[Marxism] The niqab
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 21 12:21:55 MDT 2006
Not exactly a radical analysis, but useful reading:
NY Times, October 21, 2006
Covered Faces, Open Rebellion
By PAUL CRUICKSHANK
ON the streets of London and other cities in Britain, an incongruous
sight has become increasingly common: young Muslim women covered from
head to toe in black robes, including the niqab, a veil that obscures
the face except for the eyes.
The niqab sets these young women off not just from most passers-by,
but even from Muslim women who choose to wear the simple headscarf,
or hijab, which covers only the hair and neck. And it is causing
discomfort even in multicultural Britain. When Jack Straw, the former
foreign secretary, declared earlier this month that the niqab made
positive relations between Muslims and non-Muslims more difficult
because it was "such a visible statement of separation and
difference," he struck a chord with many British voters, only 22
percent of whom think that Muslims have done enough to fit into
Having spent time getting to know young British Muslims, I believe
that comments like Mr. Straw's will be counterproductive. That is
because the niqab is a symptom and not a cause of rising tensions.
Few young Muslim women in Britain are forced by their families to
wear the niqab. British Muslims come predominantly from South Asia,
where the prevalent school of Islam, Hanifi, makes no insistence on a
woman fully veiling herself. Indeed, only one of the four schools
within Sunni Islam, Hanbali, which is followed in Saudi Arabia,
requires women to completely cover up.
The young British South-Asian Muslim women who veil Saudi-style are
rejecting not just mainstream British society, but their parents' and
grandparents' accommodation with its values. Ghulam Rabbani, an imam
in East London, told me he was proud to be both British and Muslim
but that some "misguided" youngsters in his congregation did not
share that view. Khalil Rehman, one of Mr. Rabbani's congregants,
told me he was worried about his children's generation. The young
women who choose to wear the niqab, Mr. Rehman told me, are
"rebelling against what their parents tell them to do, they're trying
to differentiate themselves."
Frustrated by unemployment rates more than double those of members of
other religious groups, put off by stereotyping in the news media,
and estranged from British foreign policy, many alienated Muslims
have turned to more overt forms of religiosity to express a
contrarian identity. Says Murad Qureshi, the only Muslim councilor in
London's Assembly: "Girls are choosing to reaffirm their Muslim
identity because the community feels a sense of besiegement."
That sense of besiegement, not wardrobe decisions, is fueling the
real problem that British politicians should be addressing, which is
the creeping fundamentalism and Islamist radicalism of a significant
portion of Britain's Islamic youth. In a recent poll, more than a
quarter of British Muslims under the age of 24 said that the July 7,
2005, attacks on the London Underground were justified because of
British foreign policy. Thousands of young British Muslims have been
influenced by fundamentalist organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir and
militant groups like Al Muhajiroun.
These are the groups that have persuaded some Muslim girls that it is
their religious duty to adopt the niqab. Kemal Helbawy, the
influential founder of the Muslim Association of Britain, says that a
very different message is coming out of the country's mainstream
mosques, where most imams advise their congregations that the hijab
Calls by British politicians for Muslim women to stop wearing the
niqab will only enhance the political symbolism of this act and make
its practice more widespread. Instead, what is needed is an ambitious
program to address the core grievances of Britain's young Muslims,
for example by creating economic opportunities and tackling discrimination.
Britain's young Muslims need to be brought into the country's
political process. More Muslims should be encouraged and selected to
run for Parliament and to aspire to high office.
It will then be much harder for radicals to claim that the British
government is at war with Islam. And then we will start seeing far
fewer young Muslim women fully veiled.
Paul Cruickshank is a fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New
York University School of Law.
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