a young woman living in Germany wrote: When you
see me on the street I am veiled but do not think
I am a Muslim. I have been forced to veil by my
father and brothers; they will kill me if I don't.
Before I felt alone, but now I know I am not.
This is a message she sent to Mina Ahadi, founder
of the central council of ex-Muslims in Germany.
course, Bahar is not alone. There are innumerable
women and girls in Asia, the Middle East and North
Africa to right here in the heart of Europe who
know from personal experience what it means to
be female under Islam - hidden from view, bound,
gagged, mutilated, murdered, without rights, and
threatened and intimidated day in and day out
for transgressing Islamic mores.
veil, more than anything else, symbolises this
my opinion, it is therefore impossible to address
the status of women under Islamic laws and defend
women's rights without addressing and denouncing
this is why the veil is the first thing that Islamists
impose when they have any access to power.
also why improper veiling, its removal and its
burning at demonstrations and gatherings - as
often seen in Iran for example - or its removal
when one leaves the home - in places where it
is not the law of the land but that of self-appointed
imams and family members - has become a symbol
know our opponents often argue that there are
many more pressing matters with regards to women's
status. Why all the fuss they ask?
me, it is like asking what all the fuss was about
racial apartheid - or segregation of the races
- in apartheid South Africa. After all there were
so many pressing issues faced by Blacks in that
country. I suppose that is why the then South
African government kept asserting that separate
does not mean unequal (which incidentally is an
argument Islamists make all the time). We know
we know - at least in hindsight - why the physical
act of segregation was crucial and symbolic of
what it meant to be Black under apartheid.
the veil is a symbol of sexual apartheid and the
segregation of the sexes. In countries where Islam
rules, like in Iran, the separate entrances for
women in certain government offices; separate
areas for women's seating on buses for example;
the banning of women from certain public arenas
like sport stadiums; a curtain dividing the Caspian
sea for segregated swimming and so on is what
it means in practice to be a female under Islam.
That people transgress these rules daily is a
testimony to their humanity and not the laws or
state that imposes it by force.
we talk about the situation in Iran, some of these
apologists will concede that compulsory veiling
must be opposed (though I have yet to hear them
oppose it other than in their argument's in defence
of the veil) but if it is a choice freely made
than one must defend the 'right' to veil.
wholeheartedly disagree. Adult women may have
the 'right' to veil though that right is in no
way absolute as many rights aren't and a completely
different matter for children - which I will come
to later. But having the right to do something
is very different from defending the 'freely chosen'
veil or the 'right to veil'. There may be women
who 'freely choose' to genitally mutilate their
daughters or immolate themselves on their husband's
funeral pyre but that does not mean that we must
then defend the right of women to do so or defend
the practice of Suttee or FGM. The defence of
rights is not about making everyone agree as you
will always find people who will defend and commit
the indefensible - and that is what religion is
in my opinion. It is about protecting human beings
sometimes even from themselves.
The usage of the term choice in this context is
extremely deceptive. First off in many places
like Iran it is the law of the land. You are fined,
arrested, beaten, imprisoned and even killed for
transgressing the veil and Islamic mores.
others where it is not the law, it is effectively
so because of pressure and intimidation from the
parasitical self-appointed so-called community
and Islamic leaders, and family members.
example of this is the joint statement about the
veil from 'Muslim groups, scholars and leaders'
in Britain which has stated that the veil 'is
not open to debate'. The statement goes so far
as to 'advise all Muslims to exercise extreme
caution in this issue since denying any part of
Islam may lead to disbelief' and to urge them
to 'keep this debate within the realm of scholarly
discussion amongst the people of knowledge and
authority in the Muslim community.'
recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme recorded
a mullah in Green Lane mosque in Birmingham saying
'Allah has created the woman deficient' and a
satellite broadcast from the Grand Mufti of Saudi
Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, beamed into
the mosque suggesting that children should be
hit if they don't pray and if they don't wear
also all heard Australia's senior Islamic cleric,
Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali comparing unveiled women
to 'uncovered meat' implying that they invite
rape and sexual assault. 'If you take out uncovered
meat and place it outside ... without cover, and
the cats come to eat it ... whose fault is it,
the cats' or the uncovered meat's? The uncovered
meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in
her home, in her hijab, no problem would have
misogynist sermons are the norm in mosques across
the world, and across religions, these are a few
examples of how a climate of intimidation and
fear makes many a woman 'choose' the veil even
in places where veiling is not compulsory.
these, and I would even go so far as to say, that
there will be few who will 'choose' to live in
a mobile prison - other than those who want to
show their allegiance to the rising political
a 'woman's right to choose' must be preceded at
the very least by legal and social sexual equality.
This is not the case for most. So if you consider
the veil on a social scale, it represents neither
a right nor a choice and it is a lie to say otherwise.
course, women wearing mini-skirts and Jimmy Choos
may be under pressure from the fashion industry's
impossible ideals - as we often hear argued in
defence of the veil - but it is as ridiculous
to compare mini-skirts with the veil, as it is
to compare Jimmy Choos with foot binding, which
aims at preventing women from 'wandering'.
veil is not a piece of cloth or clothing, though
it is often compared to miniskirts or other 'lewd'
forms of clothing the rest of us unveiled women
seem to wear. Just as the straight jacket or body
bag are not pieces of clothing. Just as the chastity
belt was not a piece of clothing. Just as the
Star of David pinned on Jews during the holocaust
was not just a bit of cloth.
of course does not mean that only women under
Islam or veiled women are oppressed. But it is
important to oppose the veil in its own right.
this has nothing to do with being hate-filled
or promoting an attack on Muslims or veiled women
though Islamists portray it as such. Interesting
coming from a reactionary right wing movement
that has turned murder and mayhem into an art
form, but as I have said before, opposing FGM
does not mean you are attacking those who are
mutilated; opposing foot binding or Suttee likewise.
In fact, it is an essential to a principled defence
of women's rights.
this is why the chador, burqa and neqab must be
banned - to defend women's rights. Not because
they affects interaction, communication and so
on. These are side effects. And certainly not
because they may make people like Jack Straw uncomfortable.
It has to be banned because sexual apartheid is
as unacceptable as racial apartheid. Because it
is unacceptable for women to be segregated in
the 21 century; and for women to walk around in
a mobile prison or body bag because religion deems
that they be kept invisible.
mention of a ban, though, quickly raises cries
of authoritarianism. As an aside, it is interesting
how much religion can get away with and that its
decree for example that women be veiled is not
considered authoritarian. But more importantly,
a ban is not necessarily bad. Society bans many
things in order to safeguard and protect the people
living in it, often due to left and progressive
social movements demanding it. For example, child
labour is banned, so is FGM, child pornography,
rape and so on. A ban in such situations is a
good thing; it helps to stop abuses from taking
place. The argument that banning will only increase
the burqa or neqab is ridiculous when used in
other examples pertaining to defending people's
rights but is somehow considered proper discourse
when it comes to the veil.
calling for a ban does not necessarily mean you
want to or will criminalise a segment of the population.
For example, there is a rule to wear a helmet
when driving a motorbike but I don't think there
are hundreds of Sikhs languishing in British jails
for not doing so. Or for that matter people who
smoke in non-smoking areas, and size zero models...
and their apologists demand that we respect people's
religious expressions and beliefs. As I have said
many a time, we are duty bound to respect human
beings but not every belief or religious expression.
Having the right to a belief and religion is not
the same as it being a no go area to do as it
pleases free of any criticism or condemnation.
they say that it is racist to criticise Islam,
the veil and political Islam. What rubbish. You
cannot be racist against an idea or belief or
ideology or its expression. Racism is distinctions,
exclusions, restrictions or preferences based
on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic
origin (albeit constructed) of individuals - of
human beings - not their beliefs. Saying it is
so is just another attempt at silencing all opposition
ban on the burqa, chador, neqab and its likes
is important but it is no where enough. The hijab
or any conspicuous religious symbol must be banned
from the state and education and relegated to
the private sphere. This helps to ensure that
government offices and officials from judges,
to clerks, to doctors and nurses are not promoting
their religious beliefs and are instead doing
their jobs. In the same way that a teacher can't
teach creationism instead of evolution and science
in the classroom; a pharmacist can't refuse contraceptive
pills to a women because of her beliefs; a male
doctor can't refuse to treat a woman patient or
child veiling must be banned full stop. This is
a children's rights issue. While adults may 'choose'
veiling or a religion, children by their very
nature cannot make such choices; what they do
is really what their parents tell them to do.
Again the use of the term choice here is deceptive.
Children must be protected even if they 'choose'
to stay with abusive parents, to work to support
poor families or to stop attending school.
have the absolute right to be children - nothing
must be allowed to segregate them or restrict
them from accessing information, advances in society
and rights, playing, swimming and in general doing
things children must do. Whatever their beliefs,
parents do not have the right to impose their
beliefs, including veiling on children just because
they are their own children, just as they can't
deny their children medical assistance or beat
and neglect them or marry them off at 9 because
it's part of their beliefs or religion. Child
veiling is a form of child abuse and has to be
history, progress and change have come about not
by appeasing, apologizing or excusing reaction,
but by standing up to it firmly and unequivocally.
This is what has to be against Islam, political
Islam and the veil.
have to state loud and clear that sexual apartheid
has no place in the 21st century; enough is enough.