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By Jason Michael
THE IGNORANCE OF THE CALL for a “burka ban” is demonstrated wonderfully in the fact that no one insisting on it appears to know either how it is spelt or what a burqa (Arabic, برقع) is. In demanding the ban of the Islamic facial veil worn by some Muslim women, for any number of constantly changing reasons, the political right is actually referring to the niqāb (نِقَاب). The burqa, a full head and body covering, is a garment worn by some Muslim women in Afghanistan and Central Asia, while the niqāb is the detachable opaque veil used to cover the nose and mouth of Muslim women wearing the full length abaya.
Pointing this ignorance out – which may seem pedantic to some – is important, however, because it cuts right to the heart of what is going on when we hear people shouting for a ban on the wearing of the veil. This call for a ban invariably hides behind the claim that it is about ending the “Islamo-fascist” patriarchal subjugation of women; a beautiful iteration of Gayatri Spivak’s “white men saving brown women from brown men.” Ignoring the irony of the Western macho effort to “white knight” Muslim women, the presumption assumes a lack of agency on the part of the millions of women who wear the niqāb. It says Muslim women – in the face of the reality that in societies where it’s worn some women do and others don’t – are incapable of making the choice to wear it or not. It suggests they are subjugated and oppressed – by brown men.
We are to believe this virtuous crusade – a deliberate word choice – presupposes the liberation of white European and North American society from misogyny and “toxic masculinity;” that the white woman is free from the oppressive sexual and societal pressures of the white man. But nothing could be further from the truth. Our permissive culture is saturated with pornography and pornographic themes, a fact of modern life articulated in horrifying detail by Pamela Paul in Pornified back in 2005. Even now a cursory look at the world’s most popular porn website, RedTube, shows the most viewed and trending videos feature the grotesque humiliation and dehumanisation of women for white male pleasure.
Pornography has shaped the sexual expectations of boys and men in the West to the point that girls and women are deemed less desirable if they are not “porn ready.” Porn has informed the bedroom repertoire of the West to the extent that women – not men – are expected to perform sex acts as a matter of course that were thought extreme or “hardcore” only a decade or two ago. Considering the top trend on RedTude today features a “Czech dungeon” in which manacled and depersonalised white women are used by a paying clientele of white men (interesting research), it is safe to say “Western civilisation” is in no position to lecture Islamic culture on women’s liberation.
Yet, when this and similar contradictions are thrown at those calling for the niqāb to be banned their reason for the ban shifts. So far – in the past week alone – the reasons for having such a ban have jumped in the media from security to “integration” to the need to assist deaf lip-readers to its ability to “hide abuse.” Those who want it banned are continually playing a game of quasi-intellectual hopscotch which does little but betray the truth – they don’t have a legitimate reason for demanding the ban. Shirts and trousers, blouses and skirts hide abuse. Sun glasses hide tears, puffy eyes, and bruises – ask any female victim of domestic violence.
There is no legitimate reason for banning the veil, leaving us only with the illegitimate reason no one calling for the ban wants to reveal – racism. No sooner is this said than some idiot leaps into the discussion with that pearl of wisdom: “Islam is not a race.” No it’s not, but no one dispensing this nugget of knowledge and no one attacking the “burka” can tell us much about Islam the religion. Shahadah, Salah, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj – the Pillars of Islam – are mysteries to them. Their assault is not an assault on Islam qua Islam, but on Muslims qua racialised others. Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism pure and simple.
Islamophobia is the backdrop of modern Western culture. It never, as Samuel Huntington argues in his 1997 Clash of Civilizations, replaced Communism as the great enemy of the West after the Cold War. Even in the midst of the East-West standoff prior to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union the trope of Islam as threat permeated our popular culture; think of how the Islamic call to prayer frames the film The Exorcist, how the djellaba wearing men set the scene for the fight against evil in The Omen – both symbols of horror, and how Libyan terrorists threaten the American Dream in Back to the Future. Islamophobia is deeply encoded into the Western imagination.
Still, there is more to this reinvigoration of Western anti-Muslim rhetoric than casual racism and cultural supremacism. Its adoption and utilisation in mainstream politics gives away the fact that it is being used to harness the power of chauvinistic populism whipped up by the European and North American right-wing media, accelerating a political lurch to the authoritarian right. Terrorism and the trope of protecting brown women from [wicked and dangerous] brown men are two elements of the same political dynamic – a threat and a call to protect, which both lead to the same political solution; securitisation and curbs on freedom.
At once the deployment of this anti-Muslim language serves the purposes of anti-democratic state bureaucracies which seek greater control over society and emboldens racism on the street – a price the politicians on the right are willing to pay. Here the first victims are Muslim women and Islam in general, but we cannot afford to ignore this – not least because we must never ignore racism and bigotry – but because it is also a temperature gauge. The increasing use of anti-Muslim language in politics and the rising level of Islamophobic abuse and violence it causes is the mercury in the social thermometer telling us how close we are getting to democratic failure and true fascism. Right now the mercury is rising fast.
‘We are criminalized’: First woman fined for wearing niqab in Denmark
2 thoughts on “Calling for a Burqa Ban is Racist”
I am an atheist myself and I think all religion retards social progression but I would never dream of using force or law to repress anyone’s beliefs and I would stand side by side with those of any faith to defend their right to express their beliefs in whatever way they choose as long as that expression does not impose on the rights of others. Conversation and education is the only legitimate means to bring about progressive change. That last sentence may sound condescending but it is my opinion, which I have a right to, and it is not an imposition.
I do find your dismissal of those who do not fully agree with your view on this subject, and your broad accusation of ignorance, to be a little simplistic.
Anyone should be allowed to wear anything they want in public or in private but as tolerance and understanding has to be shown by those not participating in the practices that prescribe certain dress items, the wearer must also show tolerance and understanding when it comes to certain situations. Anywhere there is a ban on motorbike helmets for security reasons must also have a ban on garments which hide a person’s identity. Anywhere there is a ban on hoodies for the same security reasons should also have that same ban on other garments which conceal. Any jobs openings where conversing face to face with the public should be allowed to advertise a ban on face coverings so any applicant is forewarned and any individual who accepted such a position without informing their employer of their intent to wear concealing garments should be given the choice to change them back or to leave. These jobs require interpersonal exchanges which are diminished considerably without being able to see expressions. If they could be done effectively over the phone they would already be done over the phone as that is a cheaper option for employers.
This is not intolerance, it is reciprocated consideration. In the case of the positions in jobs dealing with the public; it is not discrimination because as you pointed out, the wearing of such garments is an individual’s choice.
I know you will think this is pandering to the right but I am about as far to the left as you can get and these restrictions and conditions should only apply in the very narrow niche I have highlighted. All other areas and all other job types should remain fully open with no restrictions (maybe some health and safety issues but most could be worked around).
To dismiss everyone with legitimate concerns to the extremist right category will do nothing but swell the ranks in that area. Not helpful!
I volunteer with a religious organisation that works with kids in the poorest parts of Dublin to get them through third level education. This year we celebrated our first PhD. I suppose that too is social retardation, as ‘progress’ is a class based idea which sees benefit only in the wealthy and the wealth creators succeeding. Aye, that’s a good point. Perhaps a euthanasia programme would be better for our kids. That would be true progress.