Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why I oppose ban on burqa?

New York Times recently published an op-ed article supporting French President Sarkozy's attempt to ban burqa.

In the article, Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born commentator on Arab and Muslim issues says, "As a Muslim woman and a feminist I would ban the burqa".

This made me wondering. Was Sarkozy's remark justified? Was I wrong in publishing a post against Sarkozy's attempt to ban burqa? Let me see the arguments of the writer in NY Times and decide. Her points in blue and my thoughts in black.

I am a Muslim, I am a feminist and I detest the full-body veil, known as a niqab or burqa. It erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it.

She hates burqa and hates the Islamists who try to make women wear it. No difference of opinion here. Is it Islamic or not? Actually that is not my botheration as I do not follow that religion, but I feel that religious traditions will change from time to time and place to place. One will say it is Islamic while other will say it is not. Let the believer decide what is Islamic and what is not as long as it do not harm another person.

We must not sacrifice women at the altar of political correctness or in the name of fighting a growingly powerful right wing that Muslims face in countries where they live as a minority.

By saying that women should decide [and not French Government] what she should wear in any way sacrifice them at the altar of political correctness? Right wing Conservatives are always anti-women whether it is in USA, [anti abortion activists], France [Le Pen] or in Iran. So fighting the Right Wing is always pro-women.

But the best way to support Muslim women would be to say we oppose both racist Islamophobes and the burqa. We’ve been silent on too many things out of fear we’ll arm the right wing.

Yes I agree that we should oppose both racist Islamophobes and compulsory wearing of burqa but should never ban either of them. We should oppose Islamophobes politically. Muslim women scholars like the author of the article should be able to convince Muslim women that burqa is not compulsory and is demeaning to women. Actually supporting Sarkozy is like giving away the right of women to wear what she likes.

It is sad to see a strange ambivalence toward the burqa from many of my fellow Muslims and others who claim to support us. They will take on everything — the right wing, Islamophobia, Mr. Straw, Mr. Sarkozy — rather than come out and plainly state that the burqa is an affront to Muslim women.

There is no ambivalence here. I feel the correct liberal view should be opposition to compulsory wearing of burqa. Women should be able to decide everything about themselves with out any interference by Men, Mullahs or Presidents. .

Is burqa an affront to Muslim women?

May be more than the burqa the second citizen status given to women, as a whole in a male dominated society throughout the World, especially in some Islamic countries is an affront to women. Burqa is a part of that. We can propagate that idea but the final opinion should be from the women concerned.

I blame such reluctance on the success of the ultra-conservative Salafi ideology — practiced most famously in Saudi Arabia — in leaving its imprimatur on Islam globally by persuading too many Muslims that it is the purest and highest form of our faith.

Saudi-style Salafi ideology got maximum support not from liberals but from conservative Right wing Governments in the West due to Oil interests. Liberal political movements were destroyed in the name of Cold War. Also the blame should be on the Liberal Muslims who is leaving everything related to religion to be decided by Mullahs.

It’s one thing to argue about the burqa in a country like Saudi Arabia — where I lived for six years and where women are treated like children — but it is utterly dispiriting to have those same arguments in a country where women’s rights have long been enshrined. When I first saw a woman in a burqa in Copenhagen I was horrified.

Actually it is Sarkozy who is trying to impinge on women's right to choose her attire. You have the right to get horrified and write about it.

As a Muslim woman and a feminist I would ban the burqa.

As a Muslim woman and as a feminist she cannot ban burqa. Only Government can ban burqa.She can oppose it verbally and in letters and by legally allowed agitations. But she cannot tear up the burqa off a woman she meets in the street.

The whole point of discussion is not whether burqa is good or bad or whether it is Islamic or non Islamic. The point of discussion is whether a Government has the right to ban Women from wearing a particular outfit in public places. You can have reasonable dress codes in factories, offices, schools, religious places etc, but not in public places.

The sad part of this controversy is both Sarkozy and Mullahs will be happy with this. Sarkozy will get the anti-migrant racist votes while the oppressed Muslim women may turn more and more to burqa as a protest against the West's 'Islamophobia".


  1. To me, feminism is about choice and therefore I agree with you when you say that women should decide their attire...But the problem is that women in conservative societies do not get to decide what they should wear just like they don't get to decide whether they should be educated or not...Wearing of the burqa and other such practices are often so ingrained in a woman's psyche that she often thinks she's making the choice when she chooses to wear a burqa...Banning it will only incite the conservatives - education and enlightenment are the only things that will truly improve life for Muslim women (and men)...

  2. I find the "banning of the burqa" in the West very Islamophobic. However, I will not completely disagree with what she says either. But again, its personal choice, no matter how socially ingrained.
    Incidentally I find it very funny that women who follow other traditional religions get so up in ams at the burqa being repressive. Sure, it would appear so, if it is a social requirement, not a personal choice, but then so too are the million and one requirements of all paternalistic religions, the taboos, the do's and don'ts regarding women, their dress their inferiority to men, their "uncleanliness". I wonder why it is easy to "accept" those things, repressive as they be, is it because their presence is not that manifest. And lets leave religion aside, isn't the portrayal of women either as sex symbols or goddesses as repressive too? Just wondering why we rarely notice those social conditionings, just the ones that seem to be "oppressing the other"?

  3. Scraboney Yes empowerment of women should be by education and employment and not by banning burqa

  4. @lankrita , I also agree with the author of the article when she says muslim women are oppressed and burqa is a sign of that . But if you allow the State to dictate what a person should or should not wear then that will be the end of personal liberty. Fighting Oppression by oppressive laws will be counter productive. Yes you are correct. All religions are paternalistic and consider women as second class citizens

  5. @Sraboney: I agree with you word for word.

    Women who are taught and who have grown up wearing a burqa and 'Us' saying that they have a a little difficult for me to comprehend.
    Of all my Muslim friend, I have seen, one woman from Egypt, settled in Europe who seems to have made a choice on it.

    Its interesting when one enters a discussion with the women and you reailse, that people can be conditioned on a certian thing and therefore like it/feel that its a part of themselves/ their identiy, and therefore find it very difficult to giveup. Considering how conservative that society is, and not to forget that the most amount of flack one faces is from fellow women themselves.
    Here is when, I belive, that the concept of choice is non existent when there is so much of conditioning.

    Cheers to all the women who can break away and make a choice.

  6. Aswathy,As you rightly said many are conditioned to it so much that they find it difficult to give up. If so should you force them to give up or create conditions in their surrounding so that they or their future generations can give it up as their own decision?

  7. This confuses me no end. There is no denying that women are conditioned to think of modesty and the veil as their biggest virtues, and if they refuse to respect either, they are considered immodest and they lose respect even from their own families, so where is the choice?
    But I also do fear that banning of burqua might put them in a position where refusing to wear a burqua is seen as an unislamic act, and now they might feel compelled to support it even if they do not like it...
    I also believe we get used to wearing certain kind of clothes, I have friends who cannot leave their hair loose because they never have; others can't wear saris; and some can't wear western clothes because they never have... I am sure there are women for whom being without a veil is like being on a stage... they are not used to having their face seen my strangers. Very difficult to decide what is good for everybody, so it is best if they are allowed to decide for themselves.
    The best we an do is create opportunities and awareness which enables and empowers them to make an informed, REAL choice.

  8. IHM,Good to see you back in blogosphere.No need for any further confusion. There should not be any double standards when you are championing the cause of Women's liberty.No compulsive wearing of any attire should be our aim.State or religious leaders should not dictate what women should wear.

  9. Fantastic Post!

    All I can say is that the government deciding the attire of women is just as bad as a religious body advocating something. Either way a woman's right to choose is lost. And I think your last statement wrapped up the arguement perfectly :)

    'The sad part of this controversy is both Sarkozy and Mullahs will be happy with this. Sarkozy will get the anti-migrant racist votes while the oppressed Muslim women may turn more and more to burqa as a protest against the West's 'Islamophobia".'

  10. Smitha, Welcome here and thank you. I feel Sarkozy and the Taliban are similar in their attempt to control women's attire .


Comments are welcome especially if you do not think like me. But anonymous comments behind masks and those not relevant to the post are not encouraged.