A friend of mine pointed me today to the fact that Italy, in its infinite Berlusconiesque wisdom, has drafted a law to ban the burqa, dragging it that little bit further from tolerant sanity and closer to France, Belgium, and the city of Lleida (Lérida) in Spanish Catalunya.
The major argument against the ban on the veil is two-fold, half of which is alluded to in the Guardian article linked above. It is an accepted fact that there are women in Europe who are forced to wear the burqa by their husbands, families, brothers, or societies. This, I will agree, is a phenomenon which should be discouraged. But the way of going about that is not to simply make the veil illegal. Reflect and consider: what will happen if this ban goes into effect? Will these husbands and families shrug their shoulders and decide that, in the face of a mandate from the Lord High Silvio, they should give up what they view as their religious prerogative? No. What is most likely is that the women will simply be forced to stay in their homes, away from outside influences and well away from any government agency which they might be able to ask for help, should they want it.
This is half the problem, or possibly a third. The most major issue I have with banning the veil – largely because it reveals a few unpleasant things about modern Western society – is the complete refusal to deal with the fact that some women wear the veil out of choice. For these women, the options are to give up something they regard, again, as a sacred duty of Islam, or to pay out masses and masses of fines in order to preserve their identity. I suspect that we will soon see – if this has not already happened – Islamic charities expanding their operations to donate zakaat (alms money) to Muslims in countries where the veil is banned in order to pay their fines.
The larger problem, of which this is just an indication, is the fundamental inability of Western rights movements to get to grips with the plurality of humankind. Modern feminist vendettas against the veil have nothing liberal in them; rather, they represent an assumption that the values of Western women are those to which women the world over aspire. Even within the United States, the feminist movement (I’m thinking particularly of the SlutWalk’s record of privileging white voices over those of women of colour, particularly worrying in an event which has an otherwise noble cause in mind) has been legitimately criticised for possessing a limited conception of women. This problem is even greater in the gay rights movement, which was the epitome of a subversive counterculture questioning the assumptions of societies until AIDS drove it into the arms of mainstream society in search of much needed medical support. From then on, the need to ‘fit in’ became paramount, as demonstrated in the incredible efforts devoted to legalising gay marriage rather than interrogating the institution itself. Thus we end up with an ‘ideal’ gay couple who are male, white, completely physically able, wealthy, conservative, capitalist, and – above all – monogamous, in other words, completely inoffensive aside from being gay. The popularity of Dan Savage, who has spouted some truly shocking things about women and trans people, is a nauseating testament to the spread of such beliefs. The marginalisation of LGB folk who happen to be of colour or lower-class, to say nothing of trans or queer people, is such a vast and depressing topic that I’ll leave it aside for another day. But the devotion to a stereotypically ‘Western’ concept of womanhood (or gayness) does produce a particularly conservative allegiance to one’s own ‘values’ which is not often found outside the political right.
Thus, the inability of white feminism (as opposed to white feminists) to come to terms with the fact that some Muslim women might actually choose to wear the burqa, and that this action does not make them somehow anti-feminist, intersects nicely with the wishes and goals of the political right wing. This latter group then uses the resulting support to do things which are, eventually, in the interests of neither Western nor Muslim feminists. The gay community, particularly in America, is just as susceptible to such collusion – perhaps more so – as shown by the remarkably hawkish attitude of a number of supposedly liberal gay commentators towards those brief, easily-won wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Top of the list (surprise!) is Dan Savage, whose atrocious article in the Seattle News about “Islamo-fascism” references World War Two with a frequency that justifies Niall Ferguson’s assertion that the term is “just a way of making us feel that we’re the ‘greatest generation’ fighting another World War (source)”. Savage’s article, in fact, is so chaotically dimwitted that I refuse to link to it. In it, he argues that as it was we in the West who messed up the Middle East, we should clearly be the ones responsible for setting it right. He also quotes liberally from Bin Laden to support his views on “Islamo-fascism”, and then subsequently confuses al-Qaeda’s religious belief with that of the regimes of every single Middle Eastern country. Perhaps my favourite quote – and I use the word ‘favourite’ quite wrongly – is
“Violence never solved anything.” Really? Violence solved the Holocaust. “Bombs just make more terrorists.” Really? We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we dropped on Europe during World War II. Where are all the Vietnamese terrorists?
I’m not sure what to make of the assertion that “Violence solved the Holocaust”, nor of the apparent blindness to the fact that the disappearance of Vietnamese ‘terrorist’ activities against United States forces might be somehow connected with the withdrawal of those same forces from the country. He also says:
That Iraq wasn’t in bed with al Qaeda–the supposed trump card of the antiwar protesters–is beside the point.
thereby accidentally articulating the fundamental point of the war in a way that Bush and other neoconservatives were unable to state clearly. We have an excuse, so why let the facts get in our way. As the first Bush said, in response to demands that he apologise for the shooting down of a civilian Iranian airliner in 1988 and killing almost 300 people: “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”