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Oppression for the Sake of Removing Oppression: doesn’t work.

(Note:  I am not Muslim nor do I identify as female, so if I have screwed up anywhere in this please correct me.  Nicely.)

I had something else I wanted to talk about, but that can wait a few days.  This is about an article I read this morning in USA Today.  France, it seems, along with several other nations, is attempting to place a ban on niqabs (otherwise known as “the veil”) and burqas.  There are several reasons given for this, but the one that sands out to me most is that they are “a symbol of the oppression of women.”

Here’s the thing about that:  yes, sort of.  In a number of nations hijabs and/or other coverings are required for women in public.  This requirement is a symbol of oppression of women, justified through religion-based patriarchy.  Forcing women to cover is oppression.  But are women in France being forced to cover?  One might argue, given that many European Muslim communities operate in their own neighborhoods similar to Chinatowns in cities in the US, that they are under social pressure to do so by their family and neighbors.  But I have a little story for you.

There is a girl attending my university who wears a niqab around campus.  This is a liberal, American, predominantly Christian university.  What social pressure could possibly be influencing her to veil?  The general social pressure likely is in the opposite direction.  So why do it, if the act is so intrinsically oppressive?  Certainly she has been brought up with it, being taught that it is a symbol of humility or devotion to god or similar.  But is that really much different than my parents teaching me from a young age not to wander around with my shirt off?  (Note: I possess no sexualized organs that would be covered by a shirt, so I feel the covering is comparable and only a matter of degree.)  Perhaps it lacks the religious motivations, but is that sufficient to define oppression?  Because this girl CHOOSES to cover, regardless of her immediate surroundings.  If one person chooses this, others must as well.  And that is what marks oppression, lack of choice.

So these laws being voted on, what are they?  Because if forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do is oppression, what would you call forcing someone to not do something harmless that they want to do?  I call it oppression.  These measures, being partly justified by the removal of oppression, are oppression in and of themselves.  You are taking something women choose to do and saying “you clearly can’t know what’s good for you, because this is oppression, I will figure it out for you.”  It’s in the same vein as radical feminists who think women who want to be homemakers are oppressing themselves.  Yes some people are forced into it, but it is that act of forcing, not the activity (I am referring to both veiling and homemaking at this point), that is oppressive.

There is only one instance where a law against face covering makes sense: identification.  In air travel and for government ID facial recognition is generally required.  But that doesn’t justify a wide-spread ban (France would ban facial coverings in public places), or even a ban in airports and similar.  Here’s how it should go:  “Ma’am, please remove you veil while I check your ID.  Thank you, you can put it back now.”  About the same as if I was wandering through an airport with a mask on.

Edit:  I can’t find the original article I read in USA Today online (it was on 10A though, if you have a hard copy).  I did find these two artcles on the same topic.

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