London 25th September 2010 – Women from across London converged today at a protest outside the French embassy to voice their strong opposition to the divisive and discriminatory French law banning face veils from all public spaces in the country.
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz, Women’s Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain delivered the first talk in which she highlighted that the attack on the burqa and niqab in various Western countries exposed the failings of secular liberalism. She discussed how religious dress-code bans have criminalised and secluded Muslim women from society, stripped them of basic rights, deprived women of determining their own convictions in life, and increased the prejudice, abuse, and discrimination they face in society – all in the name of protecting secular liberal values. She stressed that it was such attacks against the Islamic dress that had shifted Muslim women into second class status rather than the veil or Islam. She also highlighted how in reality it was capitalist liberal values that have allowed the objectification and sexualisation of women in advertising, entertainment, pornography, and the sex industry under the premise of liberal freedoms – all of which that had enslaved, devalued, and dehumanised women rather than dress codes that are expressions of modesty.
Her talk also discussed how the French hijab and niqab bans are reflective of the failure of Western secular liberalism to accommodate the rights of religious minorities and create harmonious community relationships. Such bans demonstrated that Western freedoms and equalities are exclusive to those who tow the secular line and consequently challenge all notions of the universality of the ideology and its claim to champion tolerant, civilized society. She highlighted the cut throat nature of secular politics that had allowed politicians to use attacks on the veil as an electioneering tool to secure a few racist votes. Such cheap political opportunism had fanned the flames of racism and created division between communities – not the veil.
Finally she emphasized how veil and hijab bans are a symbol of failure of Western governments to intellectually convince Muslim women of the secular liberal way of life. That they were desperate attempts at ‘forced secular conversion’ by desperate governments trying to stem the overwhelming tide of Muslim women rejecting Western values and turning to Islam as their spiritual, social, and political path in life. She challenged Western politicians and governments to engage in open debate about the true causes of women’s oppression instead of hiding behind women’s clothing. She argued that for them to fail to do so was reflective of the fact that when it came to a battle of ideas with Islam, Western secular liberalism was unable to rise to the challenge.
Sultana Parvin, the Deputy Women’s Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain delivered the second talk in which she addressed how Muslim women should respond to this attack on their Islamic dress. She began by discussing how the attack on the niqab affects all Muslim women – those who wear the garment and those who do not – since it is an attack on Islam and its values rather than simply a piece of cloth. She explained how the veil is simply the latest chapter in the vilification of Islamic practices, values and symbols that includes attacks on mosques, the Prophet(saw) and the Quran. She stressed that regardless of whether Muslim women chose to wear the niqab or not, insults against Islam by Western secular politicians and governments would continue. As such, Muslims should not support or show indifference to calls for veil bans based upon difference of views on the religious significance of the veil, nor allow the issue to become a source of division in the Muslim community, hence strengthening the hand of those who seek to attack Islam.
She went on to discuss that Muslims must respond in 2 ways to this attack. Firstly, by holding onto their Islamic values and not compromising their beliefs regardless of the intensity of pressures. Secondly, by raising a debate within society as to the best way by which to organise society. She stressed that Muslims should not accept for Islamic values to be attacked while it was Western secular liberal values that had failed on so many fronts. She explained that while liberalism has harmed the dignity of women through her objectification, Islam has prohibited it; that while Western freedoms includes the freedom to insult the religious beliefs of others, this is outlawed in Islam; and while secularism enforces coercive assimilation of minorities into its values, the Islamic system prohibits forced conversion of religious minorities, allowing them to practice their religious practices free from harassment. She ended by encouraging the gathering to take this debate forward and force liberal values to be placed under the microscope and to be held to account. Simultaneously the sublime values and laws of Islam should be presented as the best manner by which to guarantee the respect of women, to protect families, to create healthy cooperation between men and women, to secure the rights of minorities, to eradicate racism and to achieve harmony between communities.
Following the protest, a letter was delivered to the French Embassy. This can be accessed here.