Ban the veil!

There – I’ve got your attention.

‘Ban the veil’ is what Turkish secularists are saying, according to the NSS:

Two secular Turkish opposition parties jointly appealed to the Constitutional Court on Wednesday to overturn a law allowing women to wear Islamic head scarves in universities.

The Republican People’s Party and Democratic Left Party said the law, already approved by the parliament and the president, violated the secular principles of the Constitution. Most universities have defied an instruction from the higher education board and denied entry to students wearing an Islamic head scarf.

“We have come to the Constitutional Court to fulfil a historic and important mission,” said Onder Sav, general secretary of the Republican People’s Party. “Lifting the ban on the head scarf would lead to pressures on those who do not cover their hair.”

It just so happens that I know a little about Turkey. One of my best friends as a student was a Turkish man. At one point he needed to register with the dentist, which involves filling out a lot of forms at the surgery.

All was going well until they got to the equality monitoring section. Having established that he was from Turkey, they got to the ‘religion’ section and the dental clerk ticked the box marked ‘Muslim’. My friend objected that he wasn’t a Muslim: he was an atheist, and proud of it.

As well as his nonbelief, my old comrade showed a total disregard for his faith’s tenets on alcohol consumption and premarital intercourse. His friends from Turkey often visited us, and they were pretty much the same. Most people, and most believers, don’t define themselves according to religious identity. And the problems for Muslims in Western societies are centred on unemployment, anti-Asian racism and sometimes immigration issues, not religious expression.

Which is what made it confusing for me when the liberal-left and far left denounced the French hijab ban as racist cultural imperialism – indeed, the ban has taken on talismanic significance in liberal discourse.

French Muslims weren’t fighting for the right to wear the veil. Many were forced into traditional dress by misogynistic patriarchs, and beaten for not complying. School was a place to breathe.

But yet again the left sided with the reactionary, censoruious ‘community leaders’ rather than the young, oppressed and voiceless within those communities.

As you’d expect, Madeliene Bunting is all for overturning the Turkish ban.

In Turkey, any day now, a female university student will mark a dramatic moment in her country’s history. After years of heated debate, culminating in street demonstrations in recent months, she will no longer have to replace her headscarf with a wig or hat before attending her lectures, thanks to a constitutional amendment that received presidential consent last week. However, she will know that her newly won right is by no means secure; university authorities have been threatening to break the law and enforce the headscarf ban, while legal appeals are likely to end up in the constitutional court.

Bob Senior of Cambridge gives a bit of context to this ‘right’:

Madeleine Bunting’s comment on the protests in Turkey against women wearing headscarves in Turkish universities (Comment, February 25) avoided the political feeling within the nation at the heart of the matter. There is a creeping feeling in middle-class liberal Turkey that the conservative AK party is promoting more regressive values. Political favour is being granted to the openly religious (or those who wear the trappings of the openly religious) at the expense of secular non-believers. Religious association is influencing the awarding of jobs, contracts and bursaries by government agencies, which strengthens the AK party’s foothold in power – granted largely by the votes it picks up from Kurdish parties in eastern Turkey whose votes are transferred because they fail to meet the electoral system’s 10% threshold.

This government promotion of Islam goes against the secular values on which Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey. The article does acknowledge the idiosyncrasies within a nation’s model of secularism, but fails to account for the idiosyncrasy behind the story in this case.

The word ‘ban’ is misleading. No one is trying to stop people from wearing the veil altogether: that would be appalling and something we should fight tooth and nail. Yet the French and Turkish bans apply only to educational institutions – which are places of study and learning, not religious worship. You wouldn’t try to do a biology experiment in church, would you?

The point is the right not to wear the veil. Patrick Weil was a member of the presidential commission that originally recommended the French ban. Weil joined this commission thinking that the law was unnecessary. Four months into the review, however, he realised that the debate was between a large majority of Muslim women who did not want the veil and a small but very vocal minority that wanted everyone to wear it. As Weil explains:

Either we left the situation as it was, and thus supported a situation that denied freedom of choice to those – the very large majority – who do not want to wear the headscarf; or we endorsed a law that removed freedom of choice from those who do want to wear it.

Here’s what swung Weil in favour of the ban.

It has become clear that in schools where some Muslim girls do wear the headscarf and others do not, there is strong pressure on the latter to “conform”. This daily pressure takes different forms, from insults to violence. In the view of the (mostly male) aggressors, these girls are “bad Muslims”, “whores”, who should follow the example of their sisters who respect Koranic prescriptions.

We received testimonies of Muslim fathers who had to transfer their daughters from public to (Catholic) private schools where they were free of pressure to wear the headscarf. Furthermore, in the increasing number of schools where girls wear the hijab, a clear majority of Muslim girls who do not wear the headscarf called for legal protection and asked the commission to ban all public displays of religious belief.

A large majority of Muslim girls do not want to wear the scarf; they too have the right of freedom of conscience. Principals and teachers have tried their best to bring back some order in an impossible situation where pressure, insults or violence sets pupils against one another, yet where to protest against this treatment is seen as treason to the community. There are cases where pupils who have had their arms broken in violent acts have lied to their parents in order to avoid denouncing their peers.

The veil is a symbol of the oppression of women. A ban on the wearing of the veil in educational institutions is entirely in the spirit of leftwing secular liberalism and should be applauded.

One Response to “Ban the veil!”

  1. More on the pro-faith left « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] against any proposed ban when he joined the French presidential commission on the hijab. He later changed his mind: A large majority of Muslim girls do not want to wear the scarf; they too have the right of freedom […]

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