TiaTalk











{Tue 20 July 2010}   On banning face veils
Thoughts on banning face veils

After reading about the French ban, I was interested to see in Ha’aretz yesterday that Syria has banned face veils at universities in order to protect the secular nature of the state. The article also reports that hundreds of niqab-wearing primary school teachers were transferred to administrative jobs.

I agree with the banning of face veils, for practical reasons related to identification and communication, yes, but also because I believe that face veils are shaming of women and womanhood in general.

In the UK we tend to believe that tolerance involves tolerating everything, especially the behaviour of the weak and disadvantaged, so as not to add to their burdens by shaming them. But, paradoxically, this attitude can entrench that weakness, allowing an extreme intolerance to grow amongst us that threatens the very society that tolerates it. Damian Green says that Britain is unlikely to follow France’s example because banning the burka would be “unBritish”. I agree with him, but not because I believe that being “British” in this particular respect is a Good Thing: The French approach is an attempt to engage with the problem. In Britain, “tolerance” is often shorthand for ignoring both issues and people and disengaging from them.

I believe that a woman who wears a face veil is participating in a declaration that womanhood should be effaced from public life… its message to me is that women are dangerous, require restraint and should not be allowed to participate equally in the world with men. It is an intolerant, insulting and disrespectful message which challenges all the gains women have made in the slow and still-incomplete battle for freedom that has cost many their lives over centuries. It is also aggressive, or, at the very least, insensitive, as it creates fear and discomfort in non-wearers who feel threatened and weakened by what it represents—women at the mercy of men.

The veil also insults and weakens men. It assumes that men cannot control their sexual urges in the presence of a woman. It reduces men to the level of instinctive beasts and removes from them any responsibility for learning to respond appropriately.

In Western societies, even the wearing of just a headscarf (rather than a niqab or a burka), when it is clear that the purpose is total covering of the body and hair, conveys similar messages.

While I say this, I am aware that millions of women have no choice but to wear the veil—they face ostracism or death if they do not. These women are damned (by the West) if they do and damned (by their cultures) if they do not. Their plight is terrible and I have deep compassion for them. They are being used as human shields to draw the fire of negative responses to extremism in the same way that some terrorists use their own civilians as human shields. While extreme displays reveal extreme distress, the causes of which should be investigated, understood and addressed, this does not mean that terrorism should be tolerated.

I actually think the terms of the French ban recognise the problem very well – the fine is only €150 for the woman wearing the veil but €30,000 or a year in jail for the man who forces her to do so. This recognises that the woman does not deserve further shaming and attempts to go to the source.

Of course, the man too may suffer shaming and ostracism by his culture (although likely not death) if “his” woman is not covered, so truly “going to the source” requires a much deeper and wider educative approach where men and women are encouraged to find ways of affirming their identity and their honour without shaming or degrading each other.

P.S. After writing the above post, I found this wonderful article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown which eloquently and fervently expresses some of the same thoughts and many more… I so admire her stance as a Muslim woman and I urge anyone who is interested in the implications of the veil to read her too: “Stand up against the burka” (The Guardian, 17 May 2010).

P.P.S. 04 April 2011. The wonderful Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has again written a great piece on the dangers of the veil. She says that banning is too extreme a response, but urges society to consider sixteen reasons why Muslims themselves should oppose it: Sixteen Reasons why I object to this dangerous cover-up.



2010: The Abuse and Insult Continue

How about this latest instance of the “good news” and the “loving” message of Jesus Christ from the Catholic Church:

The Guardian today reports that “Revised Catholic rules put female ordination in same category of crime under church law as clerical sex abuse of minors”: Vatican makes attempted ordination of women a grave crime

Why not legislate that Catholic women should wear burqas too? That should really make the position quite clear. And before you cry that there is no similarity, I ask you to consider this more deeply:

  • They are both rules made by men in power
  • To ensure that women never have power
  • On the basis that a masculine god-construct said so
  • And that men are supposedly better rulers of themselves and of others
  • And that women are supposedly mentally and emotionally weaker than men
  • And that women exercising power are more dangerous than men exercising power
  • Despite the negative examples of enormous bad done by powerful men
  • And the positive examples of enormous good done by powerful women

One’s gender does not define one’s morality or one’s capacity, even physically. For every strong man there is one who is weaker than a woman. For every weak woman there is one who is stronger than a man. And in all issues of conscience and character, any person has the potential to grow stronger or weaker. We are what we choose to be, not what religion or any man says we must be.

The gospel that the church claims it was commissioned to preach is the gospel of love. Why can we never feel or hear or experience that love amongst the welter of prohibitions and condemnations that exercise religious minds? Do any of them actually believe that Jesus came to set the world free? Or is love just so hard that no one is actually capable of it? It is so much easier just to legislate and condemn and blame anyone other than oneself for sin … man has been doing it since Adam and it looks like the Catholic Church has learned nothing since then. Didn’t Jesus say, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone…”?



et cetera