Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Syria bans face veils in unversities

This recent post prompted a discussion about a proposed law change which would affect those who wear the niqab and burqa in France:

The draft bill says that “no one can, in the public space, wear clothing intended to hide the face.” The bill also defines “public space” broadly, including streets, markets and private businesses, as well as government buildings and public transportation. A fine of $190 will be imposed on those wearing the full facial veil, and anyone who forces a woman to wear such a veil will be punished by a fine of as much as $38,000 and a year in jail, doubled if the victim is a minor. (from here)

As some of the discussion around that post argued that this was racist move I was interested to read that Syria (a secular state with a muslim majority) has this week announced a ban on women wearing full face veils in universities. From a feminist perspective, does this change the debate?
The ban shows a rare point of agreement between Syria's secular, authoritarian government and the democracies of Europe: Both view the niqab as a potentially destabilizing threat. "We have given directives to all universities to ban niqab-wearing women from registering," a government official in Damascus told The Associated Press on Monday.

The order affects both public and private universities and aims to protect Syria's secular identity, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. Hundreds of primary school teachers who were wearing the niqab at government-run schools were transferred last month to administrative jobs, he added.

The ban, issued Sunday by the Education Ministry, does not affect the hijab, or headscarf, which is far more common in Syria than the niqab's billowing black robes.

Syria is the latest in a string of nations from Europe to the Middle East to weigh in on the veil, perhaps the most visible symbol of conservative Islam. Veils have spread in other secular-leaning Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, with Jordan's government trying to discourage them by playing up reports of robbers who wear veils as masks. Turkey bans Msulim headscarves in universities, with many saying attempts to allow them in schools amount to an attack on modern Turkey's secular laws.

See here for the full article, which also takes a [patronising] class angle on the issue in Syria:

But in the Middle East — particularly Syria and Egypt, where there have been efforts to ban the niqab in the dorms of public universities — experts say the issue underscores the gulf between the secular elite and largely impoverished lower classes who find solace in religion. Some observers say the bans also stem in part from fear of dissent.


stargazer said...

i think the dynamic in these countries is completely different to what's happening in france. from what i've read of egypt, the political oppression there is pretty extreme, and torture is used by the state to quash dissidents. while it's a democracy, it appears to be one where opposition is quashed. the banning of the burqa has very little to do with women's rights and much more to do with quashing opposition. don't know so much about the syrian situation.

i think the debate re the burqa banning does change according to context, and what the actual political motivation of those in power are at the time. in france, you have sarkozy having very low popularity and being caught up in a scandal just now that is damaging him politically. his sudden concern for the rights of muslim women (which excludes their right to decide what to wear, apparently) come out of that context. in egypt and syria, it's a different context altogether. turkey is another country where not just burqas but headscarves are banned from university. the sultunate of oman restricts the wearing of burqa - schoolteachers can't wear them for example.

i guess the commonality of the argument is this: does the state have the right to dictate what women can wear? and if their argument is based on women's rights, what else are they doing in the area of women's rights and what are their key indicators looking like (ie women in leadership positions, female literacy, access to employment, gender wage gap etc)?

Hugh said...

It's an aside, Stargazer, but I wouldn't describe Egypt as a democracy. There are elections but they're more theatre than a genuine chance for the population to have a say in the running of the country, let alone choose its government.

katy said...

"i think the debate re the burqa banning does change according to context, and what the actual political motivation of those in power are at the time"

I agree with this; the issues do seem to shift depending on the political and social context of these laws. I found it useful to think about the Syrian situation because it didn't seem to be racist but it was interesting to see that the laws there also seem to be about the state having control over womens bodies.

stargazer said...

and i just got a call from radio nz to appear on the panel to discuss the issue, this afternoon. so please wish me luck! and any further thoughts from anyone would be really helpful as well.

katy said...

Cool! I will have to listen in! I would love to hear someone make a good case for women's bodies being the site of a class battle :)

stargazer said...

well, so much for that. i was sitting by the phone but they never called - ran out of time i think. oh well.

for some light entertainment (and a few salient points), i strongly recommend this post about "bad burqa puns".

Francisco Castelo Branco said...

the burqa and niqab are religious simbols.
They should be allowed in street, coffe, supermarket and public transport.
In school the burqa must be forbidden.
Because we are in the freedom country. With open and liberal laws.

Anonymous said...

The burqa is an abomination and was never part of the teachings of the Koran.
If a woman is forced to wear the burqa she is a victim of male/patriachal/sexist oppression and if she is asked to remove it in a MODERN society she is the victim of the same patriachal/sexist oppression- you can't have it both ways.

So what is it to be? Why is there never any universal feminist solidarity or condemnation of the oppression of women in third-world and developing countries? especially when this oppression is often perpetrated by other women in those societies ? Women who help perpetuate these medieval practices like female circumcision?

So if the burqa is banned in Muslim countries it is good for women's rights but if it is banned in France it is an affront to their rights...even though supposedly their men are forcing them to wear this?

If a western woman goes to a muslim country she is asked to wear modest clothing , cover her arms and legs and head etc, yet when a muslim woman goes to LIVE PERMANENTLY in a country like Farnce or England ,somehow asking her to remove her burqa is against her rights? What about the rights of the natives of those western countries to relate to her as an equal in general social discourse without being disadvantaged by being seen by the wearer but not seeing her? Yet she will no doubt demand all the benefits and protections and freedoms resulting
from her being in a western country that she did not have before. What is the point of muslim immigration if they are not going to assimilate?

stargazer said...

wow, anon, don't bother to read the post or any of the comments will you? just rant without getting a clue. if you'll notice, many here condemn banning in muslim countries as well as non-muslim countries. and we also oppose laws that force women to wear a burqa (as in saudi arabia) or even the chaddor (as in iran).

and nice to see your colonial paternalism showing through ("oppression of third world and developing countries", no less). yup you're a liberalised westerner who has the right to ignore what these women think or what they would prefer. no, you know better than them, and want to force them to dress the way you think a liberated woman should dress. how many burqa-wearing women have you bothered to talk to, incidentally? but of course their views don't matter to you, because they are just brainwashed idiots who don't know what's good for them, or all oppressed victims who couldn't possibly make an informed choice. except when she's demanding "all the benefits and protections and freedoms resulting
from her being in a western country that she did not have before" of course. if she's assertive enough to be that demanding, maybe she's assertive enough to not be forced into wearing a burqa, do you think?

guess what, freedom and liberal laws actually means that you don't legally dictate what women can or can't wear. it means that the state doesn't own women's bodies nor their minds. maybe when you understand that basic concept, you might be able to use the words "universal feminist solidarity" in some kind of meaningful way.

oh, and i'd also suggest you read some feminist writing from women of colour, many of whom express this stuff a lot better than me.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that on moving to France the muslim woman suddenly has the 'right' to wear a burqa whereas in the middle east, esp Saudi, she had no choice whether to wear it or not? Why is there such huge muslim migration to the infidel west if the middle east is such a paradise of cultural tolerance and equality?

The French State wants to liberate this woman from having to wear this thing and you call it a state attack on her rights???
Perhaps the French have the rights and interests of ALL French citizens in mind, and their collective desires to live in a modern functioning society....all citizens on an equal footing? How can one have a functioning modern society when some women dress like this whether by choice or not? And force their daughters to cover up as well?
I have observed such women, but you ask me have I interacted with them...are you not aware that that would be inappropriate, me being a male not of her immediate family. You know the rules.
I have also observed the muslim men walking steps ahead of the women. The males need liberating from their arrogance as much as the women need liberating.

For all his faults,Sarkozy made it clear before the election that he opposed the wearing of the burqa and in case you forget he was elected democratically.
Other than possibly Turkey,name me one muslim country that has free democratic elections where women have the vote?
Why don't you be consistent then and criticise Turkey or Syria for denying women the right to wear the burqa if that is what they want?. The reason is of course that in these countries women have no rights and are seen as chattels of men.
As to reading writing by women of colour...I have. Ayaan Hirsi Ali gives a fair insight into the rich tapestry of muslim backwardness and opression.
Call me a cultural imperialist if you will, but I know a seriously deficient culture when I see one. I just don't understand why western feminists are hell bent on supporting the worst aspects of it.

stargazer said...

Why don't you be consistent then and criticise Turkey or Syria for denying women the right to wear the burqa if that is what they want?.

i have, in comments above, and more than once. why don't you learn to read?

Anonymous said...

Anon is right. Answer their questions.

Kary said...

Anons (who are likely the same anon) read the damn post!