French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a rare speech to lawmakers of both Houses on June 22, 2009, kicked up a controversy by declaring the head-to-toe burka “not a sign of religion” but of “subservience,” which would not be welcome in France.
Ignoring criticism, which divided the French, the Sarkozy administration pursued its intended burqa ban by forming a parliamentary committee consisting of 32 lawmakers to investigate whether wearing a burqa trampled Muslim women’s liberty and how the ban could be enacted.
The committee, after a protracted investigation involving Muslim community leaders and intellectuals (including Tariq Ramadan), is about to deliver its verdict; recent statements by leading French politicians suggest that a recommendation banning the burqa in public spaces in France is on its way.
Islam subjugated both non-Muslims (dhimmis) and the Muslim women. The West, including the French, spearheaded the liberation of dhimmis of the Islamic world in the so-called age of colonialism by direct intervention or through diplomatic pressure (e.g. Iran and Turkey). But the fate of oppressed Muslim women remained largely unchanged as colonial powers avoided intervening in the private affairs of Muslims.
Ironically, Muslim women experienced bits of liberation, under the indirect influence of liberal thoughts brought to the Muslim world by the colonists and under their protection. But in the post-colonial world, it is being taken away from them.
It should by now be obvious that Muslim societies will not liberate their women, despite the passive influence flowing in from the liberal West. A direct intervention from without remains to be tried.
Whether it works or not, the pending French ban on the burqa would constitute the first substantial effort in liberating Muslim women.
But this time the French would not be doing it not as a discredited colonial power, but to uphold the Human Rights of its citizens as demanded by both the United Nations and its own Constitution.
The move was led by France in 2004, when it banned the wearing of headscarves by Muslim girls in schools (also Christian Crosses, Jewish skullcaps and Sikh Turbans) to keep secular institutions free from religious symbols.
The Islamic veil, called the hijab, the niqab or the burqa, and seen by critics as a sign of religious fundamentalism and a tool of suppression of Muslim women, has been banned by various institutions in the European countries of France, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium.
Sarkozy’s comment ignited condemnations from Muslims, as well as non-Muslim leaders and intellectuals, all over the world. Muslims claimed the comment ‘stigmatized’ Islam. Even President Barack Obama, weeks earlier on June 4, 2009, indirectly condemned the limited ban on Muslim headscarves in his Cairo Speech: “
…it is important for western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit, for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.”
President Sarkozy reaffirmed his commitment to banning the burqa on November 12, saying: “France is a country where there is no place for the burqa, where there is no place for the subservience of women.”
The French immigration minister, Eric Besson, said on December16, 2009, that he would like the head-to-toe Muslim veils to be legal grounds for denying citizenship and long-term residence in France.
“I want the wearing of the full veil to be systematically considered as proof of insufficient integration into French society,” he said, “creating an obstacle to gaining (French) nationality.”
Meanwhile Jean-Francois Cope, a lawmaker and the Mayor of Meaux which has a large Muslim population belonging to Sarkozy’s conservative UMP Party, laid out the ‘rationale’ of the impending burqa ban in an article in “Le Figaro,” saying that the measure should be understood as “a law of liberation.”
What is striking is that Cope’s assertion completely contradicts what Muslims and their non-Muslim apologists claim: that the Islamic veil is a symbol of liberation, not suppression, for women.
Even Naomi Wolfe, a leading American feminist, affirmed this Muslim argument, saying: “Indeed, many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. On the contrary, they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive, commodifying, basely sexualising Western gaze.”
She herself, having donned a headscarf in Morocco to experience its exhilarating liberation, which she described as thus: “…I moved about the market – the curve of my breasts covered, the shape of my legs obscured, my long hair not flying about me – I felt a novel sense of calm and serenity. I felt, yes, in certain ways, free.”
Wolfe quoted a Muslim woman: “When I wear Western clothes, men stare at me, objectify me, or I am always measuring myself against the standards of models in magazines, which are hard to live up to – and even harder as you get older, not to mention how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected.”
Wolfe empathized: “This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images, but it is a recognizably Western feminist set of feelings.”
What is notable is the central argument: that wearing a veil is a means of avoiding men’s stare, how liberally-dressed women are “eye-raped” by men, how men make indecent gestures at them, or even how men may get aroused to commit sexual violations, including rape.
It is bewildering to hear that well-educated Muslims may think that men commit an unbecoming, indecent, even criminal, act and the women have to bear the consequence of it by taking the responsibility of covering themselves up.
To a rational mind, men are at fault here; they should bear consequence. Such measures should be imposed on men, not on the well-behaved innocent women.
A woman’s body is her own property; she should have right to display it in the way she wants. Others, particularly men, should learn to restrain themselves from coveting, snatching, or touching other people’s property.
That is the ethos on which an ideal liberal civilized society must be based. The Islamic veil is a contravention of this central ethos of the modern liberal society. The French, or any other nations, would, therefore, be perfectly justified in banning the burqa.
It is important to realize is that the Prophet Muhammad and Allah applied the same rationale, as Muslims use today, to impose veil on Muslim women foourteen centuries ago. Muhammad, in line with the rather liberal Arab society, initially urged women dress modestly (Quran 24:30-31). Later on, he prescribed a complete head-to-toe covering of Muslim women in public spaces in verse 33:59, which reads Allah’s command: “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers (i.e. of Muslims) to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed.”
Now, let us consider the context of this verse. It was revealed in 629 CE or later, when Muhammad had completely cleansed Medina of the Jews, by a combination of eviction and mass-slaughter, while his Muslim brigands were raiding one non-Muslim community after another around Arabia, often enslaving the women, slaughtering the men, and plundering their wealth. As concerns enslaving the infidel women to be used as sex-slaves or sold, recommended by Allah in the Quran such as verse 33:50, Muhammad had already captured the women of Banu Quraiza, Banu al-Mustaliq and Khaybar, after slaughtering their men.
So, who were the purported molesters, as pointed to in this verse, from whose molestation Allah wanted to save the Muslim women by imposing the burqa? The molesters were obviously Muslim men: when Islam gained supreme power in Arabia, non-Muslims would not have dared to annoy Muslim women.
Muhammad imposed burqa on Muslim women to save them from his own sex-crazed Muslim brigands, whose criminal intent toward molesting women was undoubtedly aroused to its height by Muhammad’s inspiration and engagement in ceaseless raids on non-Muslim communities for capturing their women for subjecting them to rape and sexual slavery.
It was the non-Muslim women who were living in constant fear of Muslim raids upon their community, their enslavement and rape.
What we see here is that Islamic institution of veiling Muslim women was founded, in principle, as punishing them for the crimes of Muslim men: “punishing the victim.”
As exactly the same arguments are used by Muslims today, allowing such a miscarriage of justice should be totally unacceptable in a civilized society.
The French government is right to ban the burqa; the French government or any other has a moral and legal responsibility to do so. As the leading liberal ideologue, Albert Einstein, argued, it is the responsibility of a liberal government “to insure the unhindered development of the individual.”
The Burqa not only punishes the wrong party for the criminal thoughts of half the society, Muslim men; it also denies the unhindered expression and development of the other half of the society, Muslim women.
The Burqa almost entirely anonymizes women and reduces them to nonentity in society. Only criminals would seek anonymity, but only partially, i.e. only for their specific criminal actions.
Fundamentally, behind every burqa resides a nonentity, as well as a falsely accused “criminal” — not a human individual, whose right to freedom and liberty to enjoy every privilege in every sphere of life and society in equal measure with men is ensured in the Human Rights Charter of the United Nations and the constitutions of liberal Western societies.
President Sarkozy underlined this reality, in support of his intended ban on burqa, saying: “We cannot have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity.”
The Islamic veil violates the most fundamental ethos of liberalism, not of one or two individuals, but of entire half of the Muslim society, in its grossest form. You may ignore your foremost responsibility to undertake measures to stem this fourteen-century-long violation, but please, do not condemn or stigmatize others, who make efforts to stem it.
All conscientious people, foremost the liberals, should support the French initiative to ban the burqa, the first step toward liberation of Muslim women from the clutches of men, which has lasted fourteen centuries since the founding of Islam.
And a word for President Obama, the idol of the world’s liberals: you may condemn others for banning the burqa, saying, “We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.” Yet, as an icon of liberalism and leader of the world’s leading nation in promoting liberalism globally, it becomes your foremost responsibility to uphold liberal values. And ensuring the unhindered expression of the individual and upholding her/his freedom and liberty, no matter what, lie at the heart of liberalism.