Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The niqab, or how Europe lost its mind over a small piece of cloth.

The nation of Belgium, after a short delay, passed a law banning the wearing of the Muslim face veil or the burqa in this tiny European state. Thus did a small section of the Ummah become one of the few things the constantly squabbling Belgians come to agreement. The Flemish and Walloons may not have much love for one another but they do join together in their greater antipathy for the Muslim minority.

Crashing into the party is Italy which just nailed a Muslim Lass five hundred euro for her lack of fashion sense. That is a little more than six hundred forty U.S. dollars for walking while Islamic. To add insult to injury her husband will now shutter her indoors lest she be seen by other men.

La Belle France is next up in line for a little Burqa bashing. How simple clothing could cause such a furor is an odd thing. It has become a penultimate symbol, a Rorschach test revealing much larger obsessions, and assumptions not only in Europe but in the "Enlightened West."

The logic, such as it is, for the niqab is rather straight forward for the followers of the Last Prophet of God; it is to reflect a pious desire for female modesty. It is, as far as can be understood by someone with little grounding in the faith of Islam, piety and a wee bit more. Female modesty in Islam does require the wearing of the hijab. The niqab is supposed to be voluntary.

Muslim female dress is a matter of covering up the naughty bits. These naughty bits, called the Awrah or Aurat cover a substantial amount of epidermis in Muslimahs. In point of fact any hint of skin or female protuberances is frowned upon. Interpretation varies from area to area but the ideal seems to be a form not much different than a self-propelled sack of potatoes. Adding a further crimp to the proceeding is that this form is supposed to be escorted at all times by a male family member. It is argued, by the Koran, that this is necessary lest the men folk blow a gasket from all the lustful thoughts that may accrue if these instructions are not carried to the letter. Somehow the women folk have a higher tolerance of awrah exposure than the males since the acceptable male exposure covers (or should we say uncovers) many more square centimeters of surface area than the female. As religious theorems go, it makes about as much sense as the Orthodox Christian notion of the Trinity. If you want hard and fast logic, study Boolean algebra, not religion.

All these notions are a matter of faith. They are a part of a divinely reviled way of life. This is the path to salvation as written by God (or more properly Allah) and passed down to the final prophet without error. The notions of female modesty are as much part of the warp and woof of Islam as the Mass is a part of the warp and woof of Roman Catholicism.

It is with the Catholic Mass that we can, if inexpertly, try to understand Muslim notions of piety. If hijab is analogous to the weekly mass in the Catholic faith, then the niqab might be understood as the daily mass some Roman Catholics attend. The link is that both are observances that are not required, but are encouraged in the pious. Just as pious Catholics demonstrate their faith by attending daily mass, pious Muslimahs demonstrate their faith by the wearing of the niqab. From a civil liberties perspective the banning of the niqab makes about as much sense as forcing hamburgers on devout Catholics during the Lenten season.

This obsession about the niqab makes even less sense when one considers the small number of females actually dashing about in them. France claims that perhaps a whopping one thousand women are so attired in the entire nation. In a population that is over sixty-five million, one thousand of that number is a micro-percentage, not even a rounding error to be totally honest. Exactly how is this miniscule cohort such a threat to the domestic tranquility of La Belle France that a law must be passed?

The counter argument is that numbers are immaterial; these women are being oppressed by their religion. Never mind some of the actual women in question fiercely reject such notions. Never mind their claim that their dress is an expression of their desire to be closer to Allah, an expression of their desire for a purer, more chaste life; they are obviously brain-washed stooges of a patriarchal religion who have been forced into this by retrograde clerics. Heads I win; tails you lose.

Lost in all this hyperventilation is the idea of freedom of conscience. If a Muslimah truly wants to wear this garb due an honest desire toward piety; the government should get out of her grill. But if this costume is being forced on her by another person; whether they are father, brother, uncle, mother, sister, Imam or husband, that is also out of bounds. Simple rule: your freedom to swing your fists ends at my nose. A woman bundled up in a burka is not prima facia evidence of oppression, nor is it evidence of sanctity. The only thing that is certain is that it is evidence of a rather uncomfortable woman out in public on a hot summer's day.

All of this seems to be a fine distraction from the serious business at hand. Unexamined is exactly why so many of the Islamic faithful remain unassimilated into the French nation. Nobody really wants to deal with nasty fact that the suburbs are chock-a-block full of disposed Maghreb migrants and other people from the former Colonial Empire who have become part of a permanent underclass. There is more than enough oppression by the state, and by some of the individuals residing there, to warrant concern and action by the appropriate authorities. The crass realities on the ground make a mockery of French notions of egalite. After all if things were so hunky dory for the residents of the immigrant suburbs, they would not be rioting and setting fire to them, would they?

Instead of going to the core of the issue, Europeans of all political persuasions would rather go off on tangents. One side gets all frothy over the sight of Muslimahs doing the burka bop; whilst the other gets all moonbatty over half-baked notions of inclusion. Neither party seems to have the remotest desire to think critically. One party seems to want to return to a France that existed sometime before Algeria became Independent. The other party seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that a small cohort of the Islamic faithful truly are misogynistic, misanthropic, antediluvian troglodytes who want to reverse the results of the battle of Pointers (or as they prefer ma'arakat Balâṭ ash-Shuhadâ.)
Multiculturalism was just another way the elites could let the issue of assimilation fester. It had the double barrel advantage of allowing both avoidance of the issue, and making its practitioners feel so righteous about their negligence. Of course it all blew up when a miniscule minority of the Ummah went totally insane over some silly Danish cartoons. When harmless cartoons are the cause of attempted ax murders, it is proof positive that something is rotten in Denmark.

What is particularly distressing is how the results of these anti- niqab and anti-burka laws end up furthering the very misogyny that they a supposed to be opposing. There is a sneaking feeling that in many cases this is a lot less about women's rights and more about immigrant bashing and Islamophobia. The Muslimah that got fined in Italy just happened to reside in an area where the anti-immigrant Italian Political Party the Northern League has its base. One wonders if these three nations of Belgium, Italy, and France would be so concerned for woman's rights if these followers of Islam were from good Nordic stock; instead of more swarthy Tunisians, Algerians, Turks, etc. The cloying, rotting smell of bigotry wafts from these policy proposals. Why is the main objection about women's attire? I see no movement, like Peter the Great did in Russia, to enforce a clean shaven appearance among the male citizens of these three nations. There is not even a beard tax under discussion.

From a civil libertarian view point these burkah bans do not pass the smell test. Not only do they stink of racial and religious bigotry they also have the heavy stench of misogyny. Not that the opponents of these laws are covering themselves in glory; the muddle-headed multiculturalism is less of a principled stand and more of an unprincipled nihilism. Every culture, every nation has core values. One of the greatest of these the West gave to the world was secularism. Tightly wound in this notion is the idea of the individual, and the rights of that unique person. Too many died in securing these rights for them to be tossed into the rubbish bin by indolent posers mau-mauing some wooly-minded notion of Political Correctness. Cultural and moral relativism are the Devil's road to ruination; they are a unilateral disarmament towards evil.

It would be best if France and other European countries stop obsessing over trivia like the Islamic dress code and deal with actual problem of immigrant assimilation. It would be handy if they came to an honest consensus about what citizenships really means. It would be beneficial if they abandoned the toxic notion of multiculturalism and the cultural relativism that supports it. It is past time they rediscover the classical Liberal notions of human freedom that emerged from the age of reason.

There is no shame in truly defending the right of every human to achieve self-actualization. The shame comes from hypocritical posturing about "women's rights" when actually one is actually going after those same women because they are such a powerless and easy target. The shame is using these women as pawns to push a larger political agenda; whether it is an agenda of the left or right.