Monday, July 19, 2010

Some arguments used in support of Syria's Niqab ban

There are a number of arguments circulating popularly regarding the Niqab ban and I thought it would be helpful to outline the main ones and see whether they can withstand any scrutiny. I don't think it is helpful to provoke bitter and divisive debate about what will prove to be a highly controversial issue. Furthermore, and I hate having to do this, I have to say that I am not a fan of the niqab nor am I looking to Islamise any society. For some people apparently this disclaimer might make what I am about to say a bit more credibility. So in the interests of spreading some common sense, I decided to say it.

Here are the points and a brief outline of why I think these issues are non-starters for a debate on the neqab. From my point of view, the Neqab is an Islamic phenomenon, and the only appropriate response to it is using the Qur'an and the Sunnah and allowing young Muslims to know their Islamic rights and be able to resist being "fanaticised". The answer is not in poorly thought out decisions by the Ministry of Education.

The first argument is that it is alien to Islam and an imported fundamentalism which is incompatible with Syrian ways.

Firstly this argument is quite similar to the French "burka-ban" arguments. That somehow being essentially French precludes wearing such foreign styles of dress or that there is a typical Syrian. Firstly this is not an "alien" style of dress in Syria, our great grandparents all used to wear such clothing before the occupation of the French. In fact the alien dress is what most people in Syria are wearing today. If you want to ban alien forms of dress from hostile countries that have occupied us in the past, why not begin with the necktie or jeans? The United States carried out an attack on Syrian soil, killing Syrian citizens, only recently. Why not ban American forms of dress in light of such terroristic attacks? Or do we only tolerate the attacks and dress-code of some terrorists but not others?

The second argument is that it erases the identity of the woman and is sexist.

Assuming that such a noble and lofty aim as women's rights was behind the latest decision to ban the niqab, why then are women still being commodified in every sense possible in Syrian popular culture. An intense social pressure (similar to that which is allegedly imposed on Syrian women wearing niqabs) encourages many girls, and from a young age, to sexualise themselves. This is not to paint all women who do not wear Islamic dress with the same brush, but a rule which is aimed at one extreme whilst ignoring another is quite inconsistent. Those same people cheering for a ban on the neqab would go livid if somebody wrote an article calling for the ban of the mini-skirt, tight jeans or low-cut blouses. Both extremes are a minority in Syria, but only one of them is being banned through official government intervention. Why?

The third argument, quite sleazy, is that the neqab is being used as a front for prostition.

This is ridiculous and there isn't even an argument. Prostitution exists in all countries and comes in as many ways as there are to avoid prohibition and social disapproval. I'm sure there are plenty of prostitutes who do not wear a neqab, why does nobody have a problem or complaint about them?

The ban makes the problem more difficult for women forced to wear the neqab.

In this argument, women are caught between a rock and a hard place. Is there immense social pressure on some women to wear it, and are they threatened by domestic violence? The answer is yes. But this ban is not aimed at limiting domestic violence, there are just as many women who do not wear a niqab that are also victims of domestic violence. We should not confuse these issues.

Education requirements in modern Syrian universities require an academic exchange incompatible with the niqab

A particularly stupid argument made by someone I know is especially ignorant, but it is important I mention it because it has emerged before. This is a variation to a similar argument made in England that it is important for human social interaction that you can see the person's face when you are speaking to them. This begs the question, how are human beings able to listen to the radio or speak over the telephone then? As for being an impediment for academic exchange, that is ridiculous. There is a university in Syria called The Open University, where courses are mainly delivered over the internet and exams are undertaken in person. How does having a niqab affect this or any other type of academic exchange. The answer is simple, it does not.

There are security concerns for women with neqabs

This is the final argument used in desparation when all else fails. Again, this begs the question, were the people who assassinated Imad Mughniyeh, or who set off car bombs in Damascus, wearing niqabs? In fact has there ever been a case in Syria in the past twenty years where a woman in a niqab posed any kind of security threat? The answer is no. Furthermore, that is not the reason given by the Minister of Education Ghiath Barakat, his words were that he was concerned that these women will introduce fundamentalist ideas to young impressionable students. But if so, why are students who obtain their ideology from the United States or Europe still allowed to mingle freely?

The Ministry of Education's ban on the niqab is arbitrary and discriminatory. It introduces a dangerous new level of control over what people are allowed to wear, setting a precedent for more invasive measures in future. This is a poorly thought out and implemented decision and there should be a concerted campaign to call for the sacking of the Minister of Education.


Kinana said...

Thank you for this intresting look on the subject.

Maysaloon said...

You're welcome Kinana

Anonymous said...

These arguments are universal. The "alien dress" one is widely used by some politicians in Algeria not only against niqab but also againt hidjab, and here I found an article on the same subject in Egypt.