Saturday, January 23, 2010

Burgha or Hijab: Still a Hot Issue

In 2004, when the controversial debate on the Islamic covering in France took a new turn and a bill bannig the covering in educational institutions was introduced by Jacques Chirac the President of the French Republic, I wrote a letter to him in the capacity of the Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I reminded him of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the  Human Rights Charter and noted that choosing ones way of dress and religious freedoms should not be undermined in a secular Republic that claims to cherish these values. I objected to the French government's approach on the Hijab and noted that this policy was not in line with his claims to support cultural diversity in the Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. There was a general feeling that Muslims were stigmatized in France and that Islamophobia which was on the rise after 9-11, had much to do with these legislative measures.
The ongoing debate on identity and Hijab has now taken a new twist to include a strict ban on  the Burgha or Neghab in all public spheres. I was watching a live debate last night on France24 where politicians from a wide spectrum including the Socialist Party that opposed Sarkozy were on the panel. The socialists were against the bill and along with Amel Boubeker a sociologist residing in Beirut and a religious expert from Reuters they  questioned the rationale backing this controversial bill .
Although the Burgha is a rare and extreme form of Hijab and many Muslim scholars do not approve of this type of covering which seriously restricts the social participation of women, the Sarkozy approach on this matter, depicting it as a symbol of suppression and themselves as the saviours and protectors of women's rights is unacceptable. The ruling party in France sees the Burgha as an insult to the dignity and freewill of the women, while at the same time the extreme manifestations of nudity and pornographic material in public sphere is disregared and the general commodification of women is ignored. Extreme behaviours are usually a reaction to other excesses in society , the Burgha  may be the  manifestation of denial in face of a culture that promotes promiscuity and commodifies women for the sake of the profits of the corporate market.
In any case the issue of Hijab in other European countries and in countries like Turkey and Tunisia is an  emerging social and political issue indicative of a vibrant Muslim society attempting to regain the identity they lost decades ago. Pressures in Iran against women who resisted the full Hijab also created another social debate in Iran which ultimately added to social discontent in contemporary times. 
Stereotypes against Muslim women and equating the Hijab with the subordination and oppression of women are stigmas of the past. We need to change our approach and direction in proportion with the growing awareness and sense of identity among women in our societies.


ArMaNd said...

Ms. Ebtekar,

While I agree that France is pursuing a double-faced policy, I must ask: When a Western woman visits Iran, will *she* be allowed to practice her religion freely - in public, that is - and dress the way *she* chooses, reflecting *her* society, culture and values? I am afraid not. That is why while I agree in principle it is wrong for Western countries to deny individuals – Muslim or other – the right to free speech, which includes wearing the hijab, I find it hard to stomach criticism of the policy from those speaking from countries where universal, freedom of expression of the individual is *not* allowed.


Sedaye Iran said...

"I reminded him of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Human Rights Charter and noted that choosing ones way of dress and religious freedoms should not be undermined"

Can the author please clarify her position on the fundamental freedoms of Iranian women who do not enjoy such basic human luxuries as being able to choose their "way of dress" and some of whom do not have the right to freely practice and identify with their religion?

The Hypocrisy in this article is astounding. While I do not agree with the French interference in such private matters I do not see how a representative of a government who endorses the same discrimination and tramples on the rights of its own citizens at home can have any right to criticise the actions of other countries in this regard.

Ms Ebtekar, I invite you to look at some of your own actions in the past and ask you to explain your double standards. As one of the radical students occupying the American embassy in 79, you explained your decision to capture the hostages as a response to the hypocrisy of the American government who used democratic rhetoric while acting undemocratically in the International arena and specially in Iran. In your minds they American government treated its own citizens one way and the citizens of another country in another way. With this in mind, can you then explain how you can participate in and defend a regime that also has different standards for its own citizens and those of other countries.

Ms Ebtekar, your resolve to defend the rights of the French Muslims would have been admirable had your silence about the ways in which the rights of Iranian Women are trampled on every day not been so hypocritical. No one with an ounce of intelligence and wisdom can take you seriously as the defender of the rights of minority groups and women. The irony here is that with the implementation of policies which allow the state to dictate what a woman can and cant wear in public the French Republic is becoming more, not less, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, considering this I really do not understand why you object to such policies.

Sedaye Iran