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'Regulating freedom of choice:' Readers react to France's burqa ban

Art by Khalid Albaih/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A Q&A post last week that highlighted the reactions of three prominent Muslim women in California to a controversial French law banning face-covering veils, enacted last week, has generated a lively debate in the comments section.

While the arguments have been heated, and the opinions not all politically correct, it has been an interesting discussion in that it displays how there are different ways of defining freedom.

The post featured interviews with Hadeer Soliman, vice president of the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine; Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming for the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles; and Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The interviews were conducted by KPCC intern Yasmin Nouh, who herself is Muslim and wears hijab, the traditional head scarf.

The new French law bans what is is referred to there as burqa or niqab, a veil covering the face that is worn by religious Muslim women for modesty. The French government has defended the ban as promoting gender equality, while critics have called it an appeal to anti-Muslim voters.

The three California women interviewed took what might be considered an American approach to the controversy: A common thread to their reaction was the idea that Muslim women in France should have a right to choose how they dress. Some readers agreed, some didn't.

Alimannan, who blogs about Muslim issues, wrote:

Regulating freedom of choice is not the way forward. The French need to “integrate” Muslim women into their society through alternative measures that are based on the concept of equality…

And no, the Veil is not a symbol of oppression unless someone can show me empirical data arguing such a point.

Some readers disagreed with her last sentence, among them Redhogg:
For anyone to claim the vail (which is restricted to women only, and inforced by men) as not a form of opression is fooling no one.

The reasons muslims provide as why the vail is required only further the impression of opression.

The vail is a disgrace to women who god created naked in the garden where but by sin was she then covered. God has no such requirement as imposed by the muslims on women

Kbhome continued on the same note:
Burkas. The west believes that these items of clothing are not just a symbol, but a vehicle of systematic and relentless oppression of women. Like making people of color sit in the back of the bus, is not “equal but separate” and not just a symbol, but an act, in itself, of oppression.

Should women have the right to chose to particate in the perpetuation of gender oppression? The question of freedom of choice depends on whether the person who is doing the chosing is mentally competent to exercise that freedom. It is like asking whether a woman who is beaten and abused as a child, and then marries an abusive and violent man should have the choice over whether that man should be prosecuted for beating her up. In most cases she will say no, because she has been systematically trained to view hereself as bad, worthless and deserving of the beating . Is she, the victim of abuse, mentally competent to make the choice over whether her abuser should be prosecuted? Should we respect her choice and let her continue to be a victim, and bring more children into the world and aid and abet her children becoming victims? Does society have a stake in her decision that outweighs her freedom to choose? Is she actually free to choose?

Burka loving women may argue that the west is wrong in seeing the veil as a vehicle of oppression. But, of course, which culture has the right to decide and act on their decision? The culture she is living in has the opinion that the veil is a violation of human rights, that culture must attempt to stop that conduct within its own borders. It has not only the right, but the duty, to forbid that which it perceives as a great harm to its citizens.

Desdes responded with an interesting aside, noting that Muslim men also dress modestly:
Hijab and niqab (Please at least get the terms right) is not about oppression. It is not forced by men. Funny that people who are not part of the religion or culture think they know better than the people that live their lives as Muslims. Dressing modestly is not only for women, men must do it too. Hijab is used because women have long hair this is not some unequal situation just a fact of life. If you look around at actual Muslims you will see men covering their heads as well. They wear hats, caps, and in some cases scarves!!

Anonymous responded to the veil critics' oppression argument:
You clearly know nothing of the reasons for the ISLAMIC veil or the fact that men are also required to cover themselves. Before you speak on a subject you know nothing about, get facts to back up your statements or you should state that it is in YOUR opinion because that’s the only thing you have stated.

There is just as good a reason for the Muslim hijab as there is for a nun’s habit but I don’t see any bans on nun’s covering their hair or wearing long, loose flowing clothing. They are equally done for the sake of modesty. There are no rules for priests’ dress so does that mean the nuns are oppressed? Think broader and talk to the people you have opinions about to get the facts FIRST. I’ve visited churches and talked to nuns, have you talked to Muslims? Have you visited a local mosque? They all have tours and people who are more than willing to answer your questions. Before you call anything a disgrace, realize that Muslims are not the only ones who cover and that Christian women to this day cover in church and out. Don’t believe it? Try going to church in a tank top and mini skirt and see the response.

Just because modesty is lacking in our country doesn’t mean it isn’t commanded in the major religions. Muslims are modest all the time to protect the chastity of all members all the time, just because you don’t understand or know the reasons does not mean they don’t exist or that they are not made by God. The God of the Torah and Bible is the same on as for the Qur’an and all those books commanded people to guard their chastity through modesty, it’s only Muslims who (largely) still do it outwardly.

Oh, and please don’t go to honor killings, genital mutilation, etc that is perpetuated as being Islamic, they’re not. Those are cultural (think the India and Middle East cultures) things that happen in all religious groups in the area and Islam is a religion, one of many in those areas. While the two mix, religion is exclusive of culture so those things are not permissible in Islam even if they are practiced in culture. There is a clear distinction and if you think for a second they are one in the same, you are deluded. It would have to be universally written in all religions for that to be true. When it’s true across a culture, religion doesn’t matter so don’t link those things with one religious groups when they belong to a larger cultural group.

Raid4mohammed didn't think the three women represented diverse enough views:
It turned out to be a group of like-minded women with strong ties to special interest groups. These special interest groups have self serving motives to convince Muslim-American women that the Hijab is an religious obligation. As long as these special interest groups thrive on controversies, exploiting women to create controversies will continue to be their modus operandi. There is not a single proof from the Quran that the Hijab, let alone the Niqab, is obligatory on women. Islam mandates modesty but modesty is relative to the when and where, time and place. I challenge these women to come up with just one solid proof to support their claim that draping the Hijab is part of the dress code in Islam.

John B wrote:
It is rather unfortunate that most of the people that enacted this law are violators of women’s right. They pretend to be tourch bearers of women’s rights but in actually fact, they are violators of women’s rights.

The anti-veil law is being enforced in France, where women have already been cited for breaking it. Women cited for wearing the veils are subject to steep fines.