Hizb ut-Tahrir Women Protest French Veil Ban
Around 80 Muslim women from Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain came with a letter to the French Ambassador and held a rally on the pavement outside the Knightsbridge Embassy today protesting the French parliament decision to ban Islamic face veils. London, UK. 25/09/2010
The women, accompanied by a number of young children, were directed by police to a narrow pen on the edge of the busy road, as the traffic-free area in front of the embassy and the gate to Hyde Park is apparently private property.
The French decision, ratified by the Senate on September 14th, is not actually specific to Muslim women, but prohibits the wearing any kind of full-face covering in public places, including all government offices, hospitals, public transport and on the street. The law, which passed the Senate by 246 votes to 1, will not come into force for six months during which time French constitutional judges will examine it and could strike it out. Although it prohibits all face coverings, it was clearly mainly aimed at Muslim women who wear the niqab or burkha.
Very few French Muslim women will be affected as neither niqab or burkha is popular in France, and the head scarves worn my most of them are not affected by the ban. Outside of Paris full-face veils are rare and mainly worn by visitors to the country; some estimates suggest that of France’s 2 or 3 million Muslim women only around 2000 wear such veils.
The women attending the demonstration made it clear that they did not feel oppressed or cut off from society by wearing a veil (although very few had chosen to do so for this event, with almost all wearing scarves that covered their hair but left their faces uncovered) and that if they wore one it was not because they were forced to do so by their husbands. The French law lays down a fine of 150 euros for wearing a veil, but several hundred times that for anyone forcing another person to wear one.
A steady stream of people walked past the demonstration including quite a few Muslim women, probably on their way to shops such as Harrods. A rather higher proportion of them were wearing burkhas, but perhaps surprisingly they all seemed to ignore the demonstration that was taking place.
There was a certain awkwardness in some of the slogans that the women chanted:
‘While Sarcozy claims to liberate
Muslim women he subjugates.’
‘We Muslim women will expose
the impotent values you try to impose’
‘We reject your values, We accept Islam
You ban the niqab, We call for Islam.’
‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
Oppression , intolerance and hypocrisy.’
The placards seemed mainly to be directed against ‘Liberal Values’, making statements such as ‘Liberal Values = Forced Assimilation’ and ‘Liberal Values Lose the Debate’ and ‘Muslim Women Reject Liberal Values’. Another, ‘Tolerant Secularism Bans Veil’ was more directly related to the French decision.
Speakers at the event castigated the French government for taking a measure which they felt limited the freedom of women to make decisions on what they wear while at the same time ignoring issues that degrade and oppress women – such as domestic violence, and “the objectification and sexualisation of women’s bodies in pornography, lap-dancing clubs, advertising, and the entertainment industry, all permitted under the premise of freedom of expression and driven by the pursuit of profit in Western societies.”
While the failure of Western societies to deal with these social problems may be deplorable, it seems to me to have little real connection with the ban on wearing veils. France has a long tradition of upholding liberty and of maintaining religious freedom while opposing the power of clerics to limit the freedom of others. Maintaining a secular society doesn’t conflict the the general right of anyone to practice their religion, although it may well involve banning certain manifestations of it. Being a liberal and secular society doesn’t necessarily mean giving free rein to the exploitation of women or others for profit. We can oppose these without wanting to impose the kind of restrictions that groups such as Hizb Ut Tahrir advocate.