EDIT: Some more amazing articles have crossed my path: Read this by Wickedday (so proud to call her a friend) and this, which has some much, much needed commentary by actual Muslim, veil-wearing women, and a bit of an inside perspective by a French woman.
The fact that this conversation is being had, and that so many people are taking part, really makes me glad.
RETURN OF EDIT: Holy fuck on a sandwich, SHAKESVILLE LINKED ME. I'd like to thank the Academy etc.
I feel like Ive been scooped up into a plastic bag and dropped into a very big pond indeed.
(Some of this is cut and pasted from the MSN conversation.)
So, I've been studying French since I was 11, and we had to do the obligatory looking at France's social ills and quirks as part of that. La laïcité has always been a big one. It's basically about France's secularity, but it was almost completely about the will they-won't they banning of religious symbols in public buildings (including schools). I always tried to be impartial about it. I mean, it was all religious symbols they were banning, and okay, so some religions have more prominent symbols than others, but, but, but...
Apparently France has decided that was too subtle. So now they want to ban the full veil in public. Just in public. On the street. Going about your business. In your front garden? I don't know.
While I was doing my term abroad in Lille, this subject came up again. I can't remember much about the usual hackneyed, stilted student debates, but I remember a cartoon we were shown. In it, a girl is looking in the mirror of her bathroom. The door behind her is ajar, her father peeking through with the phone at his ear. "The imam, the president and your teachers want to know what you'll be wearing today," he says.
In France, this is what it's become for Muslim women. Every morning they put on not clothes, but a political statement. No matter what they wear. How can you please everyone? You only have one body to clothe. And fuck, what about pleasing themselves? That didn't even come into the cartoon. The girl's choice didn't matter - it was all about whether she was going to acquiesce to the rules of her religious leader, her schoolteacher, the politicians who govern her country, or whether she was going to flout them.
Extending that to the entirety of public life is nothing short of... I don't even know a word for it. I can't even imagine it. Non-Muslim women often complain that our clothes send a statement, and God knows I've had times where I've stood in front of my wardrobe thinking desperately How can I not send the wrong signals? How can I appear a completely non-sexual being? and that sucks. That sucks a lot. But that's nothing compared to adding a strong religious force like Islam and a strong secular element like France into the mix.
That fuckery's all pretty predictable, though. That's the kind of thing that's been around since it happened that laïcité in schools unfairly targeted Muslim women. It's the reasoning behind it all that really pisses me off.
It's all concern-trolling. You can see, right there in the article, where you have Ms Alliot-Marie, Ms Poletti and Mr Gerin talking about how oppressed Muslim women are in their veils, with their oppressive menfolk.
They're all white.
And come on, I thought the "woman in a veil = poor oppressed being" broad-brushing was over by now, in the more left-wing regions of society, anyway. I thought everyone understood that there's some nuance there, and that this over-politicisation of muslim women's dress code isn't helping make their lives any easier. Some women choose to wear the veil. Some women choose to wear the veil for their own political reasons.
And as schroduck said, "for each woman who wears the veil, either she's chosen to, or she's being forced to." If she's chosen to, then there's a fuckton of hypocrisy in saying "You can't wear that now, we're going to fine you a hundred and fifty Euros." If she's being forced to, then "banning it victimises her further".
What happens if she is being forced to, and all of a sudden she isn't allowed to wear it anymore? Do you really think the Muslim religious leaders and the abusive husbands of the world are going to say "Oh well, we had a good run. Enjoy your feminist awakening, dear!"
There is a mention in the article that men forcing their wives to wear the veil will be treated to a year in jail, but how is that going to work? It's evident that it's much easier to tell if a woman's wearing a veil than if her husband is forcing her behind closed doors. And that's to say nothing of loyalty, or the instinct to defend your abuser, or protect your husband's good name. It's lip-service, pure and simple.
France is sweeping the problem under the carpet and leaving Muslim women to deal with the consequences.
Hey, France, here's an idea. If you really are worried about Muslim women being oppressed by their culture, why don't you deal with that, instead? Why is the onus always on the behaviour of the woman? If the veil is such a "muzzle", such a "walking coffin", such a symbol of abuse, isn't that like fining a battered woman for wearing her bruises in public?
And, as schroduck said, it's a real damn shame that it was apparently the feminist left wing who have shut down this discussion. Because all that says is that Muslim women don't have a voice even with the feminists. It was probably a well-meaning thing, but that doesn't excuse it at all. Screw all of this "pity the poor Muslim women for they are all universally oppressed" bollocks. If you're so fucking bothered, go and talk to them. Ask them about their lives. Ask them what they want, like in that story where Sir Gawain marries the crone and finds out What Women Really Want (hint: it is autonomy), because they know better than you. It isn't about the Poor Muslim Women, and it never has been.
Because if it was, this wouldn't happen. Instead... I don't know. Look, I don't know how to fix it. People have been arguing and debating for years, much better people than me. I just know that this isn't the way to fix anything.
Some Muslim women are undoubtedly forced to wear the full veil. No one's saying this isn't true. And that's a problem. How does society fix that? Well, how does it try to fix anything that doesn't affect the entire population? You know, like... everything. Crime, for instance. Not everyone out at night is a criminal, which is why we don't have curfews for the whole population. Some people out at night are criminals, though. So we have elaborate systems around suspecting people and arresting people so you only get the criminals.
Apparently because this particular form of domestic abuse only affects Muslim women, people assume that all Muslim women are similarly oppressed. I don't know how to fix that, short of actually going out and getting to know a wide variety of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and learning that everyone in the world is just as complicated and beautiful as you are.
So, how to fix this without fucking it up for the Muslim women who quite like wearing the full veil, thank you very much? And how to fix it without putting the entire focus on the woman?
Maybe the only way to not make it worse is to have an open mind. To say "Whatever your reasons for wearing it, even if you are forced into it, we're not going to judge you for it, and we will embrace you as complete, competent human beings just like we would if you were wearing a business suit."
Maybe society depoliticising it would help, even a tiny bit, to make these women's lives easier. If you take away society's obsession with the burka, because we can't take away Islam's attitude towards it, you take away its power to make these women's lives miserable. Well, it's not the burka that oppresses them, is it? It's people's reactions to it. It's those religious leaders and husbands who take advantage of it and make it into a symbol of oppression. It's those poor, beleaguered white masses who just want their cities to be all white again like they were in the good old days who make it into a symbol of fear.
But let's be honest, attitudes towards the burka are never about the individual wearing it, are they? We don't care about the woman inside. She's not a woman at all, but a symbol herself. A symbol of the poor oppressed woman, or a symbol of Islam, or a symbol of terrorism. Because the veil is the most obvious sign of Islam a person can carry on their person.
The question is never "How can we make these women's lives easier?" Until it is, all this bleating about how banning veils is for their own good is never going to accomplish anything.