The choice to wear the niqab or hijab

Equality is largely about everyone having equal choices and options. In the US in the 70s and 80s, some (educated, career-prepped, privileged) feminists spoke out against “housewives” and their choice to make a career of managing the household and/or raising kids responsibly. This was wrong. It was fair to point out that some women felt they had no choice but to be “housewives.” It was fair to point out social and economic factors that discouraged women from any other occupation. It was even fair to point out social factors that predisposed women to make that choice. But it was never right to suggest that women who chose to embrace a traditional wife/mother role were some sort of traitors to women’s liberation.

And of course, shaking their heads all along at this ruckus, were the women who never had any choice but to somehow both earn a living and raise kids.

A debate has arisen since France started talking about banning public wearing of the burqa. France says they’re concerned about maintaining secularism and equal rights for women. Is this the same France that condemned the US recently for attempting to extradite a child rapist?

CNN’s “Belief Blog” has up a video article about women in the US who choose to wear the niqab or hijab. It interviews women who say if they didn’t want to wear Islamic face veils, then they wouldn’t, because it’s not required. One woman, Nadia, chooses to cover her face and body because it’s a way to cover those body parts “you don’t want seen by people who are not in your close family… You don’t need to see my whole body to know me. You can just speak to me.”

What a novel concept. In societies like mine, what I wear and how I look in it is constantly assumed to say something about my sexual availability/desirability to the master gender. Every time I attempt to engage socially with another human being, there’s a risk that their ongoing inner dialog about how my body looks will drown out everything I have to say or offer. This woman uses these Islamic garments to force people to either go deeper or leave her alone.

Aliya feels the same way about a hijab forcing people to engage her on an intellectual level rather than a body-appraising sex-object one. But she elects not to wear the niqab or full burqa because she feels it would hinder her professional aspirations (I assume she means by making her stand out more from her peers than the hijab alone).

These women born and raised in the U.S. have been lectured by random strangers at grocery stores about how “we don’t do that here.” Of course, this demonstrates that no matter what a woman does, some people are going to judge her appearance. But there’s nothing we can do about that alone. How different is the choice to wear covering religious garments from the choice to wear a mumu, or spandex exercise wear or whatever else a woman chooses to wear? When comes the part of equality where we get to stop being judged like cattle at a county fair?


  1. The Other Patrick says

    That is actually a very tough topic for me. I really don’t know about the US, but I do know that in my parts of Europe, women *are* forced to wear some kind of veil up to and including the niqab. I know women who are not allowed to leave the house without being fully veiled. And I know women who choose to wear a hijab.

    I mostly disagree with that choice, but that’s what freedom of opinion is about, and these women are simply far more conservative than I am. I mean, I know a girl who stopped her university studies one semester before finishing because she wanted to get married to the guy her parents chose for her. She said she wanted to and did it freely, and I still cringe at the choice.

    Ideally, people should be free to wear what they want, including niqab. But how many women are free to choose that?

    The sad thing is, as you describe, that this is a fight that is fought about women, not by women. Westerners tell women not to wear the niqab, and conservative muslims tell them to wear it. And women who go out veiled are told off on the street.

    (I don’t do that, incidentally, as it doesn’t help at all. Either the woman is forced to wear it, then my admonitions won’t help her, or she does it freely, and then I’m just being an ass.)

    So I am adamantly against forcing women to wear the niqab or even the hajib because I think the justification is stupid and ridiculous and also sexist. But outlawing these garments doesn’t help at all.

    What also doesn’t help is that it’s an argument that is used by Western conservatives who simply don’t like muslims or foreigners, where it’s just an easy excuse even to make war.

    One thing, though, where I disagree with you. Yes, women are much too often judged by their appearance, but at the same time, the clothes we wear *do* communicate things about us (or that we want to pretend about us), and being able to see each other’s faces helps a lot in discerning friendliness. I don’t like being on the phone because I can’t see people’s faces when they talk, and I find the same is true with a niqab. I think the idea that the niqab weeds out only the unworthy is a little naive.

  2. Anne says

    If we extend the analogy to housewives a little farther, then it suggests that no, we shouldn’t be condemning women who choose to wear the veil. But we should look into why women wear it and whether they have a choice; what effects it has on their lives, and what pressures lead them to wear it. I’m not from the kind of background that I would wear a veil, and none of my friends do, so I’m not the right person to address those in detail. But I will draw your attention to teenage girls, specifically teenage daughters of Muslim families in Western societies. Very often, they are required to wear the veil by their families. I don’t know if I can say this is wrong; it’s part of the Western teenage-girl experience to fight with your parents over what you wear. But these battles are how a teenage girl figures out what is suitable attire, and even if these teenage girls rebel by wearing elaborate face makeup with their veils, they are being taught that the veil is the modest way to dress. So presenting it as a “free choice” is a little disingenuous.

    • The Other Patrick says

      In my (limited*) experience, girls (even prepubescent) can be free to choose the veil or not, but if they don’t, then they’re regarded as slutty or Western or similar, so they end up “choosing” the veil because of implicit pressure, not outright orders.

      *My mother lived with a Turkish man for 12 years and her current boyfriend is also a Turkish man, so I do have some contact to the Turkish muslim community and know a couple of mind-boggling stories.

    • says

      So presenting it as a “free choice” is a little disingenuous.

      I agree with your comment overall, but find this sentence a bit unfair. It IS a free choice inasmuch as women have any free choices. Now, the question of whether any choice we make can be truly free until ALL choices are free is a little beyond the scope of an article one’s trying to keep on the short side of 1,000 words. :)

      If you re-read the first pagagraph of the article, I clearly acknowledged the value in assessing those social factors right off the bat.

      • Maria says

        And I think it’s important to realize that it’s not a Muslim thing — the decision to veil or not has specific connotations based on the family and woman’s connection to particular ethnic or political identities, and one of the reasons it’s policed so hard in France (for example) is because of its association with a resistant Algerian identity that refuses to submit to French dominance. Being able to “see” particular colonized bodies is one of the reasons why postcards of naked or scantily clad Algerian women were such a big thing.

        What I’m saying is that it’s a straw man or whatever to view this as “just” a conflict between the less advanced Other and the West — not every girl’s family is going to think she’s slutty for choosing not to veil. Some might in fact get angry at her for wanting to wear a veil, in the same way my parents who are pretty liberal Catholics, would be aghast at my getting really into Nation of Islam, since politically it’s more conservative and socially it’s more anti-establishment then they’d be comfortable with.

  3. M.C. says

    Wow, what a contorversial topic.

    I’ve known a muslim girl who told me that she wears the hijab because of her religious belief and to make people see her as human being instead of a sexual object.
    But I’ve also known a muslim girl whose parents forced her to wear a hijab and who later told me that she stopped wearing it as a grown woman because it was a symbol of being not free, of being a second rate human who has to cover up her dirty body so it won’t seduce pure men.

    Now both of those girls grew up to be very smart and independant young women, who I respect. But they were both talking about the hijab.
    How many women feely choose to wear a burka that limits their body movement and their ability to comunicate with other people? Can something like this really be about religious/personal freedom and not about repressing one gender?

    I’ll have to agree with my fore-posters who said that the ones who should heavily take part in this discussion are muslim women. After all it’s quite condescending to talk about instead with them.

  4. DragonLord says

    IIRC the reason that the french ban on the burqa and hijab isn’t likely to be challenged in the courts is that it’s based on their laws of recognition that were put in place after the french revolution to ensure the the betrayals and escapes that occurred due to anonymous individuals, were harder to pull off, and so that people couldn’t impersonate an important personage just by mimicking their cloths and mannerisms. As long as it is something that is done for purely social reasons rather than what seems to be happening (which as you said it seems to be secular vs religious reasons) I’m fine with what they’re doing. (in this case I feel that they why is as important as the what)

    Personally I think that everyone should be allowed to wear what they want as long as they do it freely and fully cognisant of the appropriateness and consequences of doing so (and no that doesn’t mean that I think that a woman that is dressing in a manner that is provocative is asking for it, but I do think that they should be aware of the fact that they are dressed in a provocative manner and what that means to them and other people).

  5. says

    A common thought experiment I ask of people who bring up the issue of the veil is essentially the following:
    Imagine for a moment that the dominant cultural norms being globalised were not American, but rather a society, perhaps tropical, where topless women were quite normal. Now imagine the citizens of this culture chastising Western women for feeling societal pressures to not be topless, as it was repressive to these women’s freedoms.

    Now, the example isn’t perfect, and like I said, it’s more so a starting point to shake certain people out of ethnocentrism. It’s actually surprising, I think, for many people to shake the notion that the hypothetical culture I have described is not in some way more primitive.
    And the small flaws of the analogy involve details such as whether or not the toplessness is a product of environmental pressures, as opposed to many cases of modern society, where wearing the hijab, even if just the abaya, can be unwieldy.

    In any case, the real point, I think, was mentioned before regarding what is essentially groups of men fighting about what women should or shouldn’t wear. It seems that the illusion of choice given these circumstances are just that, and either way, the woman is not in possession of her own body.

    And to address the issue of face to face contact in communication, there is of course, a very tangible element to that (look up the McGurk effect). However, on the same note, non-niqab barriers include sunglasses, hats, and possibly other forms of clothing that slip my mind. (Let’s not forget either, that like facial coverings in sandy areas, all of these articles of clothing have basis in functionality, or even, as mentioned, a conversation over the telephone.
    But the thing to remember is that even if trying to speak to someone wearing sunglasses and headphones is uncomfortable, it is just that and nothing more. If we ban facial veils on account of that alone, one might suspect that by logical extension, we should also ban telephone conversations and sunglasses, for the reasons mentioned above.

    And my final note is that it saddens me that the discussion of conservative dress is first addressed predominantly towards women (though given the nature of human history, this might not be all too surprising), but also that there is the subtext of Islamophobia that focuses these criticisms towards Muslim women that keep hijab. I, personally, have never heard such criticisms leveled at Orthodox Jewish women, who are also required to dress conservatively, even to the point of wearing wigs in order to hide their real hair from other men. Or even Christian nuns and Amish women keeping similar habits, so to speak.

    I apologize for this post has being a bit rambly. Short of manacles, people aren’t freed by what they do or don’t wear, but it is the symbolic act of moving between the two that is a step towards people reclaiming their bodies a bit. If I retained more Lacanian theory, I could even try to make the point about somebody or another wielding the phallus.

  6. I. Scott says

    I agree with your article, but comparing this to the extradition spat between the US and France seems a bit off the mark. (Though the UK-USA extradition treaty fiasco colours my opinions on that sort of thing).

    As for the niqab, all I can really say is that talking to someone in a niqab can feel a little like talking to someone in a tent, or on the phone. They might as well not be there.

    When I was in Kuwait as a child the niqab was a pretty normal sight (even though I got the impression it was on the way out), I don’t think I thought anything of it, except for the cases where I saw people driving in it…

    • says

      As for the niqab, all I can really say is that talking to someone in a niqab can feel a little like talking to someone in a tent, or on the phone.

      And? Is there some problem with talking to people on the phone?

      If anything, this should underscore how little the niqab should matter…if you can do business with people on the phone (as millions do, and I used to for a job at one point), you can certainly do business with people who choose to wear certain garments. The only thing getting in the way is your reaction to it…which should be no different than your reaction to taking a phone call.

      If I’m missing something, please elucidate.

      • The Other Patrick says

        Yes, there is some problem to talking to people on the phone: you don’t see them. Hence you normally have job interviews face to face, and when you meet your significant other’s girlfriend, you don’t do so on the phone (well, maybe videochat). Faces and body language and, to a certain extent, clothing shape communication.

        And I submit that there’s a difference in a face-to-face interaction whether the person you’re talking to is wearing a niqab or not, since you expect to see their faces and bodies – though I agree that this is a culturally Western expectation –, just as there’s a difference in a business meeting when the other person shows up in a swimsuit instead of a business suit.

        For superficial contact, or once you have gotten to know someone, not seeing their faces or their body language isn’t that important anymore – but the post above talks about meeting people, and I do think it does make a difference there.

        • says

          I think this thread is wandering rapidly off-topic, but I’d like to point out that not everyone sees people when they talk in person, either. There are many people out there with limited or no vision, or limited or no ability to read facial expressions and/or body language. Also, there are cultural differences in what certain kinds of body language mean. Assumptions normalizing/universalizing our own experiences: they’re everywhere!

          My point being here that if you feel uncomfortable talking to someone you can’t see (to whatever extent), that is valid and reasonable. But it does not therefore follow that everyone responds the same way.

          • The Other Patrick says

            I don’t think I ever claimed that. In fact, earlier above I admitted to cultural expectations. Still, if someone is visually impaired, then it’s not that in a group of three, one person gives off no visual cues while two others do. None of them give off visual cues.

            And to be a little far-fetched: while it may make no difference on the phone or on the net whether I wear clothes or not, would you be okay with me being naked when we meet for a coffee?

          • says

            Would I personally be okay with nekkid coffee? I would, actually. But my point here isn’t actually about cultural or even personal expectations, but differing experiences of the world on a more fundamental (this isn’t really the word I want. Individual? Experiential?) level. All I meant to convey – and I’m sorry that I appear to have done a poor job of it the first time around – is that in a discussion about whether there’s a difference between meeting people in person or on the phone or whatever in terms of body language and facial expression, your personal experiences as (presumably) sighted individuals who can interpret the body language of the person you’re looking at aren’t actually universal experiences. You were discussing them as though they are. That’s all!

            This isn’t meant to be an accusatory/judgmental observation. Just a note that if/as this line of discussion continues, it’s worth remembering that, regardless of clothing, even regardless of culture, not everyone will have access to the same cues that the majority population does.

          • says

            Interesting you include people who can’t read facial cues in the group. For those people, face coverings would actually be an equalizer. Now the rest of the group can’t read facial cues either! Everyone’s on the same level!

            Which is not an argument for or against face veils, since in order to work, *everyone* would have to wear them, and I know of no culture or religion that requires that. It’s just an interesting point about different individuals’ experiences.

          • Shaun says

            As someone who can’t really read facial expressions I tend to just listen when conversations come up like this. While I sometimes find it helpful to look at someone’s lips when they’re talking, for the most part it wouldn’t affect me at all if they were in a niqab (especially if they spoke clearly). I know not everyone (or most people, even) have this experience, so I’m not trying to judge how important that feedback is for other people.

            But I’m more comfortable communicating on the phone or online, where there are fewer cues to read, and I know there are tons of people who CAN read facial expressions who feel this way too. If a woman is more comfortable giving herself a certain degree of… anonymity, I guess, is it really the right of her audience to demand that her motives and reactions be apparent to them? I don’t even mean that in a loaded way, I recognize that that could create a disparity for two people with comparative processing abilities, but it does make me wonder about who sets the boundaries for how much feedback somebody is required to give.

      • I. Scott says

        In a phone call, they can’t see you either.

        Otherwise, you’re not missing anything. This site, even, is a place where you can’t see the other person while you’re talking to them.

        • says

          Which makes things like tone hard to interpret. As a naturally sarcastic person, I routinely have people assuming I meant something seriously when I meant it tongue in cheek. Even adding smilies doesn’t tend to help.

          One of my friends is slightly hard of hearing, and relies on lip reading to fill in the blanks.

          A hijab feels like an interpersonal barrier. The times I wore one (when visiting a friend when her family was over), I felt reduced to a piece of furniture. Since the men didn’t have to ‘see’ me, they didn’t have to pay attention to me.

        • The Other Patrick says

          Well, but this is the internet, where it’s not unusual for me not to see anyone else even whilst chatting. On the other hand, in a chat, I regularly see people typing a simple emoticon or similar to note that they’re listening, and on the phone, you get affirmative noises. And when talking face to face, I am actively looking at the people I’m talking to whether and how they’re responding to what I’m saying.

          I’m not arguing it’s impossible to talk to people in a niqab, but I’m arguing that it can be a little uncomfortable even without any prejudices kicking in.

  7. says

    This article is not really about Muslim clothing, religion or culture – it’s about choice, and respecting choices we think are terrible even as we criticize the hell out of the social forces behind those choices.

    Which, in this case, is not just repressive religion, but the status of women as automatic sex objects unless we stay out of sight, which is as much a Western problem as any other kind.

  8. Anne says

    Great post.

    I agree with Jennifer Kesler’s last comment. When people bring up that really wearing the niqab or not isn’t a choice because of social pressures, I kind of have to call BS. Not because they’re wrong–of course there are pressures to wear it or not, and in some cases women are forced to wear it or not and when they are forced to do either that is wrong.

    But I feel a lot of social and family pressures. For a long while I felt pressured by my step dad to be conservative and the alternative was to be considered stupid by him, and often derided for it. I’ve been pressured my entire life by the society around me. We all are. I feel pressured to wear heels and a dress or skirt, and to have long hair, and to not dye my hair (I’m a ginger–and my aunt was a ginger, but her hair grew back thin and brown after chemo, and now my sister and I are the last in the family. We’d be guilted intensely if we changed ours). These pressures are fairly trivial compared to what women CAN be pressured into, and I know that in some cases wearing a niqab goes beyond being pressured–being alive in such an anti-muslim time, a lot of horror stories get around. But I’d rather not add to them with institutionalized discrimination.

    I can’t agree with anyone who wants to prevent the lack of choice of some by removing all choice from everyone. It doesn’t solve the problem of the former’s lack of choice, that being the people forcing them–if they’re being forced to wear it by their family, that’s probably not the only thing being forced on them.

    • The Other Patrick says

      Yes, that is totally correct. With women who are forced to wear a niqab, the only thing such a prohibition succeeds at is probably they’re no longer allowed outside. Which means that the niqab is no longer visible, which may be what some people want, anyway, but as for liberating those women? Nah.

      • says

        I think what you say here is really key – and something that people seem to forget when talking about ‘liberating’ muslim women.
        I’m not sure what people think will happen… that the family will say to its female members “oh, the government has banned the niqab – you can go out all bareheaded now, I don’t know what we were thinking before making you get about all covered up!”

        Somehow, I don’t think so. o

        I’ve had the opportunity to wear a full-faced veil for an evening (except while in the presence of only women), and actually to an extent it was freeing – because people didn’t automatically know who you were and you could sort of sit back and disappear you didn’t have to pretend to be involved.
        I’m trying to say that there are some benefits to wearing a veil, in case anyone thinks that there is no good reason.

  9. says

    Personally, I’ve no problems with hijab or chador, but I must admit niqab makes me uncomfortable (I’ve never seen a woman in burka in RL yet). Not showing your face? It’s not about showing your face so we see if it’s pretty, is about showing it as the “mirror of your soul”, so to speak. I’m not sure I’m making myself clear here…

    I apologize in advance if I’m coming across as racist or insensitive through my privilege.

    I can sort of grasp that you’d feel like covering your head, but I cannot imagine anyone wearing a niqab or a burka of their own volition.

    Maybe those who claim to do so willingly are actually pressured/abused surrepticiously in their inner circle. If they say their husband/dad/older brother does not approve of them not wearing it, they’ll stir trouble: better just say it’s because I want to. Like when you lend money to someone you know it’s not giving it back and when someone else asks you, you say you lost it: you want to be spared the sermon.

    Also, people pro-headwear have -and wave- the privilege of modesty: Almost always, one is more prone to find fault in showing too much skin than in showing too little (although I have to admit I smiled with mttp’s topless comment: in many Catalan beaches, women wearing their bikini tops are clearly the minority). How can you chastise someone for dressing modest?

    IMVHO, if a woman *actually* choose to wear a niqab/burka in a society where not only that stands out as weird/creepy but it’s actually frowned upon, she’s either a religious fanatic or has other serious psicological issues.

    Either way -women surrepticiously pressured or mentally unstable- the problem is much bigger than a piece of clothing, and this women need help.

    • Lika says

      IMVHO, if a woman *actually* choose to wear a niqab/burka in a society where not only that stands out as weird/creepy but it’s actually frowned upon, she’s either a religious fanatic or has other serious psicological issues.

      Why? Because she doesn’t follow what *you* believe should be the right reaction to having to wear a niqab or burka?

      I can sort of grasp that you’d feel like covering your head, but I cannot imagine anyone wearing a niqab or a burka of their own volition.

      Just because you can’t imagine that someone out there will choose the wear the niqab or burka out of her own volition doesn’t mean there are women who do. Not everyone needs to or does see the world the same way you do, and they’re not irrational or are mentally unstable if they have different preferences from you.

      • The Other Patrick says

        Yes. I mean, choosing the veil can be an act of rebellion against liberal parents just like going emo. And it can be a choice to claim one’s heritage in the face of pressures to hide it. Just to give some examples.

      • says

        That’s why I made a point of saying it was my *personal* opinion/feelings, and apologized in advance if I sounded intolerant. It’d be hypocritical of me to pretend my views are free from falling into prejudice.

        • DSimon says

          If you feel a need to apologize in advance for saying something, that’s a pretty good hint that it’s not worth saying.

        • says

          May be, but still, I’d love to hear what a niqab or burka wearing woman in a “Western” country REALLY has to say about that.

          Has to say about what? I’ve gotten lost in the comments here. Because the two women in the video ARE Western women in a western country wearing a niqab or hijab, and they addressed a lot of questions.

    • Patrick McGraw says

      I can sort of grasp that you’d feel like covering your head, but I cannot imagine anyone wearing a niqab or a burka of their own volition.

      I can’t imagine anyone playing football of their own volition, but millions of people do it. Should I view them as fanatics or having serious psychological issues?

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      Yeah, this is problematic and Lika’s response is great and Patrick gave a great example as to why. Another one: I don’t get marriage. I find it bizarre that anyone would willingly marry. I find it antifeminist. I would have to be coerced or deranged to get married. Does it follow that everyone else who marries is either coerced or deranged? Think how many ways society brainwashes us – particularly women – into thinking marriage is essential. At times in history, done women had no more choice about marrying than others have about what they wear. And yet, no – I would be a real piece of work to assume there was something wrong with all the intelligent informed adults who choose to marry.

    • DragonLord says

      IMO If you consider the reasons why those garments were originally introduced, it’s easy to see that they were originally a protective garment, one that protected the women from the predations of men (in a culture where raiding and wife snatching was a reality rather than something that happens to other people, hiding the features of women will protect them from men) and sand. Is it any wonder that something that has saved so many lives has become part of their culture? Or that they continue utilising it even after they move to a culture where the courting rites are very different?

      • says

        Who told you that the niqab protected women from the predation of men? That’s frankly rubbish. Incidents of groping and street harrassement in Cairo, to give just on example, are skyrocketing in direct proportion to the Islamisation of Egyptian society and therefore increased incidence of hijab & abaya wearing.

        Which is not an argument against veiling, it’s just an argument against your argument in favour of it.

        • DragonLord says

          If you note the beginning of my response I specifically indicated that I was talking about the historical aspect of the garment rather than the way that it is currently seen and used. As such it wasn’t an argument for or against wearing one in current times, rather it was a very short attempt at an explanation as to why the garment became popular, and so got entrenched in their culture.

          As with many other things in the world, original meanings and reasons do not always apply in the modern era, however they do give us an understanding of why things are the way they are and allow us to better decide whether something old is also something that needs to be replaced or discarded.

          • says

            That may have been your original meaning, but where is your evidence for it? Veiling was practiced in all kinds of cultures for all kinds of excuses, but AFAIK the sexual assault index remains more or less constant – inasmuch as we can measure such things retrospectively at all. So it’s not at all clear why we should accept that the “all men are animals and women need to be hidden from their view” argument was any more true in the past than it is now.

          • DragonLord says

            Please read the comments between maria and myself for various bits of evidence about why the garments came into being and were adopted by islam.

            Also just because the sexual assault index remained almost constant for the period in time doesn’t mean that the garments didn’t work. After all not everyone (or even a large proportion of everyone) would have worn these garments, and, like a robber that’s just seen your burglar alarm, the would be molester would just move onto the next target. This would mean that if you were measuring sexual assaults that happen to islamic women, you’d see a noticeable drop after the introduction of these garments.

            Another point would be that if the garments didn’t work, then they would have been discarded shortly after they were introduced as a protective item of clothing.

            As for the assumption that I’m advocating that we accept that “all men are animals and women need to be hidden from their view”, that is all it is, as I have not stated that, and AFAIK have never stated that.

            What I did say on the historical aspect, is that by understanding how and why the garments came into the culture, we can then understand why they are entrenched.

            Better understanding then means that we can then better martial our arguments against them, if it still proves necessary.

          • The Other Patrick says

            Just want to say that,

            “Another point would be that if the garments didn’t work, then they would have been discarded shortly after they were introduced as a protective item of clothing.”

            is wonderfully optimistic. There are so many practices and wisdoms out there that don’t work and have survived nevertheless, though, I find it hard to believe that :)

          • DragonLord says

            I meant in the short to medium term (when they were introduced and just after). After all pragmatism is very important when it’s your survival at stake.

          • The Other Patrick says

            Well, I’m pretty involved in the skeptic community, and I don’t want to start a huge discussion here, but the question would be how you define “work”. Even the illusion of safety might make these clothes stick around, either by the women themselves or by the family patriarch. Every victim without a niqab would be proof, and every victim with one some kind of exception.

            Not saying that’s what happened, but it’s unfortunately possible, if people want to believe strongly enough.

          • DragonLord says

            Agreed about the discussion POV as it would likely be long and involve a lot of assumptions about the structure and mentality of the people in that era.

            (assumptions a’plenty after this point)

            Suffice to say that I think what I think because it was a male dominated culture where the men had a lot of say over what the women would have worn when they were out and about, and were also coming from cultures where (for many of them) women would have been considered property. And as with house and car burglar alarms, when they were first introduced they were probably very effective, which is when the impressions would have been made. However as with house and car burglar alarms, as they became more ubiquitous their usefulness probably would have dropped off, but still being slightly more useful than going without.

          • DragonLord says

            Added to above

            And as with car and house alarms, it doesn’t stop targeted attacks, just attacks from people that want any good looking women, and don’t want the hassle of finding out what’s under the veil.

          • says

            MarinaS, show me precisely where DragonLord said anything “justified” the custom. Explained, yes. Justified… I missed that part. Could you point it out, so I won’t wrongly assume it’s yet another straw man argument?

        • says

          Marina, you’re reading a comment that makes it super-clear that it’s discussing an historical context on which modern day problems of Cairo have no bearing at all, and castigating him for something he never said. That’s a straw man argument, and it’s against our comment policy. This is the second violation of that policy I’ve seen from you today. If you have questions about the comment policy, please feel free to email me about them. Otherwise, please consider this a formal warning.

          • Maria says

            I want to add that the history Dragonlord is talking about isn’t true. The niqab/hijab wasn’t coming out of a wife-snatching culture, but instead out of a culture where Muslim women in particular were harassed and targeted by non-Muslims, and were accused of being whores. Also there was a lot of kind of body shaming, with the idea that women shouldn’t flaunt their riches (IE their beauty) in the same way a rich man shouldn’t flaunt his riches (IE by wearing gold, which Muslim mean aren’t supposed to do).

            I’m adding this because I think it’s important to talk about history seriously, and not amorphously with a misty past where Othered people wife-snatch and with few details.

          • DragonLord says

            @Maria – A quick bit of research turned up this article

            “The second stage of the veil, popularly known as hijab these days, was occasioned by the wayward behavior of many men in Medina. According to Fatima Mernissi (2), “Women, whatever their status, were being harassed in the streets, pursued by men who subjected them to the humiliating practice of ta’arrud – literally taking up a position along a woman’s path to urge her to fornicate, to commit the act of zina. At this point, the Prophet’s problem was no longer freeing women from the chains of pre-Islamic violence (because he did not have unchallenged authority, author), but simply assuring the safety of his own wives and those of other Muslims in a city (Medina) that was hostile and out of control.””

            This journal article about marriage by capture which is a practice that has appeared in many cultures around the world through history.

            Both of which, when added to the fact that the forms of dress we now refer to as niqab, hijab, burka, etc pre-date islam lead to us both being right (IMO anyway) about what we’re saying, while still running into that sticking point :).

            Also thanks for pointing me to that history aspect as it made fascinating reading.

          • DragonLord says

            @Maria – Just a thought that I had on my way home, but can we both agree that the original reasons behind the various types of dress under discussion were to protect women from men, and quibble about which origin is more correct at another time, as for the purposes of this discussion they both appear to agree in principle, if not detail?

          • Maria says

            No worries — what I more wanted to get at was the idea that it was a wife-snatching culture (IE more of one than another cultures in the same historical time-period). Saying stuff like that makes particular cultural identities (normally Othered ones) take on the burden of a particular -ism, like how “black” music is seen as being OMG unusually sexist (it’s not especially so when put into conversation with other genres) or how black culture is seen in the mainstream media as being OMG homophobic (it’s not like mainstream culture in the US is substantially more accepting).

            I didn’t want this to be a conversation that devolved into “THEY’RE SEXIST THROUGH AND THROUGH unlike us in the West that have solved sexism with feminism, go us!” and was trying to challenge that. (Also my computer froze so I actually didn’t think my comment went through. :D)

            Thank you for the articles!

          • says

            I’m not sure how it can be super-clear that customs that are justified on grounds of tradition and history have no bearing on current developments in those customs of vice versa. Yes, the past is not the same as the present, but if that makes any analogy invalid then we have a canker at the heart of the discourse around long standing cultural norms that I would struggle to reconcile.

  10. Lika says

    Totally agree. Yes, some women may be pressured or forced into wearing the niqab or hijab, but to shut it down completely and give no choice whatsoever is taking away even more of their ability to make their own decisions.

    It actually reminds me of back when I was anti-abortion, not because I thought it was murder, but because someone I knew was forced to get an abortion by her parents. She wanted the child, they got it ripped out of her, it was awful. I thought had abortion not been legal, she wouldn’t have to go through that. It took me a while to realize that yes, there are women who will be pressured or forced to get abortion, but to ban abortions altogether would be the bigger choice-eraser.

  11. says

    This issue has also come up in Australia, with the rise of religion in politics and the attempted justification of the “war on terror”.

    Having lived with abusive religion myself and studied theology and psychology, the whole thing seems a rather overt example of rape culture. The stories cited in the article and comments seem to support this. One woman feels she has to cover herself so people don’t make assumptions about her or invade her personal boundaries. Others feel they have to demonstrate either faith or independence in the context of being a covered or non-covered female in a world controlled by the males who control the religion.

    It would be nice, in the 21st century if women weren’t being told by one mob or another what they should wear in order to be “good women” as defined by male controlled society and religion. My pipe dream, I know.

    Also, thanks for the blog!! The images of women and female characters in hollywood movies has been a bug bear of mine for quite some time. With “Inception” the mother/wife is not only dead, but evil and now taking on a life of her own as an evil, invasive archetype in the poor man. Way to annihalate the feminine! And why is it that every movie made about comic characters declines to present a mother/wise woman?

    I can only watch Avatar, the Abyss and Aliens so many times, yanno. Even there, there’s a heap of male imagined violence… *sigh*

    • says

      Quite. And I will add, we should not privilege one aspect of rape culture over another for reasons of intercultural tact.

      I’m not sure if it’s a legitimate link, and I haven’t thought about it in detail so may be talking out of my arse here, but, it’s interesting to me that there’s a conversation currently happening in France about topless sunbathing, too, and the debate fractures along many similar conceptual lines.

      • The Other Patrick says

        I would love to see topless women defending the niqab and veiled women defending toplessness, actually – make a real show for freedom of choice!

        • DragonLord says

          I would be amused if the answer turned out to be that topless sunbathing was bad, and so everyone (men and women) had to have their breast area covered at all times.

          But that’s just me thinking that 1 rule for men and 1 rule for women is a little silly in most cases.

  12. Jen says

    to enforce rules on women dictating what they may or may not wear is awful and won’t solve anything.

    Also awful: sexist culture planting a seed of shame – an indoctrinated, irresolvable shame for body parts people naturally posess and are there no matter how much they try to cover them up – often linked from an early age to the threat of eternal damnation.

  13. Libelia says

    This one always gives me trouble. I agree with choice and freedom, but I also feel very strongly that covering your face all the time is taking things too far.

    Non-verbal body language and the ability to see someone’s face and eyes when you are taking to them is a really important part of human communication, esecially when participating in public forums such as courts, clasrooms, universities etc.

    The whole idea that anyone would have to cover their face, obstructing their ability to commmunicate with other people, is a bad thing to me, whatever the reason behind it and whoever is being expected to cover up. As with so many thing, in private life people can do whatever they want, but in public life, to partiicpate in modern western society, poeple need to see your face clearly.

    • says

      I also feel very strongly that covering your face all the time is taking things too far.

      Taking what things too far? The expression of counter-culture? Expression of individuality? What precisely are you thinking of when you make that statement?

      Non-verbal body language and the ability to see someone’s face and eyes when you are taking to them is a really important part of human communication

      As Revena stated above, there are many Westerners for whom this just isn’t true: those who are too visually impaired to see those signs clearly, and those to whom the signs mean nothing, such as autistic people. So face visibility may be important for many people, but you can’t categorically say “human communication.” Many people do without it, and do well.

      I fully agree with your last paragraph – the idea of anyone being coerced to cover their face is awful. Especially when it’s just certain individuals in a culture being singled out. But the choice to cover one’s face? That’s different.

      • says

        Which is, basically, that you two feel entitled to look at people’s faces so you can judge them based on non-verbal cues instead of how they conduct themselves as human beings.

        Do you now realize how inaccurate people are with reading body language? For just one example: many abused kids don’t have very expressive faces, since nearly any expression they make can set off their abusers. If they tell people, “My dad beats the shit out of me” they’re likely to say it without much facial or vocal expression. Therefore, people who trust face-reading skills but really don’t know shit about how the human brain works with the face assume they’re lying, because surely a revelation like that should come with lots of intonation and facial expression.

        Similarly, if a serial killer turns on the water works as well as a decent actor, he’ll have face-reading fans lined up thinking he can’t POSSIBLY be a baddy.

        When it comes to face-reading, most humans know only enough to be dangerous. I’m not seeing this as a remotely effective – or affective – argument against face covering.

        • DragonLord says

          The only argument that I can think of that’s a fair argument is recognition. This doesn’t apply if they are the only one in the area that’s wearing face covering, but if (like in east london) about 30-40% of the female population seems to be wearing one, then it starts getting a little difficult to recognise people that you know vs people that just have the same general shape.

          Other people not being able to recognise these women will probably lead to them not being interacted with, and serve to isolate them into their own community. It probably won’t protect them from those that would prey on vulnerable people, and may serve to make them a larger target.

          As these are reactions of the society they are living in they are not things that can easily be changed without changing fundamental parts of that society, and in some cases it would be undesirable for these reactions to be changed.

          A legal example to back this up would be a case in the UK where a father killed his daughter and her boyfriend in an honour killing, and then tried to get out of the country with the aid of his family by wearing a burqa Gah! can’t find the news article for this one, however I can find ones for Robbers in london and A mosque leader trying to escape

          On the other side of the argument, these coverings allow the women that are wearing them to choose who they are going to interact with (for the most part) and grants them a level of anonymity with which to get past initial reactions about the sort of person they are based on looks, and force people to judge them on their character. It also protects them from unwanted leers and jeers from those men (and sometimes women) who like to let the target of their “appreciation” know that they find them “(un)attractive”.

          • says

            The recognition factor would also apply in a country where all women wear veils. I agree that it’s socially isolating, so as a choice foisted upon women it sucks. But as a choice MADE by a woman who’d like to be left alone, I see the logic.

        • Anne says

          Definitely. I am a person who does not easily express anything non-verbally, and even verbally sometimes. The idea that the niqab inhibits communication is one that just shows that one is uncomfortable when one can’t see another’s face–but just listen to their words. I usually have to do this–I tend to be uncomfortable making or keeping eye contact, except with people I know very well, and so I have come to often only have the audio to go off of. Also in an age of phone and internet communication, where we can’t see each other in this form or context, is it really that difficult to communicate without a face right in front of you? I don’t think it has to be :)

        • says

          When it comes to face-reading, most humans know only enough to be dangerous.

          I myself do not easily pick up on subtle nuance or nonverbal cues…which often leads me (and others) to frustration when I don’t fully understand them, because they expect me to be hearing things they aren’t saying.

          And some people read things into tone and inflection that others don’t…hell, I’m not always even consciously aware of my tone and inflection. For a long time, a problem between myself and my wife would be when she would tell me to “stop yelling”, and I was baffled…because I hadn’t raised my voice. But her father spoke to her angrily in a quiet tone, so she perceived any quiet tension (which is how I express myself when upset) as “yelling”, and I simply didn’t.

          Honestly, I communicate most effectively on the internet, moreso than in person or even on the phone. I feel in this manner I am communicating most directly with other people’s ideas….not with their appearance, or with whatever preconceptions may come with that.

          • The Other Patrick says

            I feel a little misunderstood here. I’m arguing from a position of comparison, i.e. in a situation where I can read most people’s visual cues, not being able to read them of specific persons makes a difference.

            On the internet, I can read nobody’s cues. If I’m bad at reading them, I’m bad at reading all of them. If I’m visually impaired, again I’m visually impaired with regards to everybody.

            But when I’m sitting with a group of people where I can see three of them react and one not, then that does make a difference, I will have to make an effort not to gravitate towards those I can see. And the same goes for people with a lack of expression.

            I am not saying this can’t be overcome, or that this is a reason why people shouldn’t hide their faces or whole bodies. I am saying that expecting there to be no difference is naive, and attributing any difference to bigotry or deliberate slights is, too.

            But it feels like you’re still responding to me here, at least partially, and in so doing, generalizing my argument, so I thought I’d clarify before shutting up. Which I do now :)

          • says

            Other Patrick, I don’t think YOU are expressing an entitlement to see others’ faces, just a wish to. This section of the thread is addressing those who are expressing *entitlement* to see faces. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

        • says

          It’s easier to dismiss someone’s basic person-hood if you don’t have to look them in the face. That’s why people who seem ‘nice’ will turn into trolls the moment they have the benefit of anonymity on the internet.

  14. A. says

    If this is all about choice: why are we then not allowed to walk in streets naked as women if we chose to and without harassment? (actually as far as I understand, in States, it is a criminal offense, let alone the reactions one would get). What if I said to you that my religion asked for it? How is this different than asking woman not to cover head to toe? Social norms of right and wrong are has selective reasoning: more so than we think.

    The reason for covering willingly: Well, isn’t feminism partly about fighting against social thinking that requires us to cover up (in various degrees) to be taken seriously? Are we fighting against oppression or giving choice to women about being oppressed willingly or not here?

    PS: by the way, I am against banning hijab. The only thing it does is to prevent those who forced to cover themselves against their will now to also are doubly victimized by limited access to public. Banning != changing the social norm.

    • says

      Are we fighting against oppression or giving choice to women about being oppressed willingly or not here?

      That’s a false dichotomy, unless I’m totally misunderstanding you. Just because someone makes a choice that happens to match what her oppressors (or former oppressors) want, it does not follow that she made the choice because she was oppressed. E.G., marriage has been used to oppress women, perhaps more than any other social custom I can think of, yet feminists get married all the time. Is that wrong, or do we admit the possibility they have found their OWN reasons to think marrying would be good for them? (I don’t personally see any good reason for anyone to get married ever, in much the same way as I see no good reason to wear a face veil. But I respect in both cases that other intelligent adults can reach a different conclusion without being mentally compromised or coerced.)

      The dichotomy is: do we let adults decide stuff for themselves?

      And frankly, I think US laws are wrong to ban public nudity, and always have. I think if we saw nudity in non-sexual-pandering contexts more often, people might actually get the fuck over the titillating hyperbole about bodies and sex and see them for what they are – just parts of life.

      • A. says

        Aliya feels the same way about a hijab forcing people to engage her on an intellectual level rather than a body-appraising sex-object one.

        assumption: I need to not look woman shaped to not be treated as an object. I am sorry but this is along the same lines of saying “I want a job, but I don’t want to deal with work-place sexism, so I should go into a job that is acceptable for my gender”.

        I have yet to hear a good reason to cover-up that does not involve the way women are treated when they are not or what is expected of them religiously (being “proper” and “chaste”). I don’t mean that there isn’t. (I know some, like how hijab came out as a rebellion to more oppressive ways of clothing.) but in this case the example given works against the argument of why covering up might not be a bad thing.

        Marriage has a civil legislative aspect that formerly shows someone is your family and hence have right to make decisions about you and your finances and such, which is a good option to have (not that I plan to marry). Granted it would be nicer if it was a lot more flexible and with a lot less fails but it has an use.

        In either case I never said you cannot be feminist and not wear a hijab. You can wear it to feel safe, because it is habit, because you have to etc. However wearing it to avoid sexism and then calling it a feminist act is problematic.

        The dichotomy is: do we let adults decide stuff for themselves?
        When they know why they are doing it, exactly, free of culture and internalized oppressive ideas, sure. The pressure to cover up comes in different forms. It is not always in shape of you wear it or I disown you or kill you. Often it is much much more subtle: positive reactions from family to be a good muslim girl, the status quo of outside world as demeaning to woman, seeing overwhelming number of people around you doing the same… Our decisions are colored by culture, tradition and context so very rarely we make a “free” choice. This is also why there are social movements that attempts to replace one culture with another.

        • says

          Marriage has a civil legislative aspect that formerly shows someone is your family and hence have right to make decisions about you and your finances and such

          That can be achieved through many other legal maneuvers. There simply is no good reason to marry except any reason a thinking individual comes up with for herself. I respect those reasons, even though I fully disagree with them.

          When they know why they are doing it, exactly, free of culture and internalized oppressive ideas, sure.

          But how many people really know why they marry or have kids? Because I am a childfree, unmarried woman, I am sometimes asked why I’m that way. It’s hard to say why you haven’t done a thing – there were a million reasons, but what it boiled down to was I saw no reason to do those things. To demonstrate this, I often come back with “Why are you married with kids?” And you know what’s frightening? 9/10 of them have Not. One. Clue. They stare like a deer in headlights, having never been confronted with this question. “Well, because, you know… you just do.” They (unlike many people who consciously consider and then reject staying single and/or childfree, which is totally cool) simply did what was expected of them with no thought at all. And, I mean, I would totally accept “I didn’t want to be alone” or “I loved him so much, I wanted the whole world to know” as reasons. I wasn’t looking for anything brilliant or original – just an actual reason.

          The only difference between a woman marrying because “well, that’s what people do” and a woman wearing a hijab when law doesn’t constrain her to is that wearing a hijab isn’t real popular with the readership on this blog, and marriage is. I mean, think about it.

          • A. says

            other legal maneuvers?

            Anyway yeah, that is what I was trying to say when I meant a feminist person can wear hijab. However I would argue that what they are doing is wrong and why, and why it is not feminist. Exactly the same way I would try to convince someone to get schooling, or not to marry without thinking why. I will try to influence them against what the status quo, religion and tradition taught them to expect for all of their lives. However respecting their decision in the end and arguing against its correctness are not mutually exclusive actions (as long as I am respected back equally and not looked down upon for not covering up in the day).

          • says

            The only difference between a woman marrying because “well, that’s what you do” and a woman wearing a hijab when law doesn’t constrain her to is that wearing a hijab isn’t real popular (…) and marriage is. I mean, think about it.
            Maybe, but oftentimes the constrains from our loved ones are stronger than the allowances of the law.

            • says

              Which are you talking about? The constrains of family begging you to get married and give them grandchildren and otherwise making you feel like you have personally failed them if you don’t get married, or wearing the hijab?

              But before we continue: your last few comments make it more clear you’re talking about personal arguments you would make in response to someone telling you why she wears a hijab. That’s totally fine – if someone gives you their thoughts, you’re entitled to give yours back. What I’m arguing against is the entitlement some people feel to declare this practice unilaterally wrong, even in the case of strangers they’ve never met and can’t possibly know what’s best for, thereby making the choice for everyone. That’s no different than forcing the hijab on them was in the first place.

          • A. says

            I would not go to a person on the street and say: “why are you wearing a hijab for goodness sake?” 😛 (do people really do that?) but I would write on my journal and I would discuss and argue with other people (but then again as someone who was raised in muslim culture it is an issue I have stake in). I would initiate arguments.

            I think in USA or Europe where Islam is a minority religion it is safe enough to leave it alone on a personal level.

            In other places I think some balance needs to be struct to defend the right to not cover up but that is offtopic for this post.

          • says

            (do people really do that?)

            Yes, they sure do, and that’s a big part of my issue with all this. Think it’s wrong? Great! Question the validity of the person’s choice? You have that right. Hassle her in the grocery store (as Nadia describes)? That’s crossing a line. Lecturing a general audience about how it’s “wrong” to wear these garments, period, thereby putting down every woman who wears them willingly? That’s not cool, either. But lecturing a general audience about the social forces that brought these garments about and what they mean, and even questioning the viability of women somehow reclaiming them the way we’ve attempted to reclaim “bitch” as a compliment? That’s acceptable.

            Lot of fine lines, but it’s a lot like the size 0 arguments. The size 0 obsession sucks, and I recommend against it, and I can tell you a lot of good reasons why, but criticizing specific women for being skinny doesn’t help anything.

          • says

            What I’m arguing against is the entitlement some people feel to declare this practice unilaterally wrong, even in the case of strangers they’ve never met and can’t possibly know what’s best for, thereby making the choice for everyone. That’s no different than forcing the hijab on them was in the first place.

            I understand. Someone mentioned earlier than going topless in the US is a legal offence: don’t this very same laws stem from the same sort of entitlement? An entitlement, as I understand it, born from the collective personal views/feelings of the majority. I also think that had not been by the existance of Islamic terrorist organizations, we would hardly be debating this issue -just as no one is discussing whether is right or wrong that orthodox Jews wear wigs, longs skirts, payot, hat, etc.

            In a nutshell: is ok for a woman to wear niqab? Sure, if she feels like it. Do niqab-wearing women in western countries do so freely? I believe not. Can there be a minority of women who wear niqab truly because they just like it? Sure, but I believe this group, if existant, must be very, very small.

          • The Other Patrick says

            Not sure about the US, but there definitely was a veil-related discussion going on in Germany before 9/11.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            The legal status of going topless varies by locale in the USA. In the city I live in, it is perfectly legal. People just rarely exercise it outside of certain community festivals and such.

        • The Other Patrick says

          When they know why they are doing it, exactly, free of culture and internalized oppressive ideas, sure

          That is a very bad standard because, really, who can fulfill this? Even without delving into the question of free will (which increasingly looks like is an illusion): I am not unburdened by culture and internalized ideas, oppressive or not. Who is? And how do you judge whether someone chooses marriage or the niqab for the right or the wrong reasons?

          No, if you want freedom of choice (however much we may be able to use it), this must include the freedom to make the wrong choice. We can try to influence that choice, or critique it, or weaken harmful influences/strengthen beneficial ones – but the choice itself? We leave alone. With adults, at least, because their brain is developed such that their ability to choose is at their optimum.

          (The “must” doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with me here, it’s just the imperative based on my principles and ethics, where freedom/liberty is the highest good)

          • A. says

            Actually, this was exactly my point. You can’t fulfill it :) and I guess what I am trying to say is that, you have a right to make the wrong choice, as a person, but if you come to me and explain how right of a choice it is and feminist choice it is to do so, I will be arguing back.

            In the end of the day it is your choice to listen to my argument or not but I will argue with it. (and the you is general you)

        • A. says

          I have one single nit picking to do:
          Saying wearing hijab is wrong is not putting down people, so I believe it is perfectly okay to do so, as long as you are name calling the people who do.

          Other than that agreed.

          I think the discussion of covering in USA is post 9/11. Europe each country has its own story and reasons to bring discussion. E.g. I would guess the reason for bring the topic up in Germany would be the Turkish immigrant population in the country. France, Algerian minorities as somebody pointed out.

  15. says

    France says they’re concerned about maintaining secularism and equal rights for women. Is this the same France that condemned the US recently for attempting to extradite a child rapist?

    No, it isn’t, because “France” didn’t make either one of those statements. Those are positions of groups of people, and they’re not always both held by the same people within the French population.

    I totally agree with you that a given culture will tend to be very progressive/feminist on some issues and more regressive on others. And it seems surprising at first, because it seems like you should be able to place countries on some sort of linear sequence of enlightenment. But the reality is a lot more complex than that. In the same way, you’re oversimplifying when you imply that a whole country is of one mind on political issues.

    • Shaun says

      Maybe so, but the French GOVERNMENT certainly holds both of these positions. Nicholas Sarkozy is so adamant about the niqabs you’d think one personally burned down his village and slaughtered his family before merrily skipping on to stalk him from seedy bars for the next 30 years, but there wasn’t a peep about the Polanski issue, nor did he take issue with the fact one of his Ministers wrote a book where he directly admitted having “sex” with “young boys” in Thailand.

      That goes, largely, with the rest of the government as well. Nobody’s dropping judgments on the French people, but when the government of a country acts a certain way, it is certainly appropriate to say that the state is responsible for those acts, just as “the US” is responsible for starting two wars in the Middle East or violating the civil rights of detainees in multiple prisons, even if the majority US population disagrees with those actions.

      • says

        I apologize, because I DID mean “the French government” in the way Goblin is describing. I assumed that would be understood because it’s so ludicrous to suggest that even the citizens of a tiny country all agree with each other on something. I often say “The US” when what I mean is the US government, too.

        Also, I have never considered the idea of countries being in a linear sequence of enlightenment. We are SO backward as a species – so insular, so xenophobic, so excited to be so ignorant – that I don’t think of any country as enlightened at all. Socrates was half right – the closest we’re capable of getting to wisdom is knowing that we know nothing.

      • says

        Shaun — Right, but I have lots of French friends, and all of them think Sarkozy is an idiot and an embarrassment to France. From what I’ve read in the French popular press, that’s a pretty common sentiment.

        It’s a little like if someone said “the US thinks this” (a few years ago) — and just quoted George W. Bush’s positions. As an American, I’d ask them not to lump the country together as one monolithic mindset.

        • says

          But I DO say phrases that could imply I think the whole population of the US is of one accord about something, if one wants to read it that way, and you’ve never complained about those. 😉

          I don’t think anyone else seriously thought I meant to imply that all the residents of France agree on anything, let alone two things.

  16. Charles RB says

    Interesting things I’ve noticed about burqa/niqab bans floated or passed in France, Belgium, Quebec et al:

    a) few Muslim women wore them in the first place. It was like 2000 or so in France, and the Muslim population is over a million IIRC. See also Switzerland, where mosque spinarrettes were banned by direct vote despite there being only a handful of mosques with them.

    b) the laws have penalties for women wearing them, such as banning them from public/government facilities. The reasoning given for the ban is “they are forced to wear them”, the governments view these women as victims who need help. Why the heck are you criminalising victims, guys?

    • Patrick McGraw says

      b) the laws have penalties for women wearing them, such as banning them from public/government facilities. The reasoning given for the ban is “they are forced to wear them”, the governments view these women as victims who need help. Why the heck are you criminalising victims, guys?

      The reasoning appears to be: “It is wrong to force women to dress a certain way. Therefore, we will pass a law to force women to dress a certain different way. Problem solved!”

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