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.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gaining Momentum

Events have again gained momentum in Iran. Following the tragic events of Ashura, in Tehran and other cities, I spoke in the Tehran City Council. The Government media had embarked on a campaign to accuse people who were protesting on Ashura of inciting unrest and insecurity and insulting religious values in the capital.  I noted in my speech that the people of Tehran had not insulted religious values and had nothing to do with any attack on public property. They were however brutally attacked that day and the day before in Jamaran the home of the Founder of the Revolution, Imam Khomeini , I pointed out. Mir Hossein Mousavi , whose nephew had been killed that day , issued his 17th  statement presenting a road map that would bring an end to the current stalemate. This statement has been  taken very seriously by moderate politicians in the current government as well as others. Many groups announced their readiness to follow his policy guidelines to prevent further violence and bloodshed and to hold those responsible for these events accountable. The state -run radio and television which holds a bad reputation for presenting a distorted and  one-sided approach of the events during these months, is attempting to open the atmosphere to more criticism by inviting moderate or pro-reformist figures to speak out on these issues and present the realities to the people.
The assassination of a prominent academician and physicist , in Tehran on Tuesday , has however prompted serious concern due to the sophisticated nature of the bombing plot and the implications this event could have for the political and social scene in Iran. Many analysts believe that the killing of Dr. Alimohammadi  , who was according to colleagues and students a practicing Muslim and Green by all means, is an indication of a new trend of violence in Iran. Whether rooted in the plots of foreign and Zionist intelligence agencies or rooted in internal strife, the event is to be condemned and lessons must be learnt.
We are a multi-ethnic and diverse society in Iran, extreme religious principalists and moderate reformists must live together in Iran and learn to share power and to respect each other within the  social economic and political rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
The widening gaps in Iranian society are a threat to peace, prosperity and development in Iran. Generational gaps, ideological gaps, political gaps and economic gaps can be envisioned as both threat and opportunity for our society. The reformist movement was created with the hope of respecting this  diversity in the Iranian society and providing equal opportunity for all to realize their God given potentials.