“Say it loud,
I’m Muslim and I’m proud,
I’m beautiful in hijab and I’m beautiful without,
I may be straight, I may be gay,
I’m Muslim and I’m proud either way!” ©Somoye Zadeh
Let me state first of all that the Burka and the Hijab, etc. are not in and of themselves either liberationary nor are they progressive. BUT Muslims do not wear them, in a cultural and societal vacuum, and although it can be worn as a sign of religious piety, it can also be worn as a rejection of what is seen as certain western hypocrisies.
As Mihret Woldesemait, from DUKE UNIVERSITY Durham, North Carolina, in ‘Unfolding the Modern Hijab: From the Colonial Veil to Pious Fashion’ on April 15, 2013, notes in her abstract “However, in the 1970s, a new veiling movement emerged that appropriated the veil as a sign of an authentic identity and an instrument to accommodate a changing modern world. This neo-veiling movement, furthermore, standardized a set of Islamic norms and practices that would use the veil as the embodiment of inner piety and ethical states” https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e8eb/60382147f088e659479a3ac7d3d9cfaa703c.pdf
In one sense we have been here before, concerning the anti-Muslim prejudice around the burka. Last time around in 2016 it was concerning the Burkini and Muslim women being fined on French beaches for wearing one. Although the ban was welcomed, by the FN (of course), and certain ‘liberal’ feminists and centre right etc. it was also enforced by a number of communist mayors in the south of France.
However that ban was taking place in a political context (as indeed is the current row), see; https://www.theguardian.com/…/nice-france-burkini-ban-respo…, and https://www.telegraph.co.uk/…/those-who-rage-against-the-b…/, and https://www.theguardian.com/…/french-police-make-woman-remo… also; https://www.telegraph.co.uk/…/burkini-ban-protesters-hold-…
Back in 2016, the specific context was the appealing treatment and the subsequent vilification of refugees and migrants in Calais. Yet as Al Jazeera made clear; “The number of refugees who arrived on Europe’s shores plunged by nearly two-thirds last year, but the number of those who died on the often perilous journey in the Mediterranean Sea rose sharply, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the EU border agency Frontex has said.
About 364,000 people seeking work or refugee protection crossed the sea between January and December, compared to more than one million in 2015, Frontex said in a statement on Friday” https://www.aljazeera.com/…/number-refugees-reaching-europe…
This did not stop the usual rent a-reactionaries here and in Europe back in 2016, deciding that throwing refugees and migrants under a bus was a public duty. The nasty over spill over, came the right-wing tabloids and broadsheets, plus sections of social media who whipped up imaginary fears of a migrant invasion; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35609823,
“Say it loud
Pride is what it’s all about
It’s my right to be devout
Without a fight I won’t go out
So hear me cry, hear me shout
I may be lapsed but without doubt
I’m Muslim and I’m proud” ©Somoye Zadeh
But to move it onto 2018, it as quite clear to many that BoJo, far from being a jaw jutting, truth to power, iconoclast, was taking the opportunity and using his privilege to punch down in his comments about what Muslim women look like when wearing the Burka. This while claiming he was writing from a ‘liberal’ position of live and let live.
We have to see the current discussion as being rooted in terms of colonialism and the anti-colonialist struggles that resulted especially over the next 60-70 years. Part of the discourse of colonialism was to posit itself as the “Enlightenment” against the savage oriental, ‘other’. The banning of the veil (akin to the banning of the kilt and tartan in both Scotland and Ireland) was not liberation, but rather a social and cultural form of domination. It was based upon a presumption of the superiority of western civilisation and western values. In turn, it made the point that those who opposed it, had to be backward savages.
“This woman, who sees without being seen, frustrates the coloniser as she opposes the colonisers’ standards of liberation, she asserts an identity, and even power, of her own, thus refusing to acknowledge the validity of, and inherent power in, her coloniser’s unveiling, subjugation and rape of her own culture” (Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism).
Yes the veil, Hijab, Naqab, burka, etc. are pieces of cloth but they are also much more than just pieces of cloth, if one see’s what I mean, in that they occupy as much of a social space as a religious one, and in case anyone has forgotten, then let me remind them, that we live in an imperialist country. This in turn means that the critiques of the veil, Hijab, Burka, etc. from the right and certain liberals is taking place in a current context of Islamophobia that pretends its progressive. See http://www.ox.ac.uk/…/2016-09-02-veil-worn-muslim-women
Those defending Boris Johnson (BoJo) point to, as one of them put it to me online “submission to a hard-core religious conservative dress and politics that challenges the liberal society we all live in”. And yet, Argentina has bowed (yet again) recently to the dictates of Pope inspired authoritarianism by rejecting abortion. Denmark, along with Belgium and France has brought in authoritarian anti-Muslim laws that claim they are to do with liberating Muslim women.
I also find it odd, that those defending BoJo, who like to talk about the primacy of belief without interference, seem to think that Muslims can afford to be made an exception. That’s even before we get onto the assumption that wearing the veil if a Muslim woman, makes one defacto a “hard core religious, conservative”, though being the latter has never bothered right wingers before if they are Christian.
“These are the facts,
I won’t stand for your racist attacks,
I won’t be banned or sent back,
Whether beige, brown or black,
I’ll say it loud, I’m Muslim and damn I’m proud!” ©Somoye Zadeh
The imposition of disrobing, (see the French in Algeria during the colonial period) were not about “liberation”, rather it was a top down attempt to build up a modern society, in both countries it was an attempt to attract a new native client base to French nationalism. The resistance to a ban on the face veil took many forms, and Fritz Fanon, (see above) exhibited but one of them in his writings. It also mirrors that of the developments and strands that can take place within anti-colonialism.
In the case of the FNLA in Algeria, they were in favour of a modern society including the panoply of women’s rights. Yet at the same time they saw the French as just changing the parameters of objectification; Arab women were/are still subject to the exoticisation of orientalism and this is still a very valid point for today.
It is at this point that I’d like to develop the point about how the veil and putting it on/taking it off has become the symbol of imposition of modernity and resisting colonialism. On January 24th 2017, Katarzyna Falecka, in ‘The Conversation’ noted in ‘From colonial Algeria to modern day Europe, the Muslim veil remains an ideological battleground’, ‘Fantasies of unveiling’ that “Throughout the 19th century, the Muslim veil functioned as an object of fascination for European travellers to the Middle East, despite the fact that Christians and Druzes –a religious sect with origins in 11th-century Egypt – would also veil. European photographers in the region produced eroticised representations of women lifting their veils and exposing their naked bodies. Reproduced as postcards, these images circulated across the Mediterranean, constructing the image of a Muslim woman whose erotic powers could be unleashed once the veil was lifted.
But in the 1950s, the veil played an important role during the Algerian war of independence against French colonial rule. Frantz Fanon, a Martinique-born psychiatrist and anti-colonial intellectual, described the French colonial doctrine in Algeria as follows: If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight.
Fanon was a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front who considered women’s ill treatment by the French army to embody the whole country’s situation. For him, it was impossible for the colonial power to conquer Algeria without winning over its women to European “norms”.
In 1958, during the Algerian war of independence, mass “unveiling” ceremonies were staged across Algeria. The wives of French military officers unveiled some Algerian women to show that they were now siding with their French “sisters”. These spectacles formed part of an emancipation campaign aimed at demonstrating how Muslim women had been won over to European values and away from the independence struggle. They were also staged at a moment of political turmoil in mainland France, which was struggling politically and financially to maintain its colony in North Africa” https://theconversation.com/from-colonial-algeria-to-modern-day-europe-the-muslim-veil-remains-an-ideological-battleground-70242
Maria Boariu in 5.1 of, ‘The Veil as Metaphor of French Colonized Algeria’ states in the section, ‘V.1. THE VEIL FOR THE COLONIZERS’
“Barrier to Visual Control: Before discussing the colonizer’s attitude towards the veiled woman, a brief overview of the modern discourse on transparency is needed. The 18th century brought the ideal of a perfect transparent world. Rousseau’s ideal was a transparent society. In 1787, Jeremy Bentham elaborated the plan of the Panopticon. It was an architectural figure that consisted in a tower central to an annular building divided into cells.
The occupants of the cells were isolated from one another by walls and subject to scrutiny by an observer in the tower who remains unseen. The Panopticon thus allowed seeing without being seen. For Foucault, such asymmetry of seeing-without-being-seen is the very essence of power because ultimately the power to dominate rests on the differential possession of knowledge20.
The metaphor of the one that is seen without being able to see the observer turned to be the most dramatic frustration the French colonists experienced in Algeria. Veiled woman could see the foreign colonizer, but the colonizer could not see her. The veil became a barrier to the visual control of the Western eye.
Anger, frustrated desire and fantasy gave a distinctive character to French colonization in Algeria. The veil was seen as the concrete manifestation of resistance by the colonized to an imposed reciprocity: veiled women were able to see without being seen. Colonist desire was thus articulated as the desire to unveil Algeria, for women’s insistence on wearing the veil meant the colony’s resistance to the French authority.
French Men’s Attitude towards Veiled Women
‘If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the woman; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight.’ Frantz Fanon. A Dying Colonialism.p.23 Why did “la mission civilisatrice” have women as the first “target”? Since veiled women served as metaphors for Oriental culture, the political strategy did not have exclusively a military character.
According to F. Fanon, the French colonizers perceived Algerian women as embodying the true and authentic self of Algerian culture. Since they represented the essence of the culture that was colonized, having access to them and their bodies symbolized the means for a successful penetration to the heart of the colonized culture. As a consequence, a metaphorical link between “Woman” and “Colony” was established21. In this context, the veiled woman (the other sex) and the colony (the other culture) were related. Colonies themselves were idealized as female.” http://www.jsri.ro/old/html%20version/index/no_3/maria_boariu-articol.htm
Are Right Wingers Really Feminists: When on 19th June 2017 a van was driven into pedestrians in Finsbury Park, London, by Darren Osborne, injuring at least eight people and killing one, he didn’t do it as homage to women’s liberation. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/finsbury-park-terror-trial-darren-osborne-had-planned-to-attack-jeremy-corbyn-and-sadiq-khan-at-a3753656.html
On July 4th 2018 in Belgium, the two men who targeted a 19-year-old woman, inflicting injuries upon her with a sharp object and calling her a “filthy Arab.” weren’t getting their inner Greer on; https://www.trtworld.com/europe/muslim-woman-assaulted-in-belgium-her-hijab-and-shirt-pulled-off-18667
On 31st of July 2017 in the UK, the man who punched a Muslim nurse wearing a hijab and tried to tie it around her neck on her way to meet patient, wasn’t doing it out of sisterly solidarity with Muslim women’s oppression https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/muslim-nurse-hijab-attack-punch-tie-neck-patient-stoke-on-trent-assault-judge-paul-glenn-racist-a7869336.html
The examples given, as they relate to the UK do predate the current outrage over Boris’s anti-Muslim comments. But since he made those comments, Boris Johnson, has been encouraged to get his inner Enoch on by his fellow conservatives, and opinion polls. There have also been a number of recent attacks (August 2018) on Muslim women. What they have shared with BoJo is their distaste of Muslim women, while at the same time complaining about how Islam is oppressing them.
Yet we know, at the same time that the right-wing establishment and commentariate, are the same people who wailed “PC gawn mad”, when the Presidents club scandal broke https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/president-club-what-happened-who-went-guestlist-charities-dorchester-hotel-groping-women-men-only-a8175611.html and also, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/presidents-club-more-women-speak-out-as-scandalhit-club-shuts-amid-groping-claims-a3748966.html. The fact that it was a ‘charity’ event was meant to offset the fact that working class women were being groped and sexually harassed, etc.
They were also outraged over the fact that the ‘Grid Girls’, female models who parade on the starting grid and stand with the drivers’ name boards before every grand prix were axed from Formula One. So, In the UK context we have British sections of the establishment in politics and the fourth estate, pretending that punching down on the marginalised, in this case Muslim women, is somehow them being ‘feminists’ and standing up for women’s rights.
These political acts are coming from the same people, who brought us; “Hostile Environment”, Prevent programme, “Go Home” vans, description of migrants and refugees as a “swarm”, Windrush, Grenfell, “If you want a nigger for your neighbour”, “rivers of blood” and constant Daily Mail/Express/Evening Standard headlines warning about ‘The Muzzie in our Midst’.
Being anti-Muslim (while pretending that your anti-Islam) is low hanging fruit for the right and far right and so, no wonder they are so eager to pluck it. Oh and for those still trying to a square BoJo into a round hole of women’s rights, he’s quoted in the Guardian as saying “It was as though the whole county of Hampshire was lying back and opening her well-bred legs, to be ravished by the Italian stallion.”
*©Poem by Somaye Zadeh and © to same on her website;www.somaye.info