Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Why the French are Wrong to Ban the Niqab

Yesterday, Jo Morgan presented the following speech to PGS Model United Nations in support of her resolution arguing that women should be allowed to wear the niqab:

Before I argue that women should be allowed to wear the niqab let me be clear.
I object to women covering their faces.
I believe that the niqab is used by men to oppress and control women.
I feel uncomfortable when I see women wearing the niqab.
I don’t like it.

However, banning the niqab is not the answer. It will not improve the situation of women and it will not improve the situation of Muslims in the Western World.

France has banned the niqab along with other overt religious markings and now the British Home Office has called for a National Debate on the issue. Banning the niqab is a gross violation of human rights and the UN must act to prevent this.

A free society is dependent upon personal privacy and choice. The state should not be allowed to tell anyone what to wear. If I want to walk around in a tiny mini skirt, a hoody or a niqab then that is up to me – and nobody else.  The more control the state has, the less freedom the people have. To claim that a ban will promote freedom is oxymoronic.

Many Muslim women are shouting from the roof tops that they want to wear the veil but we just don’t want to listen to them. Are we really going to tell these women that they are wrong? That they don’t know what they are doing? That they need to be liberated from themselves? What if, for these women, wearing the veil gives them freedom rather than limiting it?

Islamic dress allows a woman to gain and lose weight without being publically judged for it. It allows her to discreetly breastfeed her child anywhere without drawing unwanted attention. Western dress may actually undermine the position of woman and mother.  Do Muslim women really need our ‘help’ when it comes to dress?

Our society is obsessed with physical appearance. You have to ‘look good’ if you want to be successful, liked, even loved. It is this obsession which is driving girls to starve themselves and boys to pump themselves full of steroids. It is this obsession which legitimises unnecessary cosmetic surgery and which generates extreme self-loathing. We want to free the poor, backward Muslims but perhaps we need to challenge our own lack of freedom before we criticise and judge others. The objectification of women in the West is as prevalent as ever. Are we really in a position to try to ‘liberate’ Muslim women when they have found a way of being respected for what they think and say rather than for how they look?

I cannot deny that patriarchy exists within Islam, perhaps more so than in secular Britain. But, if this is true, banning the niqab will not help. If a Muslim woman has a controlling husband, wearing the niqab may allow her a degree of freedom. Take this away and you take away her freedom. If she cannot go out with her face covered then she will not be able to go out at all.

Britain, unlike France, has a proud history of multi-culturalism. Diversity is celebrated and religious pluralism is able to flourish. That is one of the great things about Britain. Much of the veil-banning rhetoric is clearly Islamophobic and has no place in Britain.

Let’s be honest about why we don’t like Islamic dress. It makes us feel uncomfortable. It could be disguising a bomb. It might be a sign that the woman is being oppressed. How about we stop making these judgements and listen instead to the Muslim women themselves? How about we ask them their opinions and talk to them about their experiences? How about we stop making imperialistic and frankly racist assumptions? It’s time to recognise the ban for what it is – a gross violation of human rights and freedoms which must end now. 

The French banning of Islamic dress is a gross violation of human rights. The UN must take action against France and act to stop the spread of such legislation to other countries.

Pre-ambulatory clauses:
Alarmed that the UN has not acted to prevent the violation of Article 18 of the UDHR:Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’
Appalled that other countries like Britain are even considering doing the same.
Concerned that the UN is turning a blind eye.
Suspect that the UN is reluctant to go head to head with France over this.

Resolution clauses: 
Calling upon the UN to challenge France on this matter.
Calling upon the UN to make a public and clear declaration to other countries who are considering such legislation.
Calling upon France to change their laws and to stop violating the human rights of the Muslims in their country.
Requesting that all member states enforce political pressure and economic sanctions against France until they change their laws. 
Insist that more of the UNs resources and power are used to address this.
Demand that the UN act now.
Demand the UN takes action against France if they continue to violate the human rights of their citizens.

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