Muslim women, and in particular women who are identifiably Muslim, in Ireland have borne the brunt of growing anti-Muslim racism in our country. A number of surveys conducted over the past few years have highlighted the troubling reality that Muslim women are twice as likely as Muslim men to face harassment in public and discrimination in private. In fact this is part of a trend that is evident right across Europe and North America. At the structural, governments are claiming that the niqāb and other identifiably female Muslim apparel like the hijab and the burqa pose a security threat insofar as the wearer cannot be readily identified, and at the intellectual level, liberal feminist academics are claiming that a ban of the burqa is intended to liberate Muslim women from male Islamist patriarchal oppression.
Neither of these excuses, however, holds up under closer scrutiny. Muslim women and girls have not registered as a reasonable threat to security in the new reality that is Islamic terrorism in Europe or the United States. The evidence we do have of suicide bombers and armed Islamic terrorists is that they are young beardless men, dressed in characteristic Western cloths, and so far no one has called for a ban on the full beard worn by religious Muslim men (which is every bit as much a problem for identification as the veil). When it comes to the question of saving brown women from brown men, while it certainly is the case that women do suffer at the hands of oppressive religio-political régimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia (to name a only two), there is scant evidence of the same in Ireland or anywhere else in Europe. Women are free to wear what they please, and those Muslim women who do wear the veil, so far as the evidence of Muslim women themselves is concerned, wear it as a matter of choice.
Our victimisation of Muslim women under these pretexts makes no sense, unless, that is, something else is going on. Europe’s discomfort with Islam and the cultures of the Islamic World is nothing new. Our collective cultural memory of conflict with Islam is every bit as integral to European identity as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Predating even the Crusades, our memory of Judeo-Christian civilisation (the basis of much of what is now European civilisation) being sent packing from the Middle East and North Africa, and the subsequent defeat of the Crusader projects has played an immense part in the formation of the European imagination and fear of Islam. As late as the mid-seventeenth century an Islamic Empire stood at the gates of Vienna. Europe’s later colonialisms failed to subjugate the social and political power of Islam, and the end of those imperial dreams has brought Muslims from our former colonies right into the heart of our Europe.
Beneath the structural racism of the state and the academy there is the everyday racism of white Europeans – formed by these states and ideas – who regurgitate the anti-(Muslim) immigrant racism which never tires of the language of “These Muslims are a Trojan Horse.” The specific targeting of Muslim women would suggest that this fear is not so much a fear of a Trojan Horse as it is a fear of a Trojan Mare; the Muslim woman inside whose belly are the seeds of the now Islamicised Achaeans who threaten our world with destruction. Women, not men, have been identified as the more serious threat in our irrational war with Islam, and (like all squalid ethnic disputes over territory) rape – even the rape fantasy of tearing off the veil – has become a weapon of war.