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
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