Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Y Files: Women, Islam, and the veil

Hey, here's an interesting discussion on whether liberating Muslim women from the veil, by means of illiberal bans on the burqa and the niqab, makes sense. The Y Files: Women, Islam, and the veil looks at a Weekly Standard article by Olivier Guitta, which examines the issue of the coercion in fundamentalist Islam for women to wear the full body and face coverings, and Cathy Young of The Y Files weighs in on whether the alternate form of coercion--banning the coverings--is an appropriate action in liberal societies with liberal standards, including freedom of religious expression. This issue is popping up all over the place: England, the Netherlands, France, and even in Muslim countries. So, the question is, is tolerating the veil, in the name of tolerance, truly the liberal thing to do? Young quotes herself from an article in the Boston Globe, and I think that portion is worth passing on to you here:

using the language of tolerance to justify oppressive practices is a grotesque perversion of liberalism. The veiling debate is a case in point. No amount of rhetorical sleight of hand can disguise the fact that the full-face veil makes women, literally, faceless. Some Muslim women in the West may choose this garb (which is not mandated in the Koran), but their explanations often reveal an internalized misogynistic view of women as creatures whose very existence is a sexual provocation to men. What's more, their choice helps legitimize a custom that is imposed on millions of women around the world who have no choice.
I understand the conflict of interest inherent to this question. One wonders whether banning the veil is not as much of a violation of the rights of the women who truly do want to wear it, as forcing the veil is a violation of the rights of others who are trapped behind its confines, but I tend to agree with Young on this one. So many women are either pressured, browbeaten, or literally beaten to induce their cooperation in what is basically a misogynistic tool of enslavement, that I cannot think that the rights of those who desire to cover every inch of themselves, including their faces, outweigh the concerns for those many women who adopt the practice of totally covering themselves simply to appease their oppressors. Young's post touches briefly on a point made in the Weekly Standard article, the fact that some Muslim countries have banned the veil in order to promote women's rights, and, while they have not always been "liberal" about these attempts at modernization, the results have been liberating for the women involved. Have a look at the whole post, and, if you have the time, read the comments as well. I found the discussion there quite interesting.

On the same subject, The Big Pharaoh, an Egyptian blogger to whom I have linked several times, has addressed the question of the full covering, as well as just the hair covering, often. He laments the changes that allowed his mother to stroll the streets of Cairo in a mini-skirt, forty years ago, to the state today, where uncovered, and even covered girls, are routinely accosted by prurient youths. He says the problem has increased, rather than decreased, as more and more women have covered themselves in Egyptian society, and clearly believes the illiberal teachings of religious leaders is largely to blame. His latest post is a "letter from God," addressed to those who claim to speak for him, and tell young girls that they must cover their hair. (The page is a bit out of whack, but just scroll down and the text appears lower down the page.) This post addresses some of the passages in the Koran which are commonly used to support the idea that women must hide themselves. It's a fascinating, if occasionally profane, read.

Update: I thought I ought to explain what I meant by the veil being "basically a misogynistic tool of enslavement." My point is simply this. Requiring women to hide everything that a man might find titillating (is that even possible?) is making her responsible for his behavior, and excusing his lack of self control, thus making her a slave to his libido. The claim is that it's about protecting women. Bunk. It's about recognizing that these men lack character, but refusing to address the root of that issue. If the Imams who preach that women need to be covered from head to toe to keep boys' hands out of the cookie jar spent half as much time preaching to the boys themselves about keeping their hands in their pockets, the men might take a little more responsibility for their own actions. Her bearing the consequences for his lack of self control=misogynistic enslavement.

Hat tip: Instapundit, for the Cathy Young link