I’ve basically just been using this blog as a place to post random thoughts, but today I feel compelled to make this post.
Tuesday, the Jordan Times featured an editorial on the French niqab ban called “Avoiding Controversy.” Never have I read a piece with a more unintentionally ironic headline. The piece applauds France’s decision to talk to its Muslim population about why it wants to prohibit the niqab, otherwise known as a face veil or a burqa, before enforcing the ban. This is said to be the “right thing to do” in order to “avoid any unnecessary controversy and friction between the government of France and its Muslim residents.” While it would make more sense for France to talk to its Muslim population BEFORE deciding to ban the niqab in the first place, just to make sure they actually did feel oppressed, I was not surprised by this kind of shortsightedness.
This, however, is where I draw the line:
The French government also maintains that Muslim scholars in France agree with the interpretation that the Holy Koran does not in fact call for the wearing of a full face cover, which leaves women with no identity or personality of their own.
These are not the words of a man who knows women who wear niqab. These are not the words of a man who respects a woman’s ability to make her own religious choices. Here is my response, which I sent to the Jordan Times but am not really expecting to be printed (for its length as well as its content):
I am a Muslim woman who does not wear niqab, nor do I consider it obligatory under the teachings of Islam. I do, however, believe that, as long as it does not violate anyone else’s rights, women’s clothing (as well as men’s) should not be regulated by law. If a woman wants to cover her face, that is her right, and if she wants to wear shorts and a tank top, that is also her right. In countries like Jordan, these freedoms are guaranteed and our society has not suffered for it. We have all kinds of people, and, as a nation, Jordan accepts them equally.
I was therefore frustrated to read Tuesday’s editorial on France’s impending niqab ban, “Avoiding controversy,” in which the niqab was said to leave “women with no identity or personality of their own” and to prevent women from being “active members of the Muslim nation.” Is this to say that women in niqab are not contributing to our society? Clearly, you have not visited the Kingdom’s universities lately, which are teeming with strong, intelligent and confident women, who choose to cover their faces, but express themselves through their words and actions. If you cannot see them, it is because you look away. They are there and they are active members of our society.
As long as a woman chooses to wear niqab on her own and is not being forced into it, there is nothing inherently oppressive about a face veil. The problem with these European bans on niqab is that they completely ignore the possibility that a woman would choose to wear such a thing. But even if you assume that women who cover their face are being oppressed, what does banning the niqab get you? The women who really were being forced to wear them have now effectively been put on house arrest. They won’t be allowed to leave their homes, to get an education, or to become active members of their own countries. Let us not pretend, therefore, that this ban has anything to do with the rights of Muslim women. This ban is about saving France from being forced to look at these unsightly people, draped in black and conjuring up images of the desert.
It is bad enough that the French have chosen to look away from women in niqab. Let’s not follow in their example.