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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Face Veils revisited

In my post of 26 June, I expressed my doubts as to the stated rationale behind Barcelona’s ban of the face veil from civic buildings.
Despite the feeble attempts of Barcelona’s mayor, Jordi Hereu, to decouple the burqa ban from popular and official unease and prejudice towards Islam, the statements of Spanish Justice Minister Francisco Caamano reveal the complexity of the issue: the Spanish Government is prepared to repeat the onslaught against Muslim women at national level on the grounds of safety and security and of its concern about the dignity of Muslim women.
Poster from the Swiss minaret referendum where the face veil is recruited to add to the moral panic about the Islamization of the country
"We have to defend women's dignity and the burqa and similar garments - regardless of the religion they are from - that do not permit identification of the wearer, affect the dignity of that person, and in this case women," Caamano told reporters.
Spokespersons of the conservative Partido Popular such as Alberto Fernandez, a Barcelona city councillor, join the chorus and shed crocodile tears about the dignity of Muslim women: "The use of the burqa and niqab undermines the dignity and freedom of women" Fernandez said on his website commenting on what he considers to be "a half-measure” as the ban is not extended to Barcelona’s streets.
Similar arguments – safety, dignity or their combination – have been used in several European countries where debates on regulating the use of body-covering burqas or face-covering niqab garments have been taking place. The Netherlands debated banning burqas four years ago and demands to outlaw attire that is considered to be demeaning to women are growing again.

In Britain, the debate has been more varied and objections to the face veil have included other arguments: statements made by Jack Straw a couple of years ago about his inability to interact with women covering their faces stirred controversy and backed demands for the country to question its tradition of British-style multiculturalism. If one reads between the lines of Straw’s statement one can see looming a bigger argument about cultural separateness and the impossibility of intercultural communication.

The French cabinet is also trying to escalate the French authorities’ ongoing onslaught against the Muslim full-face veil and other Muslim markers of difference by approving a draft law to be discussed in parliament later this month. Typical of a particular version of egalitarianism blind to cultural difference and imposing a civic schizophrenia by separating the citizens’ cultural baggage from their citizenship, it emasculates some citizens who do not ‘fit the bill’ and, as women are visible, easy targets, it reaks blatant gender bias.

As a matter of fact, all these highly symbolic attempts are targeting women and are turning them into battlegrounds, voiceless victims of our societies obsessive fear of difference.

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