Oh look, another ignorant white woman has an opinion!


So I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, when up pops this. Yet another ignorant white woman who is strangely offended by Muslim women just being themselves and minding their own damn business. Let’s take her argument point by point so we can see how ridiculous it is, shall we?

The niqab is a ridiculous garment, adopted by a small (but growing) number of women and rejected by many mainstream Muslims. When I see someone wearing it, I’m torn between laughing at the absurdity and irritation with the ideology it represents. In secular countries, the notion that women have to cover their faces whenever they leave the house is rightly seen as weird, and runs counter to the principle of gender equality. Many brave women in the Middle East and Asia have died for the much more important right not to cover their faces, and I have little patience with women in this country who make a mockery of that struggle by trying to pretend they’re the ones suffering oppression.

If it’s so ridiculous and so little worn, Joan, why do you care? And you obviously do, since you feel compelled to point and laugh and be “irritated with the ideology it represents”. WHAT ideology might that be, hmmm?

And what is “right” about seeing a veiled woman as weird? I see someone’s cultural biases doing the talking for her here. Now that’s an offensive ideology.

As for the “gender equality” canard: I should also note that in some North African Muslim countries, the men cover their faces and the women don’t; ever hear of the Tuareg, Joan? And anyway, most Muslim women who veil do not cover their faces; you said so yourself. So why single out the few who do?

And if you want to talk brave, I think you might want to meet Qahera, who doesn’t need your silly directives to unveil, and who rightly takes offence at ignorant westerners trying to “rescue” her from an imagined “ideology”.

Or just refer to my post about Riham Said from yesterday. She doesn’t need your ideology either.

I’m not in favour of the French approach, which is an outright ban on the niqab and the burqa; I’m not keen on banning things and it risks creating martyrs. It makes more sense to treat the face-veil as a political statement and insist on our right to make one in return.

And yet, you feel compelled to rag on how “weird” it is. And to make political statements against it. So, you’re calling for discrimination and razzing instead of an outright ban? Bravo, Joan, what a brave and rational stance to take! I’m sure that will convince everyone!

Covering the face doesn’t make anyone a better human being and the “modesty” argument doesn’t wash; if you wear outlandish clothes, whether it’s a face-veil or fancy dress, of course people will stare.

What is this, an argument for staring? Did your mother not teach you any manners? A veil isn’t a “fancy dress” costume. Not even in not-so-great Britain, anymore.

And how do you know it’s only about “modesty”? You don’t. It may in fact be a statement about nationality or tribal allegiances, not religious belief or a fear of sexual assault. Different women from different regions wear different headgear to say “this is where I come from”. More on this later.

Nor does the niqab discourage violence; evidence from Egypt suggests that veiled women are slightly more likely to suffer sexual harassment, probably because men regard them as easier targets than women in Western clothes. Does anyone seriously believe that women are safer in Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran, where most women wear the veil (many of them against their will) in one form or another? Wearing the niqab or the burqa is self-defeating, exposing women and girls to more oppression rather than less.

Well, isn’t this a hot mess? I’ll gladly concede that there is no article of clothing that will ever really discourage sexual harassment, assault or violence. But the other side of this coin is that removing a veil just because it offends your delicate British sensibilities won’t make those women any safer, either. The only thing that will work is educating the men. And by that, I mean ALL men.

Plus, women in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran don’t wear niqabs. Iraq is largely secular, and the women there usually wear either a hijab (which shows the face) or no veil at all. Afghanistan? Well, the burqa (which is even more concealing than a niqab, seeing as it has a mesh panel to cover the eyes) has been in fashion ever since we in the “enlightened” west (or at least, Ronald Fucking Reagan) saw fit to help them defeat godless communism by sending in the “Arab-Afghan mujahideen”, otherwise known as al-Qaida. Before that, Afghan women tended to dress a lot more like us:


As for Iran, they wear the chador there; again, a veil that leaves the face uncovered. And it’s not strictly required of all women, only those who are Shia Muslim.

Oh here, have this handy guide to all the different veils worn by women you know nothing about. Maybe it will help you to stop embarrassing yourself with this ignorant blather.

Where I think the state is entitled to intervene is when a woman’s decision to cover has negative consequences on others, including her daughters; face-covering should never be a component of school uniform, let alone compulsory. Then there’s the example of a courtroom: when someone is giving evidence, she should be subject to exactly the same rules as the rest of us. Vulnerable witnesses need to have their identities protected but as a general rule the judge, jury, defence and prosecution should be able to see witnesses’ faces. I wouldn’t expect to be allowed to appear in court in a balaclava, and the public good of open justice takes precedence over demands for special treatment on religious grounds.

I fail to see what “harm” it does to cover one’s face in public, or in a court of law. Where in the rules of evidence does it say that one must be bare-faced? This “pro-equality” argument is bullshit on the face of it (pun intended).

As for the NHS, I’m aghast at the prospect of being treated by a health professional in a niqab. Patients often have to discuss intimate matters with GPs and nurse-practitioners, from sexual health to domestic violence. If someone doesn’t trust me enough to let me see her face, I’m hardly going to feel comfortable about her carrying out an intimate procedure such as a cervical smear. Nor is it easy to imagine a man discussing the symptoms of prostate cancer with a health professional whose idea of “modesty” doesn’t allow her to expose her nose.

Well, Joan, if you’re so offended by veiled doctors or nurses, don’t use the NHS, then! Take your prejudices private, if they’re so important to you. You’re making an awful lot of assumptions about the hypothetical practitioner’s motive for wearing the veil. Have you ever actually been treated by somebody wearing one? And if so, has it impaired her ability to help you in any way? If not, you have no business complaining.

At one level, it’s hard to believe we’re having this debate.

I quite agree. But since you insisted on yattering ignorantly on about it, there you go. You got yourself a debate, lady! And you’re losing to cold hard fact. Sucks to be you.

Human rights law is clear about the right to manifest religion but it isn’t an absolute right, and can be limited when it conflicts with the rights of others.

Such as…your “right” not to have someone else’s Muslim-ness visible to your virgin eyes? That’s not a right, that’s a privilege. And your column reeks of it. Get over yourself, Joan.

The demand by a small number of Muslim women to cover their faces in all circumstances clearly impacts on the rights of others, and requires a robust response.

No, it doesn’t. And no, it doesn’t.

Secularism is not about forced suppression of religion, or at least it wasn’t the last time I looked. But hey. If a piece of fabric is really so offensive, Joan, maybe you should move to Québec. They just instituted a “Charter of Values” there that has a strangely subjective definition of secularism that, I suspect, would fall right in line with yours.

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5 Responses to Oh look, another ignorant white woman has an opinion!

  1. Dave says:

    When I was a kid, the nuns at the Catholic school I attended all wore Habits, which covered all of their hair and a good portion of their foreheads as well. I always thought it was silly, but not once did I ever have a crush on the teacher until I had one who was not a nun! I really do think they were designed to take away signs of sexuality! And personally, I don’t think it is right for a group of men to regulate the modesty in a women’s attire.

    Having said that, it isn’t any of my business what someone else chooses to wear.

  2. Mexfiles says:

    So, Catholic (and Anglican, and Orthodox) nuns won’t be able to wear their traditional garb … that makes a statement about who they are… either? Funny, but the British, Canadians, and USAnians all complained that Mexico was violating civil rights back before 1992, when wearing “distinctive religious garb” was illegal, though some of our indigenous women did… and do… wear head coverings of one sort of another.

    • Sabina Becker says:

      Oh, I’m pretty sure that this woman has no such objection to nuns’ veils, even though a lot of them look very similar to the chador/rusari combination worn in Iran. Because Christianity isn’t foreign, and therefore not threatening.

  3. Cort Greene says:

    I do find it odd that feminist’s would be defending in my way of thinking a practice that subjugates women but some are confusing what they think is a Muslim religious practice ( of which it is not, many Muslim women are against even wearing the veil)with Islamism.

    For another viewpoint, please read Maryam Namize article, she is a Iranian communist.

    To ban or not to ban the burka

    • Sabina Becker says:

      Well, my POV is this: Forced veiling is wrong. Forced unveiling is also wrong. What’s the common denominator? It’s the forcing that makes it wrong, not the veiling or the unveiling. Azar Nafisi noted that her grandmother, a devout Shia Muslim (from Iran) would never part with her chador, but was also against forcing all Iranian women to wear it, because “that is not Islam!” (her words.) And since Iran is not (contrary to its official name) a religious monolith (there are Christians, Jews, Baha’is, and total unbelievers there, too), that stance makes sense. Nafisi’s grandmother saw the chador as a part of her own religious identity, a symbol of who she was; but even a devoutly religious woman understands that her religion is not everybody’s, and can object to the idea that it has to be. And can also object to the cheapening of her identity’s symbols when they are forced onto those who do not share her beliefs.

      Actually, the only reference to veils I’ve found in religious texts referred to covering one’s breasts in public; before the Prophet, it was apparently common for women to go topless in Arabia. So the idea that it is necessary or decent to veil the head and/or face is controversial among Muslims, to say the least. Plenty of them dispute the imams and mullahs who claim that strict modesty is necessary to guard against sexual violations. And the strictest veiling practices tend to come from countries that are mostly desert, with a lot of dust flying in the air, and where it would actually serve a practical purpose to cover one’s nose and mouth when going outside, one that has nothing to do with modesty. I’d say that what kind of veil is worn is more a symbol of where you’re from than necessarily what your religion dictates.

      What really makes me pissy, though, is these Britons who conveniently forget their own long history of imperialism and the role it plays in all this. They still see veils of whatever sort as the mark of the barbarian Other, and not the often highly educated and civilized (albeit differently civilized!) person underneath them. They come barging into all these countries, stealing their wealth, forcing them to do things the British way, for Britons’ capitalistic advantage. And then they have the gall to get mad when people from the countries they occupied move to Britain, and bring their “barbarian” customs with them? And they want to strip them of those, just as they did in the “good” old imperial times? That’s the real bone of contention here, and it’s one that goes untouched. Along with anything resembling hard proof that a woman in a niqab “impacts upon” (I hate that phrase) others in some negative manner just by wearing that piece of cloth over her face. I suspect that the reason this woman didn’t explain that “impact” is because there really isn’t one, other than that the niqab inflames her own carefully concealed racism and xenophobia. And to explain THAT in a socially acceptable manner is impossible, unless you want to sound like some fascist from the UKIP or the EDL, so…ziiiiip that lip and don’t say what you’re really thinking. This article is just rife with weasel racism.

      In any case, like I said: Forcing people to go one way or the other is wrong. The way itself is not wrong as long as no coercion is involved. And yes, religious brainwashing can be a form of coercion…but I’m always encouraged at how many Muslim feminists are using their own religion’s texts to turn a long tradition of sexism on its ear. Something tells me they won’t remain cleric-ridden for much longer. And when that happens, it won’t be due to the “help” of any concern-trolling westerner who just hates niqabs — Muslim women can do it themselves. The process is a long one, but ultimately it’s better to support their right to choose for themselves than to force them to conform to “our” dress codes.

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