Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Nijab: To Ban or Not to Ban

Dodd at Outside the Beltway has explored the tense issue of France's ban on the nijab, the Islamic face veil:

It’s certainly true, as he says, that many “Muslim women wear the burqa because they are forced to.” And there’s certainly a rational basis for prohibiting them in secured places — that’s no different from not allowing someone to wear sunglasses in one’s driver license picture. But a total ban on wearing them anywhere in public is misguided at best.

I am really of two minds on this issue. I'm weary of bans as Dodd is, but from pretty good exposure to the culture (which is a little too personal to go into right now) I cannot see how a mandate forcing women to show their face is going to marginalize them any further. The nijab does more for marginalization of women than anything any legislature could come up with.

As Muslim populations continue to grow throughout the Western world, this also will not be the last wave of legislation. Either in Europe, Canada or even stateside there will be at some point at least the proposal of legislation as regards female circumcision. Unlike male circumcision, this practice, more cultural than religious, has the purpose of inhibiting the enjoyment of sex for women. Ayaan Hirsi Ali explored this possibility in a recent article for The Daily Beast.

Frankly, the hardline Islamic culture is so overbearing and oppositional to female individuality that, for the mental health of women born into it, there is going to have to be some sort of action so that they can live free, productive lives of their own choosing. Freedom of religion only goes so far when you start to consider fathers and brothers who think they have a religious mandate to completely dominate the lives of their daughters and sisters.

Dodd is very right, however, that the hijab has had considerable cultural evolution. For many women, it has become an accessory that often accentuates their beauty.





If Europeans are going to legislate this issue, they need to be really careful and make sure that they do not overkill. For every teenage girl who will be able to go to middle school and feel like a normal girl as a result of the ban on the nijab, there may be a hardened young male Muslim who has now become certain that there is a Western war on Islam.

This is a really fine line that legislators are walking. It would be worth contemplating if it isn't the nijab that should be banned, but instead compulsive observance of religion by family or other social actors. Even free of facial coverings and living in the supposedly free and enlightened West, many Muslim women are chained to their culture and unable to determine their own lives. The compulsion of practices that go against one's wishes is ultimately what many of us have a problem with, and it's the basis for bans on polygamy in the United States.

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