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Islam

A funeral and a wedding
Hijab in France: Battle for Islamic political uniform

By Saeed Keramat
February 11, 2004
iranian.com

The heat of debate concerning the issue of hijab and religious symbols in France has already reached Canada as well. In response to the French government's decision to introduce a law banning conspicuous religious symbols in state schools and state institutions, Islamic groups such as Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) are seeking the support of social activists in Toronto to launch a demonstration against the move of the French government.

In response to this attempt, Judy Rebick, one of Canada's most respected feminists and political commentators seems to be seated on the edge of two seats.  Expressing her sympathy to CIC's anxiety, at same time, Judy raises other concerns regarding Saudi and Iranian laws which impose hijab on women.

Judy goes on to say, "I think if we are going to protest against a state forcing women not to wear the hijab we should also protest forcing women to wear the hijab."

Unfortunately, in my mind, Judy's opinion seems confused. It is like asking to hold a funeral and a wedding party at same time in the same house. The root of this confusion is the misunderstanding of the philosophy behind the hijab.

Two critical misunderstandings have forced Judy to give up the right seat. First, she thinks that hijab is part of people's cultural values that should be respected. Second, she distinguishes political Islam in power and without power.

The Islamic veil is not culture. It has been a political construction. Not all members of a particular community want to wear the hijab. In many cases not all members of a family wear hijab, and this is because hijab represents a political stand, and not all members of a family share the same political view.

These days, hijab operates as a political uniform. It is a symbol of a political philosophy. Among adult members of communities and families those who are not concerned about politics they also do not care about hijab although they might have fundamentalist religious relatives. But those who are concerned about politics and social developments and pursue their goal though an Islamic outlook do wear hijab.

Cultural symbols are usually carried by ordinary people. However, in the case of the hijab, ordinary people do not bother with it. On the contrary, if one asks any veiled women they will most likely find that this woman has a strong viewpoint on political issues.

The Islamic Code dress for "political Muslim women" is a means to convey a message to the public. By this means they are stating: "I reject secular values of Western societies: the civil rights that Westerners are enjoying has not been achieved by progressive social movements - they have been given by states to corrupt their citizens.

What John Stuart Mill, Jean Jacque Rousseau and other Western political thinkers have said are 'corrupting human society". Veiled women are reinforcing patriarchal view of Islam and saying: "I believe women are the source of corruption. In order to reduce the degree of corruption in society, I have taken a responsible position and have tried to cover the feminine features of my body".

Hijab has been chosen by many adult women to express these differences with secular women.

Many people do not see the mission of hijab therefore, they are not able to see the values and goals that Islamic states and Islamic groups share. All Islamic groups, in power and with out power, should be examined based on their fundamental philosophy. They, for example, preach Islamic values and Koranic law.

According to those values and laws, Muslims are superior to non-Muslims. Men are superior to women. Punishing those who disobey Koran laws, including murder, as espoused by some, is a fundamental duty of "true" Muslims.

In practice, all Islamic tendencies implement these Islamic laws and values to some degree, depending on their degree of access to social and political power. For example, in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria, the Sudan, etc., where Islamists have the whole political power, discrimination and violence against non-Muslims, women, children, and flogging, torture, execution, stoning, etc., of citizens are praised as services to God.

In Western and North American countries, however, the power of Islamists is mostly limited to the inner life of their families and private institutions. As a result, they are unable to play a determining role in our societal life. In such cases members of their families and their fellow Muslims are the target of their values.

For example, abusing women, forcing their wives and daughters to cover themselves in the Islamic veil, depriving them of basic activities such as sports activities, imposing forced marriages on the young, and so on, are the values they proudly practice in Western societies.

In Islamic schools of Toronto, sexual-apartheid is as systematically practiced as in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Have any doubts? Ask any Imam or Mullah how he would, for example, react if he found out his daughter loved a Jewish, Christian or Atheist man. Simply visit an Islamic school in your neighborhood. I think Judy has not seen these communality between Islamic states and their organizations abroad therefore she is unable to take a clear position.

Regarding the issue of hijab, secularists must have a clear position. One cannot, as I said, organize a funeral and a wedding party at the same time in the same place. Either we are supporting Islamism or we are for secularism.

Those who support hijab for women in Western countries would boost oppression against women in two ways. First of all many young women living in Canada do not want to follow Islamic traditions; they reject forced marriage; they want to enjoy freedom of dress, to socialize with others freely and to explore their sexual desires.

These are great sins according to the Islamic philosophy. In fact many females in western countries have been the victim of honor killing by their male relatives. Providing any support for Islamic groups or Islamic values will empower the anti-women, and patriarchal forces in our society.

Second, supporting Islamists will decelerate the effort of those women who are fighting against stoning and honor killing and forced Islamic dress code. When the media shows that a prominent feminist such as Judy Rebick is supporting Islamic Code dress in Western countries, it will give the upper-hand and boost the moral of Ayatollahs to unleash their virtual police forces on women.

The issue of hijab today is totally a political issue. It has divided the society into two sharp camps: secularist and Islamist. Unfortunately our secular forces in the Western country are so confused that they cannot make their mind. Instead the Right Wing French government has taken lead on this issue.

Although under the leadership of a Right Wing government, any degree of set back of political Islam will ease the struggle of women under Islamic states and groups around the world. Further, from a secular point of view banning hijab in public schools and state institutions is not enough. Hijab and Islamic schooling for children under 16 in society, even in private institutions, should be banned.

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