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Veil Politics/Politics Veiled October 30, 2006

Posted by Winter in media.

Unless you’ve been on another planet the past few weeks, you’re probably aware of the furore caused in the UK by Jack Straw’s request that Muslim women constituents remove their veils when meeting with him, and the case of a Muslim teaching assistent suspended for refusing to remove her veil in front of male colleagues. Now we have a top Australian Muslim cleric on indefinite leave after his comments about immodestly dressed women hit the headlines.

I haven’t posted about veils or Islam, partly because I believe the row is being stoked by cynical and evil western political and mass media manipulation. A small minority of Muslim women in this country have been wearing the veil here for decades without causing any more trouble than any other group dressing in a way that challenges dominant British social norms, or expresses their religious and political views. So I’m sure it’s no coincidence to see veils made a serous issue at this moment in time and I won’t be at all surprised to see legislation propsals aimed at Muslims in the near future. I feel the veil is a red herring in a row that’s really about something else entirely. Having said all that, I would like to highlight some pieces I’ve found especially interesting and challenging recently.

First from Muslim women:

Muslim journalist Zaiba Malik spends a day wearing the veil and decides it’s not for her, but her experiences are a must read for everyone.

After a few hours I get used to the gawping and the sniggering, am unsurprised when passengers on a bus prefer to stand up rather than sit next to me. What does surprise me is what happens when I get off the bus. I’ve arranged to meet a friend at the National Portrait Gallery. In the 15-minute walk from the bus stop to the gallery, two things happen. A man in his 30s, who I think might be Dutch, stops in front of me and asks: “Can I see your face?”

“Why do you want to see my face?”

“Because I want to see if you are pretty. Are you pretty?”

Before I can reply, he walks away and shouts: “You fucking tease!”

At Blogher, Pari Esfandiari considers the politics of the veil in Hajib Hijacked.

Gone those days when I used to sit in my parents home in Tehran, in my miniskirt, next to my mom with her modest dress, my aunt and her head scarf and my grandmother and her chador. Three generations of women, who were united in respecting, tolerating and defending one another’s choice of outfit without even thinking politically.

Today, the veil is far from a personal choice – the veil has turned to a symbol of political significance that has many layers. For some women, the veil is a sign of religious devotion and asserting one’s Islamic identity; for others the veil is keeping up with a fashion trend. For Arab youths who are angry over the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the veil is a silent protest against their governments’ collaboration with Washington.

The veil also is at the crux of cultural clashes and East-West tension.

From India, Annie at Known Turf also looks at issues of dress and compulsion in the Bedsheet and Bigotry.

I can understand the temptation to call for a ban, because, sometimes it seems as if that is the only way to protect women from a forced tent-ization, to divorce their clothes from their rights and duties.

Yet, I would like to reserve the right to wear a burqa, as and when I choose to.

Because I will NOT do anything you force me to do. I will NOT wear a bedsheet even if that’s the only guise in which I am allowed to enter heaven, for I don’t believe in a God who cannot bear to see his own creations uncovered. But nor will I NOT wear a bedsheet, just because you don’t like it.

And if a woman with her head covered, frightens you, you probably have deep-rooted insecurities and need to see a shrink.

Meanwhile, another Muslim journalist in the UK, Houzan Mahmoud, finds the veil problematic.

The veil is not merely a piece of “cloth”, but a sign of the oppression of women, control over their sexuality, submissiveness to the will of God or a man. The veil is a banner of political Islam used, to segregate women born by historical accident in the so-called “Islamic World” from other women in the rest of the world.

From a non-Muslim perspective, I found ex-nun Karen Armstrong’s piece particularly interesting.

I spent seven years of my girlhood heavily veiled – not in a Muslim niqab but in a nun’s habit. We wore voluminous black robes, large rosaries and crucifixes, and an elaborate headdress: you could see a small slice of my face from the front, but from the side I was entirely shielded from view. We must have looked very odd indeed, walking dourly through the colourful carnival of London during the swinging 60s, but nobody ever asked us to exchange our habits for more conventional attire.

Meanwhile Aspazia apologizes:

On behalf of feminism, I want to apologize to Muslims, and particularly Muslim women, who endure unfair criticisms for their decision to wear headscarves. The politicization of the headscarf is the most cynical misuse of feminism for despicable and deplorable foreign policy aims.

I agree; as feminists it is absolutely imperative that we stand up against the political manipulation of feminist rhetoric to justify slaughtering people and destroying lives in Muslim countries.

Finally a couple of pieces on the Australian Mufti.

Hu Blog offers a Muslim feminist response.

But this Alt Muslim.com article raises a very important question:

On October 12th of this month, 38 highly respected and theologically diverse clerics from the Muslim world wrote what is widely considered a respectful and engaging “Open Letter” to the Pope in response to his controversial comments about Islam made during his Regensburg address in September. Not only was the letter of historical significance, but it also represented an articulate and reasoned invitation to dialogue from Muslims with the Papacy on matters of theology and faith. The signatories included top scholars from Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, the United States, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Kosovo, Oman, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Iran.

Around the same time, a single Muslim cleric in Australia, Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali, delivered a sermon to about 500 followers where he allegedly compared some women who do not dress modestly to uncovered meat being left out for a cat.

I wonder which story received more news coverage.

Cynical manipulation indeed.

Sour Duck has some more posts here.