Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Criticising the burqa means lining up with racists – says SWP.

with 7 comments

Defiant woman rips off her black burqa after ISIS were driven away. (Raqqa October. 2017)

The fall out from Boris Johnson’s comments on the Burka continues.

Nobody doubts that they have given the wink to the far-right and legitimised prejudiced diatribes against ‘Muslims’.

But there is also a pro-body veil reaction from some quarters.

Liberal people who (as a Facebook friend in the US remarks) are up in arms about the world imagined in The Handmaid’s Tale. But often the same individuals give weight to the idea that the religious obligations inflicted on women by this interpretation of Islam, are a choice to be celebrated.

There is talk – I thought it remained safely relegated to distant memories of courses on ‘theory’ – about the way it may free the female shape from the ‘male gaze’.

As if Islamic Law is about anything other than the behaviour of the believers in the sight of god enforced through violence if need be.

Not surprisingly the British SWP, with its long history of complicity with Islamism, has bent to this wind.

They are not trying to shout down criticisms of the burqa by linking them to the far-right.

Why criticising the burqa means lining up with racists

Boris Johnson’s attack on the burqa has left some liberals with a problem.

The article begins with this bold assertion:

“when supposed progressives criticise the burqa, it gives more credibility to the more overt Islamophobes.”

It then jumps to this statement,

Some liberals see the burqa as a reflection of sexist ideas.

They assume that women are pushed to cover themselves because female flesh has been deemed dirty or too exciting to men.

Of course there will be some Muslims who think this. But the idea is hardly Islamic—it’s deeply rooted in Western capitalist societies.

So that’s all right then.

Or not.

Think of rape trials where women are told they were “asking for it” because of what they wore. Or the Canadian cop who said that women should “avoid dressing like sluts” to escape sexual assault.

The SWP claims that

Many liberals, and right wingers, claim they want to “liberate” oppressed Muslim women who they assume have been forced to cover up.

Are they alone.

Apparently not:

We should oppose women being forced to wear coverings. And we should stand with the women in Iran who have defied the state and removed their hijabs in public, imprisoned as a result.

This is what the SWP said about these protests (4th of June):

Women are resisting the compulsory wearing of the headscarf—which is another very good thing happening at the same time.

Even women who want to wear it are saying it should be the right of women to choose.

As the left we have to support the women fighting back, and not leave the issue to the pro-imperialist right.

The problem is that the issue grabs attention in the West because it resonates with the Islamophobic representations of Iran.

The issue is being hijacked by Islamophobia by some in the media in the West.

End of story for the SWP until this week.

But its not Islam that’s at fault

But it isn’t true that Islam forces women to cover themselves. Like other religions, Islam suggests that men and women dress “modestly”. What this means is open to interpretation, which is why different Muslim women choose to wear different coverings, or none at all.

Women often say they choose to wear coverings to feel closer to Allah. It’s patronising to assume that every women who wears a hijab, niqab or burka has been told to do so by a man.

So they do it for Allah.

If religion is not a problem what is?

This also treats the main source of oppression facing Muslim women as Muslim men. In fact, the main oppressor of Muslim women is the state.

The state is of course the principal form of oppression for ‘women’: no doubt the ‘state’ has a special function in oppressing women……

Apart from wishing away decades of feminist debate about patriarchy, the family, and the old saying that the “personal is political’,

The confusion reaches its apex in confusing state legislation about the full body veil, ‘forcing’ women to give up the ” veils, headscarves or burqas  with the idea that criticising the burka is to “line up with racists”.

Socialists should defend a woman’s right to choose what she wears. That includes the right to wear a burqa—and the right not to wear one.

Forcing Muslim women to give up wearing veils, headscarves or burqas isn’t liberating, just as encouraging women to wear skimpy clothes isn’t. Instead it’s just another form of judging women on their appearance and dress, and taking control and choice away from them.

Is siding with the legislation, in say France, when it was backed by all the political parties at the time, the same as being on the same side as the ‘far right’?

Is ‘forcing’ people to not wear the oppressive full-body veil the same as “criticism”?

This argument gets nowhere.

Rather than point out that the SEP feels no compunction about lining up with the far-right over Brexit the issue at hand should be taken seriously.

This is a ‘liberal’ view  of a Muslim woman the SWP and others are trying to  shut up.

Boris Has Made it Almost Impossible for Muslims to Critique Veiling.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

In my view, scarves, cloaks and masks symbolise the negation of the female form, female inferiority and menace, and most troublingly, a wilful distancing from other humans in the public space.

One of Britain’s foremost scholars Ziauddin Sardar, has this to say on the controversial subject: “In a total perversion of Qur’anic advice, dressing modestly has been interpreted as dressing like a nun, covered from head to foot, showing only a woman’s face (in some circles only the eyes), wrists and feet.”

Females thus accept the burden of modesty while men do not, though both have this obligation. Millions of Muslim women do not submit to these pressures. One of them, a senior TV producer unloaded her frustrations in an email: “We came here to get away from these oppressive expectations. Britain offered hope, a place where you were protected by the law, could be educated, go out, be free. “You could make your own decisions, strive to be equal to men.

Now this freedom is crumbling away because of a few shouty, veiled women. Our voice remains unheard.”

She is right. Vast numbers of white Britons give us their support when most we need it. They did this week. We Muslims need to give a little too – abandon regressive customs and integrate for the greater good and our survival. With the hard right marching again across Europe, Muslims face an existential threat. This is no time for cultural and religious obstinacy.

These are her views (2015) in more depth:  As a Muslim woman, I see the veil as a rejection of progressive values.

They are much more materialist and historically rooted than airy abstractions about the ‘state’.

Muslim feminists of the past critiqued and repudiated the veil. One of them was a man, Qasim Amin, an Egyptian judge and philosopher, who in 1899 wrote The Liberation of Women.He was the John Stuart Mill of the Arab world. Huda Shaarawi set up the Egyptian women’s union in the early 1920s. One day in 1923, as she disembarked from a train in Cairo, she threw off her veil and claimed her right to be visible. Educated Iranian women started feminist magazines and campaigned against the veil around the same time. These pioneers have been written out of history or are dismissed as western stooges by some contemporary Muslim intellectuals.

After the transformative 60s, Muslim feminists resumed the fight for equality. European rule was over. It was time. The Moroccan academic Fatema Mernissi, Egypt’s Nawal El Saadawi and the Pakistani scholar Riffat Hassan all argued for female emancipation. They rightly saw the veil as a a tool and symbol of oppression and subservience. Mernissi’s Beyond the Veil ( 1975) is a classic text. So too El Saadawi’s The Hidden Face of Eve (1975). But more conservative Islamic tenets have taken over lands, communities, families, heads and hearts.

The promise of this version is a return to certainties and “purity” of belief, a mission backed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Deobandi revivalists, funded by Arab money, now run more mosques in Britain than any other Muslim subgroup. Women are told not to travel without male relatives, not to work, to be subservient, to veil. This movement began as a reaction against the Indian raj and mutated into a fundamentalist creed. Today their pushback against “cultural imperialism” appeals to many alienated young Muslims. And, in part, it explains the growing popularity of the hijab, jilbab and full veil .

But in the Qur’an, the veil is mostly used metaphorically to describe barriers between good and bad, believers and nonbelievers. In two verses, women are told to lower their gaze, and to cover their private parts and bosoms. Men are also instructed to lower their gaze, and to dress modestly. One verse commands the women in the prophet’s family to fully veil, partly to protect them from enemies and supplicants.

Sahar Amer, associate professor at the University of North Carolina, has studied these sacred injunctions: “[Nowhere] is the hijab used to describe, let alone prescribe, the necessity for Muslim women to wear a headscarf or any other pieces of clothing often seen covering women in Islamic countries today. Even after reading those passages dealing with the female dress code, one continues to wonder what exactly the hijab is: is it a simple scarf? A purdah? A chador? Or something else? Which parts of the body exactly is it supposed to cover? Just the hair? The hair and neck? The arms? Hands? Feet? Face? Eyes?”

 

All religions cast women as sinners and temptresses. Conservative Islam has revived the slander for our times

 

Veils, in truth, predate Islam. Zoroastrian and Byzantine upper-class ladies wore them to keep aloof from the hoi polloi. When Islam’s armies first reached Persia, they were shocked at this snobbery; then they adopted the custom they loathed; the control of women was hard-wired into their psyches.

All religions cast women as sinners and temptresses. Conservative Islam has revived the slander for our times. Women have to be sequestered or contained lest they raise male lust and cause public disorder. Some young Muslim women argue that veils liberate them from a modern culture that objectifies and sexualises females. That argument is appealing; but if credible, why would so many hijabis dress in tight jeans and clinging tops, and why would so many Muslim women flock to have liposuction or breast enhancements?

It is complicated: veils for me represent both religious arrogance and subjugation; they both desexualise and fervidly sexualise. Women are primarily seen as sexual creatures whose hair and bodies incite desire and disorder in the public space. The claim that veils protect women from lasciviousness and disrespect carries an element of self-deception. I have been at graduation ceremonies where shrouded female students have refused to shake the hand of the chancellor. Veiled women have provoked confrontations over their right to wear veils, in courts, at schools and in colleges and workplaces. But I regard their victories as a rejection of social compromise.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 21, 2018 at 12:15 pm

7 Responses

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  1. 1) The SEP (Socialist Equality Party) does NOT ‘line up with the far-right over Brexit’. Rather, they have ‘a plague on both their houses’ view against both Remainers and Brexiteers.

    2) I very strongly dislike to see white men in three-piece suits. A three-piece suit to me symbolises, conformism with a capitalist system which exploits the majority of people, destroys the environment, and causes bloody wars.

    However, should the consequence of that be that police jails or fines men in three-piece suits? NO!

    Similar so for the ‘burqa’; which by the way is not a burqa at all:

    https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/banned-burqa-not-a-burqa-at-all/

    petrel41

    August 21, 2018 at 12:29 pm

  2. Contemptible, abject stuff from the SWP, amounting to a straightforward defence of religious modesty codes.

    There’s also a particularly bitter irony in a Socialist Worker editorial criticising “rape trials where women are told they were ‘asking for it'”.

    Nothing new here of course: in 2001 they defended/justified the Taliban’s treatment (“seclusion”) of women: https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/1504/The+Taliban

    Jim Denham

    August 21, 2018 at 3:37 pm

  3. This was the last time the SWP fought ‘Islamophobia’.

    SW says it’s combatting a media campaign to whip up anti-Muslim panic

    There’s a fascinating debate going on at Facebook, sparked by this evasive and historically ignorant Socialist Worker article, and Comrade Coatesy’s reaction (republished in full below). Dave Osler initiated the discussion, thus:

    ‘Parallels have been drawn between young British Muslims who volunteer for ISIS and socialist/communist young men who joined the International Brigades that fought in Spain in the 1930s. Is the analogy valid?’

    Later, Dave (a non-aligned socialist not prone to hyperbole) posted the following comment:

    David Osler: ‘Actually, Andrew Coates puts his finger on what is wrong with that Socialist Worker article. It doesn’t just ‘blur the distinction’ between ISIS and the International Brigades, it effectively equates them. This ranks it among the most odious pieces I have come across in over 30 years of reading the far left press. Disgusting is the only word for it.‘

    There is resistance to this frenzy of Islamophobia by Hassan Mahamdallie, co-director of the Muslim Institute.

    Mahamdallie begins by making a string of unsavoury comparisons.

    The beheading of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State, formerly known as Isis, was horrific. But is the Nigerian military slitting the throats of 16 young men and boys any less horrific?

    Or last week’s Israeli air strike that blew to smithereens the wife and seven month old son of Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif? Surely that was horrific and disturbing too?

    One atrocity was carried out by a murderer who calls himself Muslim. The second was sanctioned by a head of state who calls himself Christian. And the last was executed by an entity that defines itself as an exclusively Jewish state.

    That is to ignore the widespread revulsion at the religious and ethnic cleansing by the genociders of ISIS/Islamic State.

    That is, the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of YYazidis, Christians, Kurds and Turkomans massacred, tortured and driven from their homes in Iraq. The same gang is carrying out these actions in Syria.

    One might imagine a few words on this topic.

    But the eminently self-righteous Mahamdallie remains fixed to the Foley murder.

    He comments that,

    Yet only one triggered convulsions of outrage, with calls from the establishment in Britain and the US to take action. Madness descended yet again.

    Continuing in this vein he comments on the condemnation of the Foley decapitation (though he is too polite to use this word) made by former Labour foreign minister Kim Howells and makes this observation that he should look into his own past and see how people are motivated to fight in wars. That is, one fight in particular, the defence of the Spanish Republic against the Franco-Led armies.

    In the 1930s radicalised young men from the same mining communities illegally made their way into Spain to take up arms against general Franco’s fascist army.

    He then takes time, a long long time, to pass smug comments ridiculing British Muslims who have denounced the genociders – for a variety of reasons. Apparently Muslims should not be asked their opinion on Muslim groups and Muslim religious authorities should not have to speak about those who declare themselves the only true Muslims.

    The (present/former?) Senior Officer, Diversity, Arts Council England concludes that he prefers this response from the leader of the Lewisham Mosque,

    The press asked him to condemn a tweet from a woman “Jihadi” in Syria who might have once attended the mosque.

    He retorted, “The young woman’s desire to travel to Syria has nothing to do with the Centre. Unfortunately, the Muslim community are being subjected to a burden of proof based on a ‘guilty by association’ standard”.

    Not a word of condemnation for the religious and ethnic cleansing.

    But instead this, “It was good to see someone refusing to bow to the frenzy, a spark of resistance in a very dark week.”

    No doubt Socialist Worker will applaud a “spark of resistance” to the “frenzy” of the UN announcement.

    Update: Amongst Comments on Facebook about the Socialist Worker article,

    “It doesn’t just ‘blur the distinction’ between ISIS and the International Brigades, it effectively equates them. This ranks it among the most odious pieces I have come across in over 30 years of reading the far left press. Disgusting is the only word for it” – David Osler.

    https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/a-reaction-to-socialist-worker-on-isis-among-the-most-odious-pieces-i-have-come-across-in-over-30-years-of-reading-the-far-left-press/

    Andrew Coates

    August 21, 2018 at 4:29 pm

  4. […] via Criticising the burqa means lining up with racists – says SWP. — Tendance Coatesy […]

  5. Martin Smith is back writing for Socialist Worker. Unsigned article by him on DFLA in this week’s issue.

    IanG

    August 22, 2018 at 10:34 am

  6. Interesting Ian.

    It’s been signaled before – a few years back – but we’ve not had proof.

    Andrew Coates

    August 22, 2018 at 12:55 pm

  7. Isn’t the point that socialists/Marxists come from a ‘social contract/covenant’ tradition, whilst sharia law is ‘God-given’? It goes against the consensus of how modern states enshrine laws. As far as the fellow from Lewisham Mosque goes, it says in the Koran that a Muslim must never criticise another Muslim to non-Muslims, which is why there is no progress in the evolution of their ideas.

    Sue R

    August 22, 2018 at 2:35 pm


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