The French do not understand secularism

The French senate voted 246 to 1, with about 100 abstentions from mostly protesting left-wing parties, to ban face-covering Islamic headdress.

As an atheist with humanist pretensions, I have to describe this sort of secularism impoverished of tolerance worse than useless. It will almost certainly retard the assimilation of Muslim immigrants most of its proponents want to encourage. Muslims will recognize the arbitrariness with which they have been singled out, and respond with the same fear and distrust that they have been met with. Jihadist goons will use the law to indict the West as a whole, swaying more of their undecided kinsmen closer to their own position, or at least away from appreciating democratic ideals. This plays into their narrative.

The Eiffel Tower has already received a bomb threat; I can’t believe that is a coincidence.


“Otherness is the challenge that Europe never mastered”

Leon Wieseltier on France’s burqa ban:

Where the face is covered, ethics cannot exist. I have been pondering all this again on the occasion of “the bill to forbid covering one’s face in public,” or the anti-burqa measure recently passed by the National Assembly in France. It has been defended on grounds of human rights. France, declared its minister of justice, “does not accept attacks on human dignity. It does not tolerate the abuse of vulnerable people.” Uh-huh. I confess that I am watching the French struggle with the distinction between Islam and Islamism—I mean the French who are struggling with it at all—with a certain malicious delight. Is the distinction really so slippery? When did France become the homeland of l’Autre, naturally tolerant and welcoming to cultures unlike its own? (The philosophy of Levinas was, among other things, a prophetic castigation of France.) And the same question may be asked of other European societies whose suspicion of, or hostility to, the Muslims in their midst has a foul familiar air. Otherness is the challenge that Europe never mastered. (I apologize for the gross historical generalization, but I have been immersed in Jordi Savall’s monumental reconstruction in music of the Cathars and their destruction.) And now, to fight Islamism in France, the power of the state, the frightened state, is being used to forbid the free practice of religion. It is of course shocking to encounter a person in a burqa, as it is to encounter a person tattooed from head to toe: it is a mutilation of personhood. But by what right does the state intervene? If some Muslim women are forced into their hideous sartorial prison, the state will not relieve them, and the Muslim men who are solicitous of their humanity, of the need to dissent and to rebel—of the rupture of modernization, which can only occur within, as it did in Christianity and Judaism; and if many Muslim women cover themselves consensually, the state should leave them be. Intolerance is a poor security policy. Moreover, the face is not all it’s cracked up to be. The face may be manifest but deceptive, and no disclosure at all; or it may disclose anger and hatred and violence. A visible face may be more dangerous than an invisible one. I am thinking of nineteen faces in particular.

Five female anchors walk off Al-Jazeera over wardrobe remarks

Via NY Daily News:

Five female newscasters have walked out on their Al-Jazeera anchor positions after the Quatar-based company criticized them for their “clothes and decency,” according to the UK Daily Mail.

The fracas allegedly occurred after the women repeatedly appeared on television wearing make-up and not covering their hair. Al-Jazeera claims they have the right to enforce a dress code that reflects their “spirit and principles.” The women also said that deputy editor-in-chief Ayman Jaballah made ‘offensive remarks’ about them and their choice of dress. The journalists (Joumana Nammour, Lina Zahr al-Din, Jullinar Mousa, Luna al-Shibl and Nawfar Afli) are well-respected in the region and have seen an outpouring of support from bloggers.

Women and Islam Week this week

Via an email forwarded by Marquette Empowerment, a schedule of events for the occassion. (These should at least be interesting workshops; but it must be said that The Word Warrior’s or an individual contributor’s reporting of an event or events does not constitute an endorsement of said event[s] or the views expressed thereat.):

MONDAY, October 26th

 7 pm–Islam’s Heroines, AMU 407

This will be a lecture given by a local community member from the Islamic Society of Milwaukee concerning the many strong and influential women during the life of Muhammad, and their impact and importance during the early history of Islam. Ethnic refreshments will be served. 

 TUESDAY, October 27th

12:30 pm–Hijab How-to Workshop, AMU 407

We will have a presentation/how to workshop on wrapping the hijab (headscarf) in preparation for Hijab-for-a-Day on Wednesday. We will have girls wearing different styles of wraps, and discuss how it is done and what goes with the wearing of this particular garment.

6 pm–Love, Marriage, and Chocolate, Raynor Conference Rooms

Have you ever wondered what marriage and love is really like in Islam? We will have a young couple and an older couple come in to demonstrate what successful marriages are like in Islam,  and to address the attitude of Muhammad (PBUH) toward his wives, and the relationship of Adam and the Eve, the first human couple ever to exist. Chocolate sweets and coffee will be served. 

WEDNESDAY, October 28th

HIJAB FOR A DAY–All day, Marquette Campus!! [sic]

Try to wear hijab for a day! Experience what it feels like to dress as a Muslim, and what the wearing of the hijab represents.

 7 pm–My Body, My Right, AMU 407

What does modesty mean in different religions? Why is it important? Come find out and share your experiences! We will have a panel of MU professors who will address the concept of modesty and the body in various theologies. Afterwards, you will have a chance to share your thoughts regarding your experience wearing hijab for the day. Refreshments will be served.

 THURSDAY, October 29th

6 pm–Muslim Women in the Workplace, AMU 407

Come listen to a panel various Muslim women professionals as they discuss their experiences in fields such as nursing, psychiatry, and medicine. Soup and rolls will be served.

 FRIDAY, October 30th

 8 pm–Spoken Word Performance, AMU 227

Muslim spoken word artist Tasleem Jamila Firdausee will be coming to perform and to discuss her experiences as a Muslim female in art.

Sudanese woman faces 40 lashes for wearing pants in public

And she wore the offending pants to her court hearing. That is what a feminist looks like:

There were chaotic scenes as Lubna Hussein, a former journalist who works for the United Nations, attended the hearing wearing the same green slacks that got her arrested for immodest dress. Indecency cases are not uncommon in Sudan. But Ms. Hussein has attracted attention by publicizing her case, inviting journalists to hearings and using it to campaign against dress codes sporadically imposed in the capital.

The case was adjourned as lawyers discussed whether her status as a UN employee gave her legal immunity.

After the hearing, defence lawyer Nabil Adib Abdalla said Ms. Hussein had agreed to resign from the United Nations in time for the next session on Aug. 4 to make sure the case continued. “First of all she wants to show she is totally innocent, and using her immunity will not prove that,” Mr. Abdalla told reporters. “Second she wants to fight the law. The law is too wide. It needs to be reformed … This is turning into a test case. Human rights groups will be watching this closely.”

He said Ms. Hussein was ready to face the maximum penalty for the criminal offence of wearing indecent dress in public, which was 40 lashes and an unlimited fine.

There’s a poll on the website. Eight percent of the respondants think she should take the punishment:

She broke the law of the country. It is not for the UN to solve.

An observation

I was going into the AMU to find some food, and passed an exiting student in hijab; headscarf, long sleeves and jacket, ankle-length floral print skirt–and flip-flops.

Would that footwear be permissable acording to Islamic guidelines? It’s always been my understanding that hijab was meant to cover all hair and skin, except that on the face and hands (at least). 

If it’s not technically within Quranic guidelines, I was almost tempted to say, “Good for her,” until I realized how small a consolation open-toed shoes must be when you still draw distrusting attention to yourself everywhere you go for wearing hot and constricting garments that are supposed to express modesty.

Update: I normally would have put this in the comments, but we seem to be attracting new commentors, so I don’t want to bury their notifications in the comments queue to the left. I realize my attempts a humor, in context, were rather offensive; my effort to cultivate a spirit of spontenaeity and lightness that characterize most blogs rather failed. I apologize.

(Yet in offering apology and removal of the most subjectively egregious passages, I do not mean to privilege Islam over other professions [of faith]; though regular readers will recognize a trend of critiquing public arguments with religious dimensions, I attempt to remain level-headed, and not reducing myself to sarcasm or  dismissive-ness. The Word Warrior reserves the discretion to offend, yet I strive to avoid offense for the sake of offense, but instead try to elicit the discomfort which springs from having to reexamine a conception of what is reasonable and good and evil. Nothing is more opposed to this than jokes at the expense of another’s value, if for no other reason because humans are emotivist in their deliberations, more likely to entrench themselves in a mocked position than recognize the possibility of its absurdity. Should I oppose something here, I must endeavor not to devolve into sarcasm* and mockery, but give the most succinct and valid reasons.)**

(It is a queer thing that argumentation is commonly thought of as a wrench prying people apart, when it is an edeavor by both parties to bring the other closer to their own way of thinking. Argument, when conducted with sincerity, honesty and detachment, is an attempt to reconciliation strife and error, to bring the world closer to a more perfect expression of truth. In this sense, arguement is a holy act. and For this blasphemy onto myself, I apologize to you all.)

I never meant to imply that the hijab was, in of itself, a vessel for oppression–though this has certainly been the case in Taliban-era Afghanistan and contemporary Iran, Saudi Arabia, and others. The last paragraph of the pre-update post was meant as a reflection of the difficulty of wearing hijab in a Western environment which, if not quietly hostile to it, is at least misunderstanding of the tradition.


*The lowest form of wit.

**I foresee myself being accused of carping to political correctness for doing a takes-backsies on comments about Islamic practice in poor taste; I think of it more as a carping to a critical but decent civility I find lacking in political discourse. And my record of willingness to criticize evil with Islamic [rationalizations/motivations] should speak for itself.

Liveblogging my hijab-wearing

Woke up this morning, fixed up my hijab in record speed, but was late to class anyway (as per usual). I was late because I was [ironically] paying more attention to what I looked like today.

I walked speedily to class and ran into one other person wearing the hijab. Cool to see. I thought about how I didn’t feel like I was dressing any more conservatively than usual. I was also thinking: is this in any way sacrilegious? Not wearing the hijab for religious reasons, that is.

I got to class, sat down, and then realized how hot I was. Running up 4 flights of stairs does that, I guess. But all I wanted to do was take my headscarf off.

We talked about cross-cultural communication in my 10 a.m. Of course it was a very surface discussion, but it was still cool that I could reflect on my experiences this day within my class. I even discussed my hijab-wearing in class discussion. Plus one!

Well, time for my 11 o’clock. Will update throughout the day!

UPDATE: It’s 1:30 pm. I’m at work and have a couple more observations about my day so far.

A few people so far haven’t recognized me. I walked into work and was asked “Can I help you?” It was cute. A couple people have asked me how my day has been going, as well. People seem to be interested and I like having the opportunity to talk to them about my hijab-wearing.

Some sort of technical things I’ve noticed: I seem to have reduced mobility in being able to turn my head. I don’t want to ruin my supreme wrapping skills, so I’ve kinda been moving slowly.  (I think that’s just my own weirdness, though). Also, I’ve been going back and forth between feeling comforted and feeling constricted while wearing my hijab. Gives me something to think about. 

In my second class today I had a moment of epiphany where I was truly thankful to be able to live somewhere where I could dress how I liked without interference of the law.

For me today, this is a sort of political statement and a cultural immersion experience/reflection and not a religious statement of any sort (except for maybe in the religious tolerance sense). I wonder what the relationship is between hijab wearing as a religious statement and it as a social/political statement, especially for “Western” Islamic women who choose to cover themselves. 

Also, I forgot to add this in my first update–the first thing one of my roommates said to me this morning when I was putting on my hijab was something to the effect of  “isn’t this in conflict with your feminist sentiments?” and I’m so happy she said that. Way to go, K. for picking up some feminist cues!

UPDATE: It’s around 4 p.m. Done with class for the day. Had an feminist existential crisis about an hour ago. What was I doing? Isn’t this such an obvious symbol of female oppression? I really felt this cognitive urge to take off  my hijab. But alas, it is still on. And I still have a lot to think about.

UPDATE: The time is now 9 p.m. and I have successfully completed hijab-for-a-day. It was overall a really good experience. I attended the outspoken event at 6 p.m. but unfortunately could only stay until 7 or so. I think we had a pretty good discussion (at least for the part that I witnessed) and I’ll look forward to writing about it later!