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Socialist Resistance statement on the banning of the veil

By Socialist Resistance (Britain)

July 26, 2010 -- Throughout Europe there is a growing movement that seeks to ban Muslim women who chose to do so from wearing the veil. In Britain today this demand comes mainly from the far-right British National Party (BNP), UK Independence Party (UKIP) and some individuals on the Conservative Party (Tory) right. Things though may change for the worse, already the Tory tabloids are stirring on this question.

This is but one part of a growing Islamophobic trend which has seen Muslim minorities become even more marginalised and demonised in Western Europe than they were previously. Though this demand originated on the far right it is now increasingly taken up by the mainstream bourgeois parties culminating in the recent decision of the French parliament to make wearing the veil a criminal offence. In France what is equally shameful is the failure of most of the French left to oppose it in any meaningful way, members of the Greens, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party having abstained on this law in the French parliament.

The demand to ban the veil is created around a myth. One that proclaims that the so-called progressive and democratic values of Western society must be upheld against the misogynistic, backwards and feudal nature of the Islamic faith. One aspect of this myth is that the "modern and democratic" Israel must be supported against the "backward and totalitarian" Arab regimes of the Middle East. In other words this is a white racist myth that serves as a rationale for Western Imperialist domination.

It is certainly true that Muslim fundamentalist regimes such as the Wahhabi rulers of Saudi Arabia have been the most misogynistic to exist in modern times. It is equally true though that the Saudi Arabian regime has had the active support of the Western imperialist powers since its formation after World War I and could never have survived without that support.

Those on the left who may be tempted to join in the Islamophobic chorus and support the banning of the veil would do well to reflect on the fact holders of extreme misogynistic positions are also very much alive and kicking in Western Europe today. While the French parliament was debating whether or not to ban the veil the Vatican came out with a proclamation declaring the ordination of women priests to be a crime on a par with the sexual abuse of children! We should focus on the Vatican and other reactionary forces in our own midst who have consistently opposed every advance of women’s rights.

Our position is clear; we support the right of Muslim women or indeed any woman who freely chooses to do so to wear the veil. We may well disagree with their decision but forced liberation by banning the veil is no liberation at all.

The move to ban the veil has no more to do with women’s rights than a proposal to ban halal and kosher slaughter has to do with animal rights. They are both examples of bigots seeking to discriminate against ethnic/cultural minorities, and finding a progressive-sounding slogan to disguise the racist content of their proposals. It is hightly problematic that some people on the left fall for this sleight of hand.

There is a long history of socialists grappling with the best way of fighting religious ideas. All experience so far points to the idea that it is pointless to agitate or legislate against religion and religious symbols. Instead the most effective approach is to work with people on demands that reflect their immediate interests, to build unity, develop their self-confidence and class consciousness, and in that way to reduce the impact of religious ideas.

In a time of economic recession the Muslim communities can and have become a convenient scapegoat for diverting attention away from the ongoing capitalist crisis and who is responsible for that crisis. This is why in France and elsewhere in Europe the mainstream bourgeois right is increasingly going over to the overtly Islamophobic positions of the far right. The demand to ban the veil is but one aspect of the political right’s Islamophobia, it has absolutely no progressive content whatsoever.

Comments

Degrading to women

"Throughout Europe there is a growing movement that seeks to ban Muslim women who chose to do so from wearing the veil. In Britain today this demand comes mainly from the far-right British National Party (BNP), UK Independence Party (UKIP) and some individuals on the Conservative Party (Tory) right."

As a feminist it also comes from me. It is degrading to women.

Irene Bolger.

[Comment left at the Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal Facebook group.]

Forcing people to be "liberated" isn't real liberation

When I was a student there was a (very good) feminist slogan: "However I dress and wherever I go, yes mean yes and no means no!" This wasn't just a statement about sexual relations between men and women but also about women's self-determina...tion - including in the decision what they should wear.

It may be that the veil is a symbol of female subordination, but if women wear it voluntarily, i.e. without being coerced by family members or governments, then surely it's their right to do so. What is the difference between a government forcing women to wear a veil and a government forcing women not to wear a veil?

In both cases you can't speak of women's self-determination at all - it's not women being liberated and making their own decisions ("However I dress") but a male-dominated society forcing women to act in a manner acceptable to that male-dominated society.

Forcing people to be "liberated" isn't any form of real liberation, an essential element of which is self-determination, i.e. making your own decisions. Only if you unconditionally support both the right not to wear a veil AND the right to wear a veil are you really supporting the self-determination of women.

Those feminists who want to force women not to wear the veil are basically supporting the racist imperialist demonisation of Islam as some particularly vicious anti-woman religion - but in reality Islam is no different from any other world religion as regards it's basic attitudes to women - it's just it expresses it in slightly different manner to, say, Christianity.

And that's not even touching on the way that for many young people in Arab and Islamic countries as well as among ethnic minorities in the imperialist countries Islam has become an expression of their opposition to imperialism, racism and ethnic oppression - precisely because of the failure of secular nationalism (and socialism in the form of Stalinism) in previous decades.

But of course if you support the imperialist status quo this argument will carry no weight - but the imperialist status quo also oppresses women - but of course a privileged minority of women may be prepared to accept their inferior status and support the oppression of women outside the elite in order to protect their privileged position as part of the imperialist elite. However, this has nothing to do with socialism or human liberation.

Einde O'Callaghan.

[Comment left at the Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal Facebook group.]

Instigated through fear, rather than thought

I agree Einde. My grandparents are Islamic though I myself am not. My grandmother chooses not to wear one, and she considers it a breach of her morals more than embracing liberation. In some cases the veil may indeed be a symbol of oppression, but those seem to be culturally constructed situations rather than ideologically constructed. It seems to me that the movement to ban the veil is mostly instigated through fear, rather than thought.

Aaron Floky

[Comment left at the Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal Facebook group.]

A form of state violence

When there is a state law, there is also a penalty imposed by the state. So what could be the penalty in this case, if, as it is very likely, some women will defy this law? To 'unveil' and humiliate them in public? Imprisonment? Deportation? (racists would love that...).

This law is both ridiculous and unenforceable! The state should not tell people how to dress, period.

Great points, Ap! : ) You

Great points, Ap! : ) You make it extra clear who is being oppressed by anti-hijab laws.

I prefer that women don't wear a hijab (I think that the rationalisation for hijabs is based on unhealthy beliefs about behaviour and responsibility), but I support women's (indeed everyone's) right to wear whatever they want to wear. After all, to force women (anyone) to expose their face/body in ways that they don't want is an unhealthy way to treat women (anyone).

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