For some women, the niqab is a religious obligation rather than a cultural one. Not only is Belgium taking away these women’s personal freedom to choose how to dress themselves, but it’s also denying these women the right to practice their religion as they see fit.
Belgium’s recent ban on face veils has been all over the news lately. The ban, which fines women for wearing face veils, has ostensibly been enacted for these women’s benefit. Belgian Liberal Party MP claims that, with this ban, “We are the first country to break through the chain that has kept countless women enslaved.”
However, the idea was first proposed by the Flemish far right as “a first step against Islamization.” And, by reading the Independent article linked to above, it seems like this ban isn’t so much to “liberate” women from the burqa as to sanitize away their presence:
Local authorities in Belgium have already been allowed to clamp down on head-coverings. Jan Creemers, the Mayor of Maaseik, a small town on the Dutch-German border, said he had used a local ruling to deal with a group of heavily veiled women. “It became a problem in our town because we had about 50 women who walked around like that, which really annoyed many other residents. They kept coming to me to ask me to do something about it,” he told Belgian radio. “I spoke to a couple of these ladies to ask them very simply not to wear this kind of clothing. But one in particular refused point-blank so eventually the police opened legal proceedings against her.”
Apparently, “annoying other residents” is more important than these women’s bodily autonomy. There go the feminist ideals that Belgian lawmakers hastily pasted onto the ban.
In my interview with Australia’s “Accent of Women” program on 3CR radio, I stressed that banning any type of veiling and forcing any type of veiling are two sides to the same coin: they both criminalize women’s dress and take women’s choice away. Taking away a woman’s right to choose what she wear or doesn’t isn’t liberating for her.
For some of these women, the niqab is a religious obligation rather than a cultural one. Not only is Belgium taking away these women’s personal freedom to choose how to dress themselves, but it’s also denying these women the right to practice their religion as they see fit.
And in my interview on the Jeff Farias show, I point out that this ban has more to do with Islamophobia than with women’s rights. The ban is an attempt to force the few women who do wear a face veil to conform to Belgian (and European) standards of femininity and acceptable social dress. It’s also trying to solve a major issue (the threat of radicalization among Muslims in Europe) by treating a symptom of the problem rather than addressing the causes: disenfranchised and alienated Muslim immigrants and Belgian-born Muslims.
Belgium, don’t pee on a woman’s niqab and tell her it’s raining. This ban has nothing to do with woman’s freedoms or rights.
Fatemeh Fakhraie is a Contributing Editor to Altmuslimah.