Philip Hollobone MP
House of Commons
26 July 2010
Re: Your Calls for a Burqa Ban in the UK
Dear Mr Hollobone,
I write to you as a Muslim woman and representative from Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic political party. I do not wear the niqaab or burqa but I know many respected Muslim women that do wear it as a sincere form of religious devotion.
I would value the opportunity to engage in a public discussion or debate with you on the matter of the oppression of women – something that is frequently raised as part of the ‘niqab’ debate. I would like to do this for three main reasons:
Firstly, I believe that far from Islam generally or the niqaab specifically subjugating women, as many claim, it is in fact Western capitalist liberal values that are a major cause of the oppression of women globally. The objectification of women’s bodies in the advertising, entertainment, and pornography industries all under the premise of freedom of expression and driven by the pursuit of profit within capitalist societies has dehumanized, devalued, and degraded women. Women have been condemned to commodities to satisfy the desires of men, their respect bought up by the free market, and exploitation of their beauty normalized, to the extent that frequenting lap dancing clubs is now an acceptable corporate method by which to entertain clients. So routine is this style of degrading women that delegates at the 2008 Conservative Party conference were offered discount tickets to a lap-dancing club. The constant bombardment of young girls with images of what constitutes beauty has led to many viewing their faces and bodies as the passport to success rather than their minds and skills. It has led to society evaluating the worth of women according to the extent of their attractiveness to men. It is all this that is regressive as regards to the advancement of women within society, not modes of religious dress worn as expressions of modesty.
In contrast to this, Islam views the woman’s dignity as sacrosanct and has prohibited exploitation of her looks and her objectification within society. The Islamic dress code is one means by which to ensure that society values women according to their thinking, abilities, and behaviour rather than their physical appearance.
Secondly, for all the accusations that veiled women cut themselves off from normal human interaction and engagement in society, in reality it is insults and prejudice against their dress, alongside hijab and niqab bans that seclude women from public life and make them social outcasts. In light of your derogatory comments that the face veil is a symbol of separation and fear – statements that increase the discrimination Muslim women face in society – one wonders who is fuelling disengagement. Furthermore, it is not without irony that various ‘male dominated’ European parliaments, who have described the burqa as a symbol of the subjugation of women by men, see it fit to exert their male patriarchy to dictate to women how they should and should not dress.
Thirdly, I believe this debate simultaneously exploits and fuels an increasingly hostile climate to Muslims in Europe for cheap political ends. It has provided a veneer of acceptability for racist expression and anti-immigrant rants. Europe’s politicians rarely address any aspect of clothing or personal attire. The media usually confine coverage of women’s clothing to their fashion pages. Yet somehow many Western politicians and media outlets have decided that Muslim women’s dress tops the political agenda, even trumping the disastrous Afghanistan occupation and the economic crisis which is far from over. Many have questioned why Western politicians and media in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in living memory would wish to focus national attention and expend valuable legislative time and energies on a garment worn by a few hundred women (if that) within their societies – other than perhaps to curry favour amongst the far right sectors of their communities. It has been the bigotry that has characterised this obsession with the veil and the antagonism of proposed bans of religious dress codes that has stoked tensions, fuelled prejudice, and divided communities – not women’s clothing.
This call for a niqaab ban exposes the intolerance in Western secular societies, leaving talk of freedom, tolerance and pluralism with the appearance of being little more than a smokescreen behind which lie racism, intolerance and bigotry.
I hope you will seriously consider my offer of a public debate, as I can assure you that although the veil has been labelled a ‘symbol of oppression’, calls for banning women from wearing Islamic dress is clearly a ‘symbol of failure’ to convince Muslim women intellectually to adopt Western liberal values. It has all the appearance of imposing your views through state force rather than force of argument, having lost the debate.
Dr Nazreen Nawaz
Women’s Media Representative
Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain