Niqab: Trying To See Through The Veil Debate

The issue of banning the niqab – which is what people appear to mean when saying “muslim veil” – which covers the face of a woman completely save for the eyes. What follows is a digest together with my views using concepts not really expanded in the debate – the concept of a citizen equal to all and individual rights.

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No Compulsion In Religion

“Ibn ’Abbaas and Ibn ’Umar, from the major Companions, explained the verse {except that which appears therefrom} to be the face and the two hands. And they (those who claim that a woman must veil her face) do not have a single authentic narration from the Companions with which they can support their opinion that a woman’s face must be covered. ” ~ Imam al-Albani

Even where it is worn out of a sense for religious reasons, common sense like being seen by a male doctor or passing through airport security can be seen as just reasons to remove the veil (source). Also the idea that Muslim homogeneity exists, seeing the niqab as protecting a jewel or empowering women as non sex objects by salivating man flies could not be more wrong.

Dress Modestly

As Hind Aleryani put it about growing up in Yemen:

I hear it all the time: “A woman is a jewel that needs to be protected (i.e. covered),” and sometimes it is even said that a woman is like candy “if you remove the wrapper (i.e. the cover) the flies will swarm around her”. I turn on the TV and find that favorite male singer that I am so fond of brushing his soft silky hair and flaunting his handsomeness: his arms are bare, his chest is bare — why isn’t this object of temptation covered? Why isn’t he imprisoned at home? Why aren’t women tempted by him? Some might claim that a woman shouldn’t look at this… then shouldn’t men shield their gaze when looking at a tempting female “object”? I couldn’t find the answer.

In a previous post on Islam and Women I was berated for not mentioning men are told to dress modestly and gaze downwards too. If men were told to wear a veil and only show their face and muscles to their wife, have to stay indoors so do not socialise with other women, and refuse to serve women when working – we might have a case this was not a misogynous application. Clearly it does fall on women to be more modest, to lower their gaze more.

Before Birmingham’s Metropolitan College tried and failed to ban the niqab out of security (as it does for hoodies etc) remember a few years ago when a college in Buckinghamshire was applying to ban with support from the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford (Meco):

Taj Hargey, Meco’s chairman, said he was also willing to organise a campaign among Muslims nationally to resist “this largely Saudi-driven campaign to make the niqab a compulsory requirement for Muslim women”.

He added: “We are strongly committed to offering you our full and unequivocal support in banning face-masks at school. We trust that you will continue to resist any move to implement this kind of minority ethnic obsession, which has no foundation whatsoever in the transcendent sources of Islamic law.”

Dr Hargey said that since the school’s dress code already allowed the option for Muslim girls to wear the hijab, there was no need for full-face covering. [Daily Telegraph]

Free Choice

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Robin Ince’s blog post on the niqab can be read here.

Thing is whether wearing the niqab can be a free choice if truly misogynistic, or whether it is possible that women have bought into the veil beyond face value. As Anne Marie Waters explains:

… women can be misogynist woman-haters too and we must not forget this. In fact, women’s misogyny is far more dangerous because it legitimises the virgin/whore dichotomy and gives it a credibility that it simply wouldn’t have if it stemmed from the mind of a man. In short, just because a woman chooses the niqab does not make the niqab ok — it remains a tool of subjugation and suppression, and it would continue to be just that even if every woman in the world supported it.

While writing this post this one was posted by Unrepentant Jacobin which is direct to the liberal/libertarian who feels free choice by a woman wearing the niqab trumps the misogyny meaning and gender inequality political Islam promotes today via the niqab:

The fundamentalist’s defiant affirmation of choice excuses the liberal from having to pass judgement and excuses the libertarian of the need to countenance State intervention. So, whilst zealots are welcomed onto the BBC and into the pages of the Independent to defend their freely adopted signifier of purity, secular Muslims, apostates and free-thinkers like Esha are forced to blog about their experiences anonymously from behind a second veil, fearful of the consequences of exposure.

Unapologetically he states we should support a state wide ban, in contrast to Robin Ince. The niqab is becoming something to do with threats to apostates and intimidation of women. I fear that banning the niqab is being seen as a symbolic victory to solve these problems.

My View: It Is Not For The State To Decide

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I have made clear my own views here, and experience of head covering and hair requirements in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Regarding the law I stated (editing out Jehovah’s Witnesses – see the post for more on that):

Issues of free choice, and lack of compulsion are at the heart of thinking about specific laws to prevent coercion – for example wearing the hijab in public. It misses that women may voluntarily choose to wear such items. The sister at the home study did not have to wear – I was a child and not yet a brother – she wanted to do this as her expression of faith.

Religious freedom means for me you may voluntarily choose to be part of a faith and there is no legal remit to follow religious doctrine. You can ask me to leave your church if my hair is too long, but you cannot deny me the right to walk the streets with my hair long.

The ability to speak for change should be open without reproach …

The laws of the land should protect women from reprisals that endanger them. Specific laws targeting specific religions aimed at a specific gender homing in on a specific garments – suggest peculiar special treatment. We need to think carefully when thinking of such a law the liberty of someone that freely choses to practise their faith or express cultural identity is not affected on our streets.

Sisters should be choosing it for themselves. That is the bottom line.

We can still challenge the ideas that lie behind misogynistic thinking …

The nibaq is different from a hijab (pictured in above meme and subject of earlier post). As mentioned with the Oxford example earlier the hijab was seen as an alternative for someone to use if they wished to express their faith. The nibaq is a mutated variant that depersonalises a woman to the outside world. Freedom of expression is the principle put forward rather than religious freedom, in a similar way it is not a requirement to wear a crucifix as a Christian. You may however wish to.

I am against the segregation of women at public meetings – read more on that at University College London here:

Human rights trump religious ideas in enforcement. I am not a man, or a human mammal with urges and cravings, when considering such rights. In the eyes of the law we transcend gender, and in the body politic we metamorphose into something that makes us equal and entitled:

Citizens of a secular liberal democracy.

This is the same with the nibaq – no woman may be forced by fear, intimidation or actual violence to veil her face. The public sphere cannot encourage such a view of women to be tolerated – or else we are condoning that very act of misogyny.

State power is not benign – coercion that changes the autonomous individual behaviour of others that would otherwise be freely chosen is never to be undertaken lightly. We accept such power over us, with numerous safeguards like democracy and bill of rights, because the alternative of anarchy would be seen as worse on individuals (anarchists will disagree of course).

Equality of citizens and secularism for me make clear – an education college/university that promotes equality of men and women would be within it’s rights to reject the niqab as against their ethos. Girls whether in puberty or not must not be made to wear a niqab. Nor should they be made to stay indoors or disallowed to socialise with boys of their own age. Such restrictions are one reason I am against same sex schools. This is based on notions of citizenship as gender equality – not secularism.

Yet secularism means for me a state wide ban on the niqab is one I have issues with. Because I am sure political Islamists would love to use state power to make women dress modestly. We can say that we are using such powers to destroy a symbol of repression on women – this is benign action.

I understand such paternal instincts – which are crudely called white saviour complex. The exceptions are clear enough on security, medical and identity grounds. On secular grounds religious objections can be overruled because it impacts on these issues.

The problem is I do not want to see women being treated as in the top photo – manhandled for their own good, prosecuted for their own good, seen as needing state intervention to be liberated from misogynist thinking. In other words the view: If only this woman had not been brainwashed to see what she was doing to herself and what she is saying to others about herself and about them. We must use the law to stop such dreadful sickening thinking.

Because when the state thinks like this a free society cannot be trusted to think for itself without the state deciding for us. Whether we think this particular action is benign is irrelevant. If the individual would of their own free will voluntarily do something we must consider individual rights when stopping them.

Unless for their own good you would arrest women who want to wear the niqab. We are talking about criminalising a piece of cloth and making the wearer the criminal not the misogynist who coerces them to do so nor end the sub culture that wants women hiding their face in public completely. Instead we put the “brainwashed” or “wilful female misogynist” in the dock that dare hide their face in public willingly.

Shall we let off those that keep women indoors, prevent social opportunities, deny them an education because the burden of proof is less glaring? Read Hind Aleryani post in full quoted earlier to understand we are dealing in Britain with what we can see, but not what is even worse about this insidious version of Islam. Which is so humiliating and degrading other Muslims object too.

The proposed veil ban is a symbolic victory over political Islam. That is not a good enough reason to make women we disagree with criminals over a piece of cloth. By all means damn me as a weak Lilly livered liberal for not using state power to rid Britain of the niqab – actually you mean libertarian, but that has less of an insulting ring to it.

I want the niqab out of Britain and to be resisted in the public sphere. But I will never have women made criminals for how they dress. The reasons outlined in this post are why I will oppose oppression whether by political Islam or the state deciding on what women should want for themselves fashion wise. I should add that I am sympathetic to the naked rambler – the whole notion that a naked body causes such consternation is one that given we are human mammals makes me wonder whether we should consider clothing necessary for modesty. However I do not feel the need to join in his naturalist nature walk.

Fight the niqab, resist it, remove the veil of ignorance for what it truly represents. Leave secular state power out of it to ban – but allow for the public space to make that decision and for children yes I would agree to a state ban. Unless you are calling for the state to ban gender segregation in public (which I did not see during the UCL issue) you will appreciate why I feel we can win this argument without abusing state power to override the decision of an adult.

Long post but felt covering above set out my opinion – thanks for reading.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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9 Comments

Filed under British Politics, British Society, Culture, Philosophy, politics, World

9 responses to “Niqab: Trying To See Through The Veil Debate

  1. People who want to flaunt their piety, like all attention junkies, are probably best ignored. Otherwise you’re just encouraging them.

  2. Mark

    My argument is wholly based on no face to face communication. I’d love to stick with that argument only, but all of the complexity draws you in. Just heard a BBC interview with a 14 year-old, whose reason was basically to escape the pressures of teenage clothes, make-up, how to look etc. I understand younger girls have those pressures but they could ignore it all, rather than go to what is an extreme and totally cover themselves. This to me, smacks of a little paranoia and psychological problems more than anything else. From what that girl said, it now seems she gets stared at much more now, than she ever did.
    The whole argument of “people can wear what they want,” fails completely and easily, just with some examples of why people get stopped from entering official premises based on motorcycle helmets or the famous ‘naked rambler’ who gets arrested all the time. Nobody is actually 100% free on this subject. So the “It’s my choice,” doesn’t wash in terms of policy or law.
    That’s when the ‘religion’ card is played and apparently trumps all. Firstly, it should not trump all, and secondly, we have had the debates about Muslim scholars saying there is actually no basis in the religion.
    I’d support a ban in public places such as schools, colleges, businesses, courts, hospitals and airports etc. People might say that it is such a tiny minority, that it’s not worth bothering with, but that is exactly why it would be correct to bring in a ban now. If left alone and the take-up of wearing it increases, a ban becomes harder to implement.
    A completely depressing thing to hear was Vicky Beeching, an apparent feminist, supporting the wearing of the veil etc on a radio show. Her points were that a) it is their choice b) we should listen (as she has) to women who wear it and why they wear it c) perhaps they are doing it in reaction to “us” exposing ourselves. Point ‘c’ is again ridiculous, and it is astonishing that someone like Beeching, who is apparently intelligent, should come up with such a thing. To me, this all suggests that Beeching is looking at this from a religious angle, rather than a feminist angle and simply doesn’t want to upset orthodox Muslim friends. In fact, it could have been Mohammed Ansar making those points.

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  5. Nan Parkinson (@parkitwit)

    John, re: “The problem is I do not want to see women being treated as in the top photo – manhandled for their own good, prosecuted for their own good, seen as needing state intervention to be liberated from misogynist thinking. In other words the view: If only this woman had not been brainwashed to see what she was doing to herself and what she is saying to others about herself and about them. We must use the law to stop such dreadful sickening thinking.” – I certainly do not wish to see women manhandled, either. However, let’s direct the conversation to FGM, which although another topic entirely, can act as an analogy to cast doubt on your ‘brainwashing’ argument: it is feasible that a 12 year old girl may have been indoctrinated to think that FGM is the right and proper thing to do and so she would willingly submit to it – or at least, would fear the wrath of her parents if she did no go through with it. Surely, you would want the state to to intervene?

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