Friday, 17 March 2017

Islamic Exceptionalism

Iman Amrani writing in The Guardian argues that the European court of justice (ECJ) ruling on the hijab represents a ban on Muslim women. 

Which is arrant nonsense if you ask me, for the very sensible reason that workplaces, just like schools, are intended for a clear purpose and ought not to be used for people to parade their political prejudices or personal religious views. 

Now I'm all in favour of people wearing what they want in public spaces, by and large, but instead of attacking the ECJ Iman Amrani might do better to focus on the Muslim majority countries where this kind of live and let live approach to life is not remotely acceptable.

In Iran, for example, the wearing of the hijab is strictly enforced by religious police and is a symbol of oppression rather than resistance because Iranian women have no say in whether or not to cover their heads.  

So the problem is where to draw the line, especially when one group or another will always wish to use political and/or religious symbols to promote their own cause.

The hijab ruling is a ban on Muslim women

By Iman Amrani - The Guardian

Religious identity isn’t something you can take off in public. The European court of justice has turned the headscarf into a symbol of resistance

‘For its wearers the hijab is a core part of their way of life, linked to the way they choose to practise their faith. It is not up for debate’ Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

This week’s decision by the European court of justice to allow the hijab to be banned in the workplace is yet another sign of the continent’s obsession with how Muslim women dress.

Europe's right hails EU court's workplace headscarf ban ruling

The ruling states that the hijab can be banned only as part of a policy barring all religious and political symbols – and so framed in a way that doesn’t directly target Muslim women. Indeed, the Conference of European Rabbis was outraged, saying that the ruling sent a clear message that Europe’s faith communities were no longer welcome – and a number of religious communities, including Sikhs, will be affected.

However, there’s no doubt that Muslims are the main group in the line of fire. That’s why far-right groups across the continent were so delighted with it. “Of course companies have to be allowed to ban the wearing of headscarves,” said Georg Pazderski, of Germany’s hardline Alternative für Deutschland. “Even the ECJ votes Marine [le Pen],” tweeted the French MP Gilbert Collard, a Front National supporter.

Of course, you don’t have to be far right to welcome a ban on “the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign”. Many liberals too believe that religion has no place in a secular western society. There’s clearly no discrimination, they say, given that under the same ruling Christians would not be able to wear the cross.

However, the hijab doesn’t fit neatly under the bracket of being a “religious symbol”. It’s not the equivalent of a piece of jewellery that displays pride in your faith, and which can easily be concealed to stop people feeling uncomfortable. For its wearers the hijab is a core part of their way of life, linked to the way they choose to practise their faith. It is not up for debate.

By permitting a ban on the hijab, Europe is essentially permitting a ban on Muslim women in the workplace.

Think I’m exaggerating? Consider for a moment what the real effects of a hijab ban in the workplace will be. Do we really believe that women who have a religious conviction to wear the headscarf are just going to take it off when they start their job each day? I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works.

Wear What You're Told (14/03/17)

The Independent reported recently that Iran's morality police arrested and beat up a young 14-year-old girl for the crime of wearing 'ripped jeans' in public.

When some local authorities in France introduced a 'burkini' ban there were protests outside the French Embassy in London - 'Wear What You Want' was the protesters battle cry.

But so far at least there are no signs of similar protests being held in response to the heavy handed 'Wear What You're Told' religious police in Iran.

Iranian morality police beat and detain 14-year-old girl 'for wearing ripped jeans' 
‘I still carry the bruises sustained from their beatings on my face ... my ribs still hurt’ 

By Lizzie Dearden - The Independent

The ripped jeans worn by a 14-year-old girl detained by morality police in Iran

A 14-year-old girl has been beaten and detained for wearing ripped jeans in Iran in the latest incident of police brutality against women and girls.

Zahra*, who The Independent is not identifying for fear she may suffer reprisals, was celebrating her birthday with friends last week when a patrol of “morality police” pulled up.

The teenager said officers tried to force her and her friends into their car in the city of Shiraz, beating them when they resisted.

Photos of injuries suffered by a 14-year-old girl at the hands of morality police in Iran

Bikinis and Burkinis

The Huffington Post reported on the story of a 23-year old Australian woman, Zeynab Alshelh, who traveled all the way from Australia to protest about the 'burkina ban' in France.

In doing so Zeynab must have flown across a host of Islamic countries where conservative religious leaders (men with beards) lay down strict rules and dress codes instructing Muslim women on what they can and cannot wear. 

In fact in some of these countries women would not be able to even visit the beach without the permission of a male relative, yet Zeynab's wrath is directed exclusively at France.

Now I don't agree with the 'burkini ban' in France anymore than I agree with the 'bikini ban' in Saudi Arabia, but I find it interesting that some Muslims only wish to protest about human rights in western secular countries - while turning a blind eye to what's going on elsewhere in the Islamic world. 

Burkini-Wearing Woman Gets Chased Off French Beach

Villeneuve-Loubet’s burkini ban has been overturned. But that didn’t stop beachgoers from threatening 23-year-old Zeynab Alshelh.

By Dominique Mosbergen - The Huffington Post


Zeynab Alshelh donned a blue burkini and walked onto a beach in southeastern France. The 23-year-old medical student had crossed 10,000 miles, flying with her family from her home in Sydney, Australia, to Europe, to reach the sands of Villeneuve-Loubet.

Her journey, she said, had been fueled by just one goal: to stand in solidarity with local Muslims after dozens of resorts in the French riviera banned the burkini, a kind of full-body swimsuit, earlier this summer.

The burkini ban in Villeneuve-Loubet was overruled in August by the country’s top administrative court. But that, as footage of Alshelh’s time in the resort town shows, did not stop beachgoers from chasing her away and threatening her with police action.

“I just wanted to see it for myself. I just wanted to see what is going on here,” Alshelh told Channel 7, an Australian TV network that filmed her experience on the French beach. “Why is this happening? I wanted to speak to the girls that have gone through all this stuff. Hopefully [there’s something] we can do to help these girls just live a normal life.”

France Is Not Alone (29/08/16)

If I had been in London yesterday, I would have gone along to support the 'wear what you want' (WWYW) protest outside the French Embassy. 

Because for me it's an issue about freedom of expression and despite the terrible Islamist atrocities in France recently this is a time for cool heads - not demonising Muslims.

But I have also been in touch with the organisers of the 'wear what you want' event to ask when and if they intend taking their protest to the Saudi and Iranian embassies - countries where women are unable to say, do or wear what they like, of course.  

In the Islamic theocracy of Saudi Arabia a woman is not even allowed to go to the beach without a male escort, never mind wear what they like, yet women are permitted to operate vacuum cleaners and washing machines, but are prevented from driving a car or travelling on their own. 

So I hope the WWYW campaign is not just another anti-western leftist campaign because that would be very sad and terribly hypocritical to boot. 

Read the report below in The Guardian.

Burkini ban protesters throw beach party at French embassy in London

Demonstrators sport burkinis and park deck chairs, lilos and makeshift sand outside French embassy 

Image result for burkini ban protest + guardian images

Burkini ban protesters stage beach party outside French embassy in London

By Alice Ross - The Guardian

Demonstrators have staged an impromptu beach party complete with sand, deck chairs and a lobster-shaped lilo outside the French embassy in London to protest against burkini bans that have become law in many French coastal towns and cities.

Under the bemused gaze of the embassy’s armed police officers, some protesters sported burkinis – swimsuits that cover the wearer’s whole body, including her hair – or swimsuits, while others threw beach balls at the lunchtime protest.

Shortly after midday, a van pulled up and deposited several sacks of sand, to the consternation of police officers. The 40 or so protesters set up deck chairs and brandished placards among a scrum of journalists. 

— CaoimheMc (@CaoimheMMC) August 25, 2016

'Aslef of Arabia' (29/12/11)

A number of readers have been in touch to ask where the 'We the Women' picture came from - to accompany the post about women drivers - dated 27 December 2011.

Well  it comes from people campaigning in Saudi Arabia - against the ban on women driving cars and other motor vehicles - public or private.

According to the Saudi authorities it's against Islamic teaching that women should drive cars - never mind trains - it's against the law of the land.

Any women caught doing so - by the religious police - are liable to be severely punished.

But all hope is not lost - because people are fighting back - with courage, wit and humour.

By arguing that it's ridiculous and even anti-Islamic - to suggest that God somehow proclaimed that women can't drive.

'We the Women' is their campaign slogan.

And the campaigners think of all kinds of ways to illustrate how crazy it is - to ordain that women can use washing machines or mobile phone or computers - but not cars (or trains for that matter).

Some women have taken to dressing up in male clothes and wearing false moustaches - to ridicule the authorities - but as the law stand women still need a man to drive them around.

Apparently a father, brother, son - or just about any old male relative will do - which seems bizarre.

Now to look at the statistics on the number of women train drivers in this country - or the number of women members in Aslef - you'd be forgiven for thinking that God had made a similar proclamation in the UK.

But thankfully no one believes that kind of nonsense in this country.

So maybe 'We the Women' will catch on in the UK - maybe even deep in the bowels of the still male dominated parts of the UK trade union movement. 

I for one hope so - anyway.