Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Jeremy Browne has called for a national debate on whether the government should intervene and ban young Muslim women from having the veil forced upon them.
This is not the first time that the Muslim veil has been the focus of media headlines. Belgium, France, Netherlands and Switzerland have all brought legislation to outlaw the wearing of the burqa. (Read Belgian ban on Burqas: Is it right? and Burka ban debate set to hit Britain.
In 2010, Belgium became the first European country to ban the wearing of the burqa in public.
The main arguments used by European MPs and in particular, Home Office minister Jeremy Browne is that young Muslim women are forced to wear the burqa and that in general the full burqa is oppressive to Muslim women.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg focussed his arguments on airport security and classrooms.
Search the newspapers and media forums in general before the 9/11 attacks on America and before the War On Terror, and you will strain to find a single article of concern on the veil and the burqa being oppressive to Muslim women. So why all of a sudden have politicians and the media taken a sudden interest in what Muslim women wear?
That is not to say society should not have a debate about issues such as this, however the discussion must be fair and consistent.
When I wrote about this issue in 2010, I highlighted the disturbing statistics in Britain and indeed Europe on domestic violence against women, rape and sexual abuse. So let us be clear that Britain or indeed Europeans cannot stand in judgement from a moral or culturally superior position. The statistics show that in general there is a worldwide crises on how women are treated and it varies depending on country, religion and culture.
The many forms of female oppression
What I often find hypocritical about how this debate is discussed by British society and Europeans in general is the arrogance that somehow European culture has reached the peak of female empowerment, equality and self-worth.
Only last year Christian Bishops in London voted against women being Bishops. (Read Crisis as Church of England votes against women bishops: Daily Telegraph: By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor: 20 November, 2012) Did the government see fit to intervene and make women bishops compulsory by law or legislation? No. They left these decisions in the hands of the church of England leaders.
Forcing women to display their bodies is just as oppressive as forcing them to cover up yet the government has done little to prevent the sexualising of young girls by clothing manufacturers and the media. (Read Young girls ‘sexualised’ by clothing and toy manufacturers: Daily Telegraph: 10 Feb, 2009)
WH Smith withdrew plans for playboy-themed stationary for young schoolgirls after lobbying from a consumer watchdog.
Ed Mayo, the chief executive of Consumer Focus mentioned how companies targeted children as young as four for birthday parties and photo shoots with t-shirts that had slogans such as “sex-kitten“
Beauty pageants for girls younger than ten, adult-styled bikinis for four-year old girls, the rampant consumption of hardcore pornography, ageing women afraid to grow old gracefully and pressured to do cosmetic surgery, the list goes on. Is this what the suffragettes died for? I doubt it very much.
A sensible approach to this issue
Returning briefly to the issue at hand. Take away the politics and it is practical for the Muslim community to discuss whether the full veil is necessary for young Muslim women in certain public places such as schools, colleges and obviously airports.
The Quran 24:31 says that a woman should dress modestly so as not to attract attention to their beauty, especially when travelling abroad to distinguish themselves and avoid harassment.
The hijab shown in the centre picture at the top of this article in my view accomplishes a modest look without a young woman having to feel that she will isolate people from other cultures.
If we as a society are going to discuss female oppression and equality for women then I believe it is only fair that all forms of female oppression are discussed across all cultures.
It is wishful thinking to foresee a sensible discussion on this issue in the mainstream media, however it does not prevent we as citizens discussing these issues inclusive of all members of our society and engaging in practical debate on this website and other online forums.
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