The incident I’m referring to is reported by the BBC here.
Let’s get things straight. I am against being forced to wear any form of clothing because a religious culture tells you to. These religious cultures are historically male dominated, male enforced and male created, hence why the arbitrary rules on covering up tend to be more heavily laden on women. Forcing these people to wear a niqab/burqa should be illegal, but wearing one should not be. Wearing one is the result of a draconian cultural rule, and it is this draconian way of thinking that is in need of more robust challenge.
But, for a European, seemingly modern country to be forcing people NOT to wear something is almost as weird. Forcing people not to wear something they’re culturally being forced to wear? I don’t think a fine is the solution. Maybe being less tolerant of the backwards religion that gives power to the culture that is making up these arbitrary misogynistic dress codes and speaking out against that! These women are already victims, so why punish them even further!!?
According to BBC News:
Two French Muslim women who continue to wear the full-face veil in defiance of a new law banning it in France have been issued fines by a court.
Hind Ahmas and Najate Nait Ali were caught wearing the niqab in public outside Meaux town hall, eastern Paris, soon after the law came in in May.
The women say they will appeal against their punishment all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
Now, these women may be wearing their niqab for many reasons. It could be that a) They believe they want to wear it because they believe the religion that tells them to, b) They don’t want to wear it but are more scared of the social consequences by their peers than the French legal system, or c) They want to wear it because they have been indoctrinated into thinking they want to by their influential religious peers. None of these really justifies being diminished as a human being, but the reasons for doing it are the issues at hand, not the few individuals being prosecuted.
It’s not just France that has banned the wearing of such articles. Even some Muslim countries have done. For example, The niqab is outlawed in the Muslim country of Tunisia. In Turkey, where the overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim, the traditional womenswear in cities at the turn of the twentieth century was called çarsaf (an outer garment similar to the Iranian chador) which would be accompanied by a piece of semi-transparent clothing to cover the lower face, called peçe. Although this combination is still being worn in some localities, the practice of covering the face has largely died off. In Turkey today, niqabi women, just like women wearing hijab, cannot work as public servants, neither can they continue studies at schools, including the private schools. Although there is no single law banning niqab at private companies, it would be nearly impossible for a niqabi woman to find work. Again, some people agree with banning this type of clothing in protest at the religion, but they really ought to be addressing the wider practices, teachings and repercussions of the religion itself.
I’m not one to argue against her, as I mostly agree with Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who sees Islam as incompatible with Western values, at least in its present form). She advocates the values of ‘Enlightenment liberalism‘, including secularism and equality of women. For her, the burqa or chador are both a symbol of religious obscurantism and the oppression of women. Western Enlightenment values, in her view, require prohibition, regardless of whether a woman has freely chosen Islamic dress. Her arguments are quite clearly wider and more pervasive than the simple banning of clothes so I am inclined to believe she is looking at the holistic pursuit of secularism. Nevertheless, forcing people NOT to wear something without addressing why they are already being forced to wear it, is short sighted.
Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, previous dean of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, called full-face veiling a custom that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith. Clearly, there is an argument that Islam does not ask women to wear any coverings, but this is slightly flawed in the wider picture, as it is the religion that has influence the culture of giving power to the men who make up the rules forcing women into various forms of submission. There are a few interpretable references to veiling in the hadith and the covering of the face is only mentioned in three hadith albeit never by the command of the Prophet Muhammad. The main evidence from scholars who believe that niqab is obligatory comes from these verses of the Qur’an:
O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful.
…And when ye ask (the Prophet’s wives) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs.
A debate on the influence of religion into the lives of women is what is required. Remove tolerance for religious dogma and its cultural results. Education, not punishing the oppressed.