Hiding Behind the Burqa: Why Don't We Talk About Our Real Fears? Image Credit: Flickr

I am so exhausted of the whole burqa ban debate that I am about to put one on myself!

But in all seriousness,  I am so tired of this issue to the point that it has become personally offensive for me to even respond to it. I have written and spoken extensively on it in the past, but the fact is that people still do not understand what this issue is really about or what we are really debating here.

This issue is not about wardrobe, but about the larger issue of Muslim integration in Europe, about the fear of societies becoming Islamasized, and about preserving secular identity. So why can’t Europe get over the burqa?

Because the burqa is too tangible and visible of a symbol.  It is simply too easy of a target. It is also too convenient for European politicians to hide behind the agenda of liberating Muslim women, and pretend that they are formulating policy based on Muslim women’s rights.

What still baffles me is that if these European politicians really want to get at the root of the pr0blem, why not ban the extremist Islamic groups in Europe that preach violence and hate? It is so ironic that on one hand you have some men telling women that they have to wear the burqa, and on the other hand you have male lawmakers saying you have to take it off!

Veiling Our Hatred: The Ban Has Nothing to do With Women's Rights. Image Credit: Flickr

Make no mistake, the burqa ban has nothing to do with protecting women’s rights. As I stated in a recent interview, I think it’s a handout to far-right political parties at the cost of marginalizing a group that is already marginalized: Muslim communities in Europe.

I think European politicians are insulting Muslim women around the world by acting like they are formulating policy to liberate them. Believe me, European politicians are not going to be delivering liberation for Muslim women.

The burqa is a symbol that is repeatedly targeted, but we are not talking about the real issues, about our real fears. What we really need to be talking about is the fear these societies have about becoming Islamasized.

Although I started this post writing about how exhausted I am from writing on this issue, I have just written on it again! Voila! There you have it. But I think these points need stipulating because a lot of what is being written on the burqa ban is misguided and confused itself.

That being said, I did stumble upon this blog by author, Lesley Hazelton. She articulates how we are hiding our hatred behind the veil:

Do niqab-wearing women choose it or are they being coerced?  Nobody really knows, though we do know that banning it takes away all element of choice.  But then despite all the high-falutin’ talk about women’s dignity, that’s not really the issue.  The real issue is fear of Islamic extremism, and the veil as a convenient symbol of presumed extremism.  And women are just pawns in this game, being used by liberal secular authorities no less than by conservative Muslim ones.

Towards the end of her post, Hazelton states that she has been a feminist for far too long to know when her “feminism is being manipulated.”

For anyone who considers themselves a feminist or an advocate for women’s rights, let me echo Hazelton by making it clear that in this case our feminism is definitely being manipulated.

*This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post.

15 comments

  1. Thanks for making this point Anushay! I totally agree with you – ban the haters instead of going after their victims!

  2. Thanks, Anushay. You argue this issue far more cogently than I, but am glad I could contribute. I totally understand your exasperation and exhaustion with the issue, and so admire your perseverance all the more. Meanwhile, how ironic — or simply ghastly — that the French vote to ban the burqa came the day before Bastille Day, the French national celebration of freedom. For this they had a revolution…?

  3. Thank you, Mafida and Lesley for your comments! And thank you Lesley for writing such a great post. It inspired mine 🙂 And yes, the irony of the vote coming the day before Bastille Day makes the entire issue all the more ironic.

  4. i have my own point about this………..
    i believe in opinions of those who go and directly work out this issue with the veiled women in france ……i would suggest u the view points of Sihem Habchi..who works with these women…

  5. I concede that some may be pushing a ban on burqas for bigoted reasons. However, I disagree with you that that is the only reason why some are behind it.

    I sincerely believe that some women are forced to wear the burqa with the threat of violence. I think my viewpoint is legitimate and not bigoted. If muslims imposed the same burqa on men, I would oppose that as well.

    So, I have to ask: is giving up the right to wear a burqa an acceptable sacrifice to preventing coercive and violent threats against women? We ban underage sex, underage marriage, sex without consent and other activities to protect women and children from coercion and violence.

  6. Just some points I would like to make

    1) Yes, the West IS scared of “islamisation” – but they have a RIGHT to be, considering that terrorists are killing people IN THE NAME OF ISLAM. If I didn’t know better, I would be scared of Islam and everything it represents.

    2) According to the Qura’an, we are supposed to BLEND IN with whichever society we live in. The same way the westerners don’t wear mini skirts when they come to our part of the world, we should also respect their culture. It really is an unpleasant sight to watch 6 ladies sitting in hyde park with beaks on their noses and dressed in black all over while everyone else is enjoying the sights of summer!
    3) Schools have uniforms. Muslim or not, that is the rule of the school and should be adhered to. If the school says No Religious Symbols, or no veils or no nosepins, a child wearing a hijab should go to a different schools (there are plenty of religious schools to choose from).
    When I was at school in England we didn’t have a uniform, but we had precise guidelines as to how long/short the skirt could be, and how high our heels could be. If we didn’t stick to those rules, we were sent home. Why should they change their rules? Do schools in Muslim countries change their rules or dress code for anyone, and should they?
    4) Lastly they have to say they are trying to Liberate the Muslim women to protect themselves I suppose, or they will be called racist. Do you realise that in their own (and supposedly free) country they are not allowed to call us coloured? or pakkie or bingo? Why not? Are we ashamed to be called Pakistani or Bengali? I have no problem with it, the same as they have no problem with being called a brit or limey or whatever. No wonder they resent us. We can change their rules, call them what we want, in their country, yet they can’t. As for the Saudi women, are they not liberated when they travel and shed their burqas the moment they step on the plane? Are you sure that every woman in Hijab is doing it out of her own choice and not because her husband or inlaws or parents have made her? When a child of 9 wears the hijab, is she doing that out of her own choice? Are they following the Quranic rules?
    A girl doesn’t have to wear it before puberty according to the Qura’an.

  7. I have to make it very clear that I am not pro-burqa, but I have a serious issue about the language being used in this discourse.

    It is not ok to avoid being called racist to make this a feminist issue! It is an issue of culture and race, so it’s actually better and less controversial if the French would focus on the issue of preserving their secular identity. I am too aware of the number of women and girls who are forced to wear the burqa. I know how it restricts and eliminates women from society.

    But enforcing it in the name of God and banning it in the name of feminism all by MEN? Seriously, give me a break. That’s my issue. A lot of Muslim countries won’t allow you to wear what you want or worship how you want, and they don’t give any excuse. The French should do the same and call it a day! I really think this debate would be less controversial and I would support it if the French just said, “This is how we do it in France. Au revoir!”

    This issue cannot be framed as a feminist one unless women are determining the diction and the discourse. In this case, they’re not in positions of decision-making at all, but the whole issue is being framed about them.

    The ban has led to burqa-clad women being harassed and fined across Europe. Would you think that is okay? There are stories of French women ripping burqas off the faces of Muslim women. Because of the language being used to frame this debate, people assume this kind of behavior is okay. And the irony is how this ban is taking away what little freedom and mobility these burqa-clad women had in the first place!

    Feminism has been used for hundreds of years to allow men and specifically politicians mask their real motives. The British colonialists would head campaigns to ban the barbaric practices of the “natives” such as sati, but then go home to Britain and vote against suffrage rights, denying women the right to vote.

    Am I pro sati? Of course not. I am not pro burqa either. Are these men feminists and crusaders for women’s rights? I don’t think so.

    My point is that it is never okay to exploit feminism so men can get what they want, especially if you are trying to avoid another label (ie racist). That is what my issue is and has been throughout this discourse.

  8. What a shame that in their own country they are unable to change their laws – whatever their reasons are – without having to make excuses which of course it is – as you said I am sure they are not trying to liberate anyone nor is it their duty to do so. They just dont like the veil.

  9. A lot of people don’t like the veil. It scares me, too! I completely understand your point, and see what you’re saying. I agree to a certain degree. It’s a tangible case of “cultures” clashing, and the French along with other European Governments are going to do what they want to at the end of the day. They already are. Rightfully so, I suppose.

  10. I’d firstly like to argue with the idea of a ‘fear of being Islamasized’. I think if European governments truly felt threatened by their ethnic minorities (and I use the word ethnic as the burqa is more centered in cultural practice than in Islam), then perhaps they would be making the radical step to remove Islamic extremism altogether. I don’t think this is the case at all. The real problem here is that the CULTURAL practice and function of the burqa is completely in opposition to the CULTURAL ideals of these countries.

    I should really state my position on the burqa here; I believe the burqa is a tool used to domesticate women and eliminate their identity and purpose in the wider community. Consequently, it serves to create striking gender divide and disparity through the objectification of women and their treatment as property.

    To be honest though, I’m pretty sick of women seeing feminism only through the eyes of women. Let’s take a look at the flipside; the burqa imbeds ideas of personal worth in these women, making the assumption that men in the wider community can only have these ideas of women as well. Unfortunately, this has become the case in many instances; there are some pro-burqa stances that have really deplorable views of the Western woman – THAT is cultural conditioning. THIS is what we really need to consider and if necessary, work against.

    Furthermore, I’m sick of ‘feminist’ women believing that men or politicians simply cannot be sympathetic to their cause. At times, this can be sexist in itself.

    Let’s go back a century when a womans right to vote was seriously into question; what is the function of a women. There were women and men who took both sides of the debate. It’s the case here as well. There are men and women, Muslim or otherwise, who are taking both sides of the debate. I can’t understand why people who claim to be feminist are taking this issue so half-heartedly because they question the agenda. If you have a core value system it doesn’t make sense to stick to it ‘sometimes’.

    Furthermore, I don’t see the problem with imposing laws on secular or cultural values that come into contrast with the values of the country in which these people choose to be citizens of. People question their governments all the time, why is questioning religion or culture so taboo? Are people that afraid of being labelled intolerant? My question is; why WOULD you tolerate it?

    Let’s look at the practical function of a burqa in these European countries.

    I’ll use some hypotheticals. It’s 30 degree heat, I should be able to choose to dress how I see fit. Hey, maybe I could use the Vitamin D.

    It’s a bank, I should feel comfortable identifying my face for security reasons.

    To refer to the recent debate in Australia; it’s a courtroom, my facial expressions should be viewed in my testimony.

    The fact of the matter is, the ‘choice’ to wear a burqa for women is rarely as simple as ‘today I choose to wear a burqa, tomorrow I choose to wear shorts’. There is so much more stigma and emotion attached to it which I believe is not necessary AT ALL in the societies of the countries considering a ban. A ban could be the first step in reducing this.

  11. I think European politicians are insulting Muslim women around the world by acting like they are formulating policy to liberate them. Believe me, European politicians are not going to be delivering liberation for Muslim women.

    Pardon me, but which European politicians are formulating policy to liberate them?

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