when discussing religion, capitalism and oppression, its generally best to remember this…Even women can have beliefs. Shocking I know.

  43. johng said,

    The thing you are missing Voltaire is that if a ban is not likely, the constant whipping up of hysteria about the Muslim other is the legacy of the war drive associated with the war on terror. Thats why these things flare up. Not because of a bunch of silly billlies unsure what to do during the silly season.

  44. johng said,

    Oh and Voltaire. A word in your shell like. Sue R just posted this on Dave’s Part:

    “I must say though that as a white European brought up in a rationalist tradition, I do find cultures where people cannot pull together and get on with their neighbour rather strange and do wonder what is the matter with such people, don’t they like law and order?”

  45. Eskimo Sue R said,

    What part of that statement don’t you like, John Game for a laugh? By the way, my 13 year old daughter has just asked me why the Americans had to try and impose democracy on people who didn’t want it, and how long will the war go on. I’m afraid I agree with her, when she says if they were happy with their dictator, why didn’t we leave them alone.

  46. johng said,

    I think its the racist bit Sue R. I always thought you were just an idiotic bigot. Its clear you are something rather more sinister.

  47. Eskimo Sue R said,

    Ha,ha,ha. The SWP is toast, mate, I’m telling you. The strand of the Left that you represent, the very same people who supported and lied about the Gulags is history, mate, it’s over.

  48. maxdunbar said,

    ‘By the way, my 13 year old daughter has just asked me why the Americans had to try and impose democracy on people who didn’t want it, and how long will the war go on. I’m afraid I agree with her, when she says if they were happy with their dictator, why didn’t we leave them alone.’

    Sue and John can agree on at least that, surely?

  49. maxdunbar said,

    (testing)

    Richard

    There’s no real need for this screed because everyone here is against a burqa ban – I can’t think of anyone on the liberal left who supports it. This is why Kafa/Islamophobia Watch were reduced to scrolling through Harry’s Place threads to prove their case against the Islamophobic decents.

    The only point that divides us is that most of us here accept that there is a degree of oppression and coercion within Muslim communities. Read Gina Khan:

    ‘I asked him why he had come home late one night, he slapped me across the face and shouted ‘don’t question my authority. In our religion you are not allowed to speak to me like that.’ It was a defining moment for me. He had used religion to control me.’

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=323

    This was important when it came to the French headscarf ban. The presidential commission found:

    ‘[I]t has become clear that in schools where some Muslim girls do wear the headscarf and others do not, there is strong pressure on the latter to “conform”. This daily pressure takes different forms, from insults to violence. In the view of the (mostly male) aggressors, these girls are “bad Muslims”, “whores”, who should follow the example of their sisters who respect Koranic prescriptions.

    We received testimonies of Muslim fathers who had to transfer their daughters from public to (Catholic) private schools where they were free of pressure to wear the headscarf. Furthermore, in the increasing number of schools where girls wear the hijab, a clear majority of Muslim girls who do not wear the headscarf called for legal protection and asked the commission to ban all public displays of religious belief.

    A large majority of Muslim girls do not want to wear the scarf; they too have the right of freedom of conscience. Principals and teachers have tried their best to bring back some order in an impossible situation where pressure, insults or violence sets pupils against one another, yet where to protest against this treatment is seen as treason to the community. There are cases where pupils who have had their arms broken in violent acts have lied to their parents in order to avoid denouncing their peers.’

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-europe_islam/article_1811.jsp

    This finding added a new dimension to the debate – it wasn’t just about the right to wear hijab but the right not to wear it. This is why Patric Weil changed his mind.

    Childish cod-psychology aside, this degree of coercion is not an unfounded assumption, and you’re not getting the whole story if you ignore it.

  50. johng said,

    er no, we were in the gulags. actually sue is simply repeating BNP policy Max. Apparently Nick Griffin believes that racism was invented by Leon Trotsky to ‘prevent people asking questions’. Watch out for that one…

  51. Red Maria said,

    er no, we were in the gulags.

    I was going to say the same thing. Sue R’s remarks were particularly fatuous. Imagine the fate of Olga Kameneva, twice doomed, poor lady.

    Incidentally and somewhat off-topic, JohnG have you read either Anna Larina’s This I cannot forget, or Evgenia Ginzburg’s Journey into the Whirlwind?

    Back to the Burkha/Niqab/Hijab. I understand that veiling was a custom Islam inherited from Christianity which presumably in turn inherited it from pre-destruction of the Temple Judaism. Frum women to this day wear the sheitl in public and the custom of Catholic women covering their heads in church survived well into the twentieth century and was only done away with at the Second Vatican Council. I suppose it’s still present in bridal veiling and the custom of hat-wearing to weddings.

  52. luke said,

    ‘er no, we were in the gulags’

    thanks, but some people are intelligent enough to differentiate between the Russian left that was persecuted in the CCCP and the western left that had a long history of apologizing for the crimes of the CCCP and other communist regimes (see for example Chomsky on Cambodia). Do you see the difference?

  53. John Meredith said,

    “Some people (amazingly) who are religious believe in their religion and seek ways of conforming to it.”

    It’s true. And some people, amazingly, are coerced into degraded lives by more powerful people who use religion and other ideoligies as a tool of such coercion. People on the left tend to be preoccupied by this and to seekl ways to help the oppressed agaainst their oppressors, even when it is a question of family. That is the non-totalitarian-non-racist-easily-distinguished-from-the-far-right part of the left, I mean, not the SWP, obviously.

  54. voltairespriest said,

    The thing you are missing Voltaire is that if a ban is not likely, the constant whipping up of hysteria about the Muslim other is the legacy of the war drive associated with the war on terror.

    Sure, I agree about the source of said hysteria. However, then have the argument about that, rather than a fatuous debate about burqas. That’s precisely my point.

  55. Eskimo Sue R said,

    I am undone! Johng has sussed me out!

  56. luke said,

    since lenny is blaming everyone who questions the burqa for racist attacks against muslims and burqa wearers, can we blame him for anti-Semitic attacks since he hates Zionism and Israel?

  57. Jim Denham said,

    …and he really does… (but it’s Ok because Tony Cliff and Chris Harman are/were Jews)…so the SWP can’t possibly be anti-semitic, can it?

  58. johng said,

    er no because i don’t blame everyone who hates burqas, just racists. like sue r.

  59. johng said,

    ..and no john the policy of the left is to ensure complete freedom of religion. This means that people must be free to pursue or not to pursue what they take to be their religious obligations.

    • voltairespriest said,

      Almost, JG – complete freedom of religion with the caveat that it’s freedom of religion as long as long as those freedoms don’t lead religion to encroach upon the state, and thus upon those who do not follow that particular religion, anyway.

      Either way, the wearing of clothes (of whatever kind) falls under freedom of religion as far as I’m concerned.

    • Max Dunbar said,

      …. and freedom from religion, which is just as important as freedom of religion.

  60. voltairespriest said,

    Jim: I know we’ve danced around the floor before about this, but whatever view one takes of Israel (and on balance I’m a 2-stater as you know), it isn’t anti-semitic in and of itself to not like the state of Israel, any more than it’s racist in any other sense to dislike any state. There are anti-semites who hate Israel, but then there are plently of anti-Arab racists who support it. The framing of the discussion in those terms just drives everyone on both sides of the debate to hysteria.

  61. John Meredith said,

    “and no john the policy of the left is to ensure complete freedom of religion.”

    Johng in typically mealy mouthed mode. John, the left traditionally supports a freedom of religion to include freedom from religion if an individual chooses it. This entails opposing coercion, such as that which forces women to walk about in burqas. ‘It is not coerced’ you will cry, ‘it is just that some people like to be covered from head to foot for religious reasons and those people just happen to be women and never their fathers, husbands or brothers’.

  62. John Meredith said,

    “Jim: I know we’ve danced around the floor before about this, but whatever view one takes of Israel (and on balance I’m a 2-stater as you know), it isn’t anti-semitic in and of itself to not like the state of Israel, any more than it’s racist in any other sense to dislike any state.”

    Not sure about this. What would it mean to ‘not like’ a state without taking a view of the people who live there? What does it mean to not like, for example, France except in the sense of not liking to go there (which isn’t what is meant above)? Is it really rational to not mind French people or their countryside or customs or institutions or culture but still to not like France’? How would that work? I was appalled by apartheid South Africa, but wouldn’t say I didn’t like South Africa, just its political institutions. Very odd this sort of thing. It is, after all only ever about Israel that people say this sort of thing (except, as I said, in the sense of ‘prefer to holiday elsewhere’, and even then it tends to come from silly people who can’t see past their own prejudices), and Israel has only one characteristic that makes it stand out from other nations.

  63. johng said,

    Of course socialists oppose co-ersion. Thats why the slogan of those campaigning against attempts to ban the wearing of Hijab in French schools stressed the traditional left position that people should be free to wear or not to wear. The slogan covers it. And John it is precisely hostility to Israeli political institutions that is involved.

  64. Eskimo Sue R said,

    So, Johng thinks religious law takes precedence over man-made law. Fine, now we know where we stand. As I said before, are the SWP going to campaign over the need for the stae to compulsorily ensure that fathers’ control over their daughters is ensured and that they are suitably robed when leaving the house, if they are permitted to leave the house?

    • Lobby Ludd said,

      Eskimo Nell, what on earth are you talking about?

  65. johng said,

    I don’t know how Sue comes to think that I think religious law takes precedence over man made law, but as she is a white supremacist I don’t much see the point of debating with her.

  66. johng said,

    “Israel has only one characteristic that makes it stand out from other nations”

    You mean the illegal military occupation presumably?

    • Lobby Ludd said,

      ‘“Israel has only one characteristic that makes it stand out from other nations”

      You mean the illegal military occupation presumably?’

      Illegal occupation is far from unique, so it is not clear what this singular characteristic is, nor whether this is a ‘good thing’. Perhaps John Meredith can explain.

  67. Sue R said,

    Actually, Johng, I am a revolutionary marxist. Have you heard of it?

  68. Red Maria said,

    Actually, Johng, I am a revolutionary marxist. Have you heard of it?

    Piffle (snort).

  69. Rosie said,

    Well, clothes maketh the man and especially maketh the woman. In my mother’s day a respectable woman would not walk around a town or city without wearing a hat. I’ve just come back from a holiday in Croatia where some of the old women wear the black clothes and head scarf which were once de rigeuer for respectable married women in eg Italy and Greece but now the middle-aged women wear print dresses and no head scarf and the young women look like Victoria Beckham. I remember in Egypt seeing a woman in a burqa climbing over a wall. This pulled up her burqa and showed her lime-green leggings! I’d suggest a compromise – women wear burqas with slogans like My Other Garment is Floral Patterned.

    Feminism has always had something to say about clothes, whether wearing Rational Dress instead of constrictive corsets at the end of the nineteenth century or the degradation of Playmate bunny ears in the twentieth. However, the feminism comes first, the impulse to cease wearing the clothes second, I would have thought. So attack the patriarchy, or possibly the ideology, rather than the outfit.

    It would be utterly idiotic having dress policed as it is in Iran, where women are arrested for showing too much hair etc. Although it would be in the opposite direction, it would be equally petty and tyrannical. I agree, however, with VP that it is very unlikely to happen in this country. I also agree with Richard that tabloid burqa bashing is likely to encourage the ugly incidents he mentions.

  70. Red Maria said,

    Yes, I was thinking of the rational dress movement, too.

  71. John Meredith said,

    “Illegal occupation is far from unique, so it is not clear what this singular characteristic is, nor whether this is a ‘good thing’. Perhaps John Meredith can explain.”

    Is this thread still going? You are right Lobby that Israel is hardly unique in running a military occupation, its uniqueness lies somewhere else, although I am not the one to say whether or not it is a ‘good thing’. Hamas discuss this unique charcteristic at some length in their Charter which johng and others in his party fully support I believe. They don’t seem to think it’s a ‘good thing’, but what a dull world it would be if we all thought alike!

  72. Scientologophobia Watch: Burqa Trouble « Max Dunbar said,

    [...] You may have heard on the MSM that France’s Suppressive President, Nicholas Sarkozy, wants to ban the burqa. [...]

  73. Scientologophobia Watch: Burqa Trouble « Shiraz Socialist said,

    [...] You may have heard on the MSM that France’s Suppressive President, Nicholas Sarkozy, wants to ban the burqa. [...]

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