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(en) Ireland, Workers Solidarity #80 March 2004 - Hijab: lifting the veil Standing up to religious oppression or state racism?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 14 Apr 2004 10:50:43 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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In France at the moment there is a big controversy about the
recommendation by a government commission and by the
president, to ban the wearing of religious symbols such as the
Islamic headscarf (the hijab) in state schools. The government
declares that this proposed ban is in keeping with France's long
tradition of secular education, and also that it would promote
equality between the sexes. Many of those in France's
considerable Muslim minority however see this step as racist and
intolerant and as a direct attack on their civil rights.

For many people, the wearing of a headscarf is a symbol of
oppression against women. The advice in the Koran that women
should dress modestly is generally interpreted to-day as meaning
that Muslim women should cover their head. Within the Muslim
community, women are often judged on what they wear and the
hijab is viewed as the measure of a woman's piety.

Many argue that the hijab is used as an instrument to control
women's sexuality. There exist extremely negative attitudes, for
example, which consider women who do not cover their hair as
somehow "unchaste". Women are also advised to wear the hijab
for their own protection against sexual harassment. This is really a
sort of justification for sexual harassment if you don't wear the
veil. This sexist argument holds that men are not at all responsible
for their actions (reminiscent of how when rape victims go to
court what they were wearing when they were raped is often
scrutinised as if what they wore could some-how justify being

The hijab is forced on women in many countries under the
influence of Islam, either legally or under cultural and social
pressure. In States where women have no civil rights whatsoever
and are treated as subhuman, forcing women to wear the hijab or
a much more extreme dress code is clearly used to subjugate and
humiliate woman.

The women of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women
of Afghanistan) state:

"We will never allow the fundamentalists to define and decree
what women should or should not wear. They have no right to
impose the veil upon us. As far as we are concerned, we will NOT
wear the veil as far as security and social discretion allow us, for
we regard rejection of the veil as a symbolic form of resistance and
defiance of the fundamentalists. To wear, or not to wear, the
Islamic veil is a completely personal issue and no one has the right
to interfere with this decision or impose the veil upon us".

Context, however, is important when considering the hijab. It is
important not to equate fundamentalist Islam with all Muslim
people. Not all Muslim men are misogynistic. And for women, the
wearing of an Islamic headscarf may not be in itself inherently
oppressive. Many Muslim women certainly wear the hijab out of
their own free will and often resent being seen by western culture
as oppressed victims. While the women of RAWA reject wearing
the hijab in defiance of religious fundamentalists, some Muslim
women in Western society say that for them wearing the hijab is
an act of defiance in a world increasingly hostile towards and
intolerant of Muslim people - that they wear the hijab as part of
their Muslim identity despite the racist abuse they often get for
wearing it.

Others say that they wear the hijab for cultural and religious
reasons and that the idea of modesty behind the head-scarf is not
necessarily sexist; that they want judgment of their physical
person to play no role whatsoever in social interaction.

They correctly point out the fact that Western society is oppressive
with regard to women's appearance. For women who freely
choose to wear the Islamic headscarf, it can be difficult to take
being told you are oppressed for wearing it from a culture where
around 5% of all females spend their teens puking over a toilet
bowl so that they can look like Kate Moss.

One Canadian Muslim woman explains her perspective:

"Women are taught from early childhood that their worth is
proportional to their attractive-nessE'..Wearing the hijab has given
me freedom from constant attention to my physical self. Because
my appearance is not subjected to public scrutiny, my beauty, or
perhaps lack of it, has been removed from the realm of what can
legitimately be discussed.

Feeling that one has to meet the impossible male standards of
beauty is tiring and often humiliatingE'true equality will be had
only when women don't need to display themselves to get
attention and won't need to defend their decision to keep their
bodies to themselves."

Although we do not see progress for humanity coming from
religion, at the same time we do not hold the West as the ideal
cultural model. In any case it is up to Muslim women to struggle
against sexist oppression and to define the parameters of that
struggle, not for us to tell them what to do.

The US State has conveniently used the poor treatment of women
in countries, like Afghanistan and Iraq, as a form of justification
for war. The hypocrisy of this position is highlighted by the fact
the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council has cancelled secular
family laws in Iraq and moved family law under the jurisdiction of
Islamic (sharia) law; a law that destroys women's rights regarding
marriage, child custody, inheritance and allows women to be
stoned to death for adultery.

In France it is hard to see the government's proposed ban as
anything but a cynical political manoeuvre to appease the
right-wing constituency in France and hold onto power in a
country where the extreme right is grow-ing. They are hypocrites
who on the one hand marginalise and stigmatise young Muslim
girls under the guise of secularism and on the other continue to
substantially subsidise private religious schools.

As anarchists we have a long history of struggle for secularism.
However, banning the hijab can only lead towards further
exclusion of the Muslim women in France and encourage
religious fundamentalism.

Ultimately we believe that people should have the freedom to
dress whatever way they like. This means freedom from state
interference and freedom from religious interference in how one
should dress.

by Ada

See also

* Anarchism and the fight against Imperialism
* Anarchism & Womens Liberation
* A selection of modern anarchist writings by women
* Anarchism and Religion illions who had to leave Ireland

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