Belgium, France, Netherlands and Switzerland have all brought some form of legislation to outlaw the wearing of the Muslim burka and with Sky News reporting yesterday that 67% of Britons agree with a burka ban this controversial debate is set to hit Britain.
When French MPs voted in favour of banning Muslim women from wearing the veil over their face last week their controversial move followed measures taken by other European countries to make it illegal for Muslim women to wear the burka.
In April this year Belgium became the first European country to ban the wearing of the burka in public. I argued that Europe’s response to the burka was contradictory because before the 9/11 attacks there was no interest in the so called rights of Muslim women. There was no media hype about the burka.
Yesterday Sky News reported that 67% of Britons were in favour of the burka ban in this country sparking an inevitable debate about whether the British government should also follow suit.
Is this really about the rights of Muslim women? Is this really about integrating Muslim women into European society? Whatever conclusions you may reach what is certain is that Europe’s patronising judgement upon Muslim culture is hypocritical when you look at the statistics regarding how they treat their own women.
What is also patronising for Muslims is the fact that Muslim men and women are rarely consulted on this issue. As far as Europeans are concerned they are enlightened and other cultures should catch up, at least that is the impression that is given.
In the article I wrote in April titled Belgian ban on Burqas: Is it right? Heather Akou an assistant professor at Indiana University and expert in African and Muslim dress said that some Muslims believe the burka to be an oppressive piece of clothing for Muslim women, especially when people look at women in Afghanistan. Despite that however, she also points out that the hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women is seen as “liberating” by many Muslim women. (Pennington: October 23, 2008)
She said, “It’s not that you have no body and you have no beauty, but outside of the home you don’t want to be an object of harassment. You want to have people interact with you based on your ideas and you abilities and not so much what you look like.”
Imam Dr Taj Hargey, chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre in Oxford believes that the Burka should be outlawed. He told Sky News “We’re not telling these women what they can wear. We’re telling them the only thing they should do is uncover their faces.” Dr Hargey added, “I think this notion that somehow this is a religious symbol, a Koranic requirement, is nonsense.” (Sky News: 16 July)
While Dr Hargey does have a point about the full facial burka not being a Koranic requirement or religious symbol he ignores the clear political implications that seems to be behind the burka ban in Europe and it sets a dangerous precedent.
Already Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders whose Freedom Party won massive gains in a national election last month told the Associated Press (AP) in an interview on Thursday, July 15 that he is going to start his own anti-Islam group targeting the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Germany. (Corder: AP: July 15)
Wilders want an immigration ban on all Muslims from entering the West and in a speech to the Dutch parliament he said, “The message, ‘stop Islam, defend freedom,’ is a message that’s not only important for the Netherlands but for the whole free Western world.”
In that last quote by Wilders his arrogance is apparent, only the Western world is ‘free’ as he puts it.
According to Sky News today Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said that he will refuse to hold meetings with Muslim women who wear a face veil in an interview he had with The Independent.
Whatever your view on Muslim women wearing the face veil politics should not dictate public policy and on this issue there is a clear argument that anti-burka legislation is fuelled by politics rather than genuine debate.
The oppressive gender statistics in the West
What is ironic about the issue of Muslim women and whether they are being oppressed is the fact that the very people who claim that they want to ‘liberate’ them have their own shortcomings when it comes to female equality in their own countries.
In France an Inter Press News Service report by Alecia D McKenzie (November 25, 2009) mentioned that one woman is killed every three days because of domestic violence.
A national police report in 2008 said that 156 women in France were murdered by their partner or ex-partner in that year alone, this represents 16 percent of the national homicide total.
McKenzie said “Overall, reported cases of domestic violence have increased by about 30 percent, which may be due to greater awareness. More than 47,500 cases were reported in 2007 and surveys indicate that two million French women experience domestic violence at some point.”
According to Ernst Hirsch Ballin, Minister of Justice, for the Netherlands, “Forty five percent of the people in the Netherlands between eighteen and seventy years old have experienced (been subjected to or witnessed) at some time in their lives domestic violence in their own family circle, where one should feel the safest!” (June, 2009)
Human rights organisation Amnesty International said that there is apathy in the UK towards domestic violence. An ICM survey in 2005 revealed that “…30 per cent of men believed that domestic violence is acceptable in some circumstances, that one in five men would not call the police even when they knew someone was being mistreated by their partner, and that more people (74 per cent) would report a person for kicking or mistreating their dog than for kicking or mistreating their partner (53 per cent).” (Khilani: Metrovox.co.uk: 8 March, 2005)
I wonder if the same people in the statistics mentioned are opposed to Muslim women wearing the burka? Is the burka debate in Europe really about the rights of Muslim women or about Western cultural arrogance?
For this debate to move forward Muslim men and women must play a pivotal role in deciding for themselves what is and is not oppressive. Politics has no place in this debate.
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