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Misusing Equality

Today I came across the story of the French Government banning hijabs (the scarves some Muslim women wear) under the notion that they are stopping equality. I think it's the first time I've actually heard of anyone banning something in the name of equality, but I'm sure it has happened before. Like this, I'm sure the proposed ban is a way of ignoring the underlying issues that face Muslim women in France, and is a political move motivated by a form of racism.

At first, I thought it was difficult to criticise as a proposition, but that was only because the first response of a white male is to not criticism a move made in the name of feminism, so called or otherwise. Of course, five seconds later, I realised that was a kind of bullshit. Laws that take away a woman's right to make a choice on what to wear or otherwise aren't really being done in the name of promoting equality or feminism. In tripping around the web a little, I came across the BBC who had commentary on the issue. Alice Schwarzer, the German feminist, appears to be connecting the issue to the conflict between State and Government, and said, "This issue is about the constitution, and the division between state and religion - a hard fought for achievement of the enlightenment. The weakening of this division is utterly incomprehensible, particularly as it comes at a time when the worldwide offensive of the theocrats is not just making countries with Muslim majorities subservient to their inhumane "holy laws", but is also threatening democracies worldwide. Countries like France have long grasped the consequences of this." Personally, I don't know that France has long grasped this, as I don't see anyone in France motioning for the ban of crosses being worn by women, and in fact, you could argue that the law in itself is weakening the division she identifies.

I was a little more in line with Fanny Dethloff's opinion, however. A pastor responsible for refugee's, he/she said:

It makes absolutely no sense at all to bar Muslim women from public places because they wear the scarf. This kind of exclusion prevents these women gaining access to jobs, stops them from being integrated. It does nothing for emancipation - indeed, by shutting out those women who are trying to better themselves, it has quite the opposite effect.

Of course we want to condemn fundamentalism, but we don't do that by punishing the women - it is not the women who are involved with pushing this kind of intolerant, politicised Islam, it's the men. At a time like this we need more understanding, more tolerance, not less. And indeed, cracking down in this way is only likely to lead to a sense of victimisation, which will fuel extremism, not reduce it.

It is also problematic to assume, as some people do, that women are forced into wearing the scarf by overbearing men. While it is certainly the case that some are pressured into putting it on, many Muslim who wear it do it quite self-consciously. We need to respect their wishes, not ourselves oppress them by trying to make them take it off.

Of course, I'm not sure condemning Muslim men as the only pushers of intolerance is entirely correct, but I figure he is mostly talking about the people in charge, and the hardline priests and so forth who are, by and large, men, and who do push that harsh line of victimisation and oppression of women.

At any rate, it's not my intent to recite all the pieces, so if you're curious, follow the link and check it out.

What drew me to it initially was the idea that a government, or anyone, would move to ban what can be a choice by women under the name of equality. It's a misuse of the word, entirely, because equality, to me at least, speaks of the individual's ability to make a choice, in how to dress, how to present themselves, and how those choices are tolerated. I won't say accepted, though some might, because I don't think that everyone has to accept the thing that another does--and acceptance to me means that you, in part, agree with it. You're not going to agree with everything. The quest for equality is to recognise for that while you don't agree with something that someone has done, you tolerate that they do it, and you live beside it without condemning them, or persecuting them for their choices in life.



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Jan. 27th, 2010 09:15 am (UTC)
Yeah, I reckon. People should be able to wear whatever they want.

However, I think it is a mistake (a rather large one actually that people too often make) to think of Islam as a race...it's a religion. The French are notoriously anti-religious, this is not new...they basically invented the Enlightenment after all. Islam goes across a whole range of "races" and many of the women within those races wear the headscarves, not because of their "race", but because of their religion, which is a set of prescriptions that they adhere to.

Because it is a set of doctrines, it is not quite equivalent to something "inborn" like things that one might characterise as racial characteristics.
Jan. 27th, 2010 01:25 pm (UTC)
Hi Ben - long time :)

I tend to think that the more serious, underlying issue is that this law will ban anyone from covering their face in a public place. Protestors will no longer have the right to remain anonymous by covering their face, making it that much easier for law enforcement and authorities to identify members of political elements/groups. Maybe it's too much to contend that the law is actually a conspiracy but it's no stretch to say that it will have ramifications way beyond religous politics.

All the best from Iceland,
Jan. 27th, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
Orhan Pamuk's Snow deals with similar laws in Turkey. Really fucking excellent novel.

And yeah, it's hard to read this as anything other than vicious anti-immigrant law with a shiny veneer of self-congratulation.
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