Distortion and Islamophobia
October 18, 2006
It's interesting and at the same time disturbing to see political
attacks against the wearing of the niqab (as
to be contrasted with the hijab)
members of the British government. Particularly in light of
the undeniable growth
of Islamophobia around the world.
While this question doesn’t
effect most Iranians, since the overwhelming majority of Iranian
Muslims don’t wear the niqab (in fact I’ve never seen
an Iranian Muslim wearing a niqab has so I’d welcome commentary
on the matter), the fact that it is evidence of growing demonization
of Muslims bears witness. A quick search on wikipedia alone reveals
the following facts.
In 2006, a
poll conducted in the UK found that 53% of people polled
feel threatened by the religion of Islam (in contrast with fundamentalist
Islamists). Only 16% of those polled believe “practically
all British Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who deplore
terrorist acts as much as anyone else.”
Islamophobia is even
higher in the US. A 2006 Gallup survey of American public opinion
found that “many Americans harbor
strong bias against U.S. Muslims.” The numbers are not only
stark, but disturbing:
1. 22% say they would not like to have a
Muslim as a neighbor.
2. 34% believe U.S. Muslims support al-Qaeda.
3. 49% believe U.S. Muslims are loyal to the United States.
4. 39% advocate that U.S. Muslims should carry special ID
often forget, but as Doudou
Diène, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of
racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, warns us; even the
row over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad are less
about tenets on Islam which prohibit such depictions, but more
about the Islamophic ideologies which led to those depictions.
can we at all deny the fact that a large number of Iranians living
outside of Iran harbor generally prejudicial attitudes toward
Muslims, especially practicing Iranian Muslims.
aside, for a moment, I think its worth noting that this issue
concerning the niqab is not one unique to the West or
to this time.
During my time in Cairo, security officials who
guarded the gates to the American University in Cairo eventually
in enacting rules which would require women in a niqab to
show their face in order to gain entry on campuses. Security
had complained that they could not ensure the security
of students without being able to clearly identify students
Given the serious threats of terrorism posed to the
particularly because of the ongoing war in Iraq, university
officials changed their policies requiring women to show their
entering the campus.
Despite this limited application, however,
the change in law spurred an entire debate on the implications
the niqab has on the environment
For example, a number of professors I spoke to, both
foreign and Egyptian, stated that women wearing the niqab inhibit
their capacity to teach students in the class. They argued, much
like Jack Straw noted, that the presence of a woman robed in
black from head to toe is a disturbing and uncomfortable site.
because the same women who wear niqab also feel they are prohibited
from speaking in front of men, women who wear niqab would
not participate in class, work in groups, ask questions, or do
The point is that there are some legitimate issues
behind the niqab. Issues which extend beyond their religious
propriety (which is
highly questionable in my mind) but that concern their compatibility
with fundamental tenets of social and political lives.
these issues can be highly distorted and manipulated by current
trends of Islamophobia which clearly pervade the Western world
and amongst the Iranian Diaspora, and thus should be addressed
carefully, rather then recklessly
as evidenced by the conduct of both Jack
Straw and Tony Blair. Comment
Nema Milaninia is a law student at UC Hastings College of Law, executive editor of the International Studies Journal, and editor of the group blog IranianTruth.com