Namazie: on the veil/hijab

July 12, 2004

A ban on conspicuous religious symbols in state schools and state institutions has caused heated debate regarding secularism vs. religious freedoms giving us the opportunity to reiterate our defence of secularism and women's and children's rights. While Islamists and their supporters have proclaimed that banning religious symbols in schools and state institutions is a 'restriction of' 'religious freedoms' or 'freedom of belief', 'religious intolerance', 'a violation of women's and girls' rights', 'racist', 'discriminatory', and so on, we believe the truth is simple and quite contrary to what they claim. In brief:

The ban is pro-secularism not a restriction of religious freedoms and beliefs: A ban on conspicuous religious symbols in state schools and institutions is but one step toward secularism or the separation of state and religion. Secularism is an advance of civilised humanity. In the nineteenth century, this was a demand targeted against the Church resulting in for example France's 1905 law; today, it is first and foremost a demand against political Islam, particularly since that movement has wreaked havoc in the Middle East and the world.

At a minimum, secularism ensures that government offices and officials from judges, to clerks to teachers are not promoting their religious beliefs and are instead doing their jobs in a neutral and impartial manner ...

The ban is pro-children's rights: When it comes to the veiling of girls in schools, though, children's veiling must not only be banned in public institutions and schools but also in private schools and everywhere. Religious schools must also be banned. Here the issue extends beyond the principle of secularism and goes straight to the heart of children's rights. While adults may 'choose' veiling, children by their very nature cannot make such choices; what they do is really what their parents tell them to do ...

Also, states must level the playing field for children and ensure that nothing segregates them or restricts them from accessing information, advances in society and rights, playing, swimming and in general doing things children must do. Whatever their beliefs, parents do not have the right to impose their beliefs, including veiling on children just because they are their own children, just as they can't deny their children medical assistance or beat and neglect them or marry them off because it's part of their beliefs or religion.

The ban is pro-women's and girls' rights not vice versa: In addition to being pro-children's rights, a ban on conspicuous religious symbols is pro-women's rights not vice versa. It protects women (albeit minimally) from being harassed and intimidated into veiling. Those of us who have fled political Islam know full well the levels of threats and intimidation women have faced both in the Middle East and here in Europe and the West to wear the veil or else.

The political Islamic movement behind veiling is the same movement that is waiting to execute Kobra Rahmanpour in Iran, impose Sharia law in Iraq and enshrine Islamic inequalities in the Afghan constitution. It is the same movement that has blown up innocent people on buses, cafes and in office buildings across the globe. Everywhere it has had power, it has murdered and brutalised. Women and girls have been its first victims.

Now it is this very movement that is demanding the institutionalisation of its repressive measures against women in the heart of Europe, framed in terms of 'women's rights' and 'religious freedoms'! What cheek! It is this very movement that have become accomplished and renowned in and symbolic of the assault on women's right and freedoms. The debate on veiling must be seen within this wider context.

'My Hijab, My Right' - I don't think so: Of course an adult woman has the right to practice her religion, customs and beliefs in realms other than those where she is representing the state or the educational system. Of course it is her 'personal choice' to be veiled. But if you remove all forms of intimidation and threats by Islamists, Islamic laws, racism, cultural relativism and ghetto-isation by Western governments, norms that consider women half that of men, and so on I assure you that there will be very few women wearing the veil.

The veil is an instrument to control a woman's sexuality, like FGM. It is meant to segregate women ...

Today, more than ever before, the veil is political Islam's symbol and women and girls are its first victims. The veil is not just another piece of clothing - just as FGM is not just another custom. I suppose if it were to be compared with anyone's clothing it would be comparable to the Star of David pinned on Jews by the Nazis to segregate, control, repress and to commit genocide ...

And finally, for now, for those who keep on about how many more pressing issues there are than a 'piece of clothing'; yes, we know the drill - when it comes to women's and girls' rights, there are always far more pressing issues. It's one way of ignoring critical issues and hoping they will go away. But they won't. At least not while we're around.

No comments: