By Rady Ananda
What France has done with its ban on the face veil is deem protection from a statistically remote threat (terrorists dressing in veils) superior to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of dissent. The excuse of national security is not supported by the facts, so what can be the real reason for the ban?
At the Doha Debate on the ban (video here), panelists explore most of the pro-con issues. Some see the veil ban as part of a wider European move by far right extremists to attack and marginalize Islam. Indeed, the two pro-ban advocates on the panel cite national security — code for imperial domination. Once again, radical Islam is responsible for terror.
In reality, the US and its allies are the biggest purveyors of terror, attacking Middle East nations in violation of international law, creating false flag attacks, using weapons of mass destruction, kidnapping and torture, and using remote controlled drones that kill more civilians than opposition forces. The demonization of Islam justifies stealing the natural resources of these nations. The veil ban is easily seen as part of authoritarian fear mongering to demonize a tiny segment of the population to support the wider aims of global hegemony.
That’s one reason that makes sense, anyway. Before getting to another, let’s consider the reasons actually given by proponents of the ban.
French politician Jacques Myard’s pro-ban argument citing gender equality may seem progressive on its face. The veil, also known as a niqab, is only worn by women, so how dare any one religion treat its women differently? Just look at how many female Catholic priests there are.
His argument also loses merit when another debate panelist points out the rampant marginalization of all women in French society. British journalist Mehdi Hasan lists statistics showing how few women are represented in powerful positions in France: 20% of French parliament is female, 30% of the cabinet is female, 12% of the boards of leading French companies are women, and no woman has ever been president of France.
Only 1,900 French women wear a veil. That’s one-tenth of a percent of French Muslim women, and three-thousandths of a percent of the entire French population. Hasan asks, why not address these larger examples of misogyny rather than the practices of a small minority?
Because male dominance too often results in violence against women, Myard’s assertion that the veil can hide black eyes (and acid burns) is plausible. But, if French authorities truly seek to stop domestic violence by exposing its victims’ wounds, where is the ban on make-up and sunglasses? Abuse victims routinely use both to hide fat lips and black eyes. Can you imagine French women (or the cosmetics industry) accepting a ban on make-up?
Double standard aside, a niqab can hide not only evidence of abuse, but also the wearer’s identity. Canadian journalist Farzana Hassan supports the veil ban on grounds of national security, mentioning “bank robberies and suicide bombings across the world” by veil wearers. Under questioning, she was unable to give a single example or cite any statistics in support of this claim, however.
To ban clothing because it may hide a crime exemplifies police state mentality. And where will this lead? Will falsies, wigs and toupes be banned because they change physical appearance? For reasons of national security, will elites eventually decree that we all should be naked in case someone has a bomb strapped to their chest? Criminals often use cars, cell phones, and friends in the commission of crimes. Will they ban these, too?
Hassan also characterizes the face veil as symbolic of radical extremism, an idea fermented in extreme prejudice and religious intolerance. Might as well lump swamis, monks and nuns in with veil-clad Muslim women. All of them reject society on some level. All of them dress differently. And many change their names and appearance.
She joins Myard in seeing the niqab as a refusal to integrate in French society, preferring to withdraw from it. “It is the common standard of citizenship” to show one’s face in public, Myard said. Really? It may be a common practice, but where was it previously written that citizenship is dependent on showing one’s face in public? The Justice Minister apparently also said that a face-covering veil “is against social order.” But how does a veil cause disorder? No one satisfactorily answered this question posed by the moderator.
Instead, political homogenization and rejection of diversity are raised under the guise of national security. In order for society to be secure, the argument goes, everyone must think alike, dress alike and behave alike. Tightly structured social order might work for bees (and other insects), but not humans (nor most mammals). We are genetically driven to diversity, to expressing individualism, to asserting separateness and distinction from others. Distinction is often the winning ploy in our mating rituals.
Other arguments opposing the ban raised by panelists serve to confirm that the official reasons given for it do not make sense. The ban sacrifices far too much of the common good (human rights and civil liberties) on the meager chance a terrorist will use a face veil to facilitate an attack.
Let’s admit that a covered face would render police-state street cameras nearly useless. In this context, free people can and should support the right to travel in public anonymously. And given the absurdity of the national security argument, perhaps this is closer to the real reason French autocrats ban the veil.
The veil ban is more likely a move to facilitate domestic surveillance, and it also serves to continue Western demonization of Islam to justify its invasion of Muslim nations.