Thursday, September 22, 2011
So, it would appear that the problem is, yet again, the insistence that middle class feminists are allowed to speak for women of other cultures, regardless of whether these women accept it or not.
I am so tired of having to read the qualifier from mostly white Western feminists before any discussion of the veil ban that the veil is sexist but . . . In the context of global patriarchy doesn’t this qualifier belong in front of, like, everything? It seems to me we have a lot easier seeing -isms in a cultural context different from our own, and a lot harder time seeing agency. To veil or not to veil is a question to be navigated by Muslim women – what kind of feminism supports the imposition of values and behaviors on women by a government?
I’m struck by the timing of the ban going into effect, as France re-engages in colonial violence in places like Libya. There were two major flavors of colonialism: kill everyone who was there and take the land for yourself (dominant in the Americas), and fix the backwards people by making them like us, while using their labor and their land, the preferred method of France. People raced as Muslim or Arab were brought into France to serve its economy with very little personal gain in the first place. I can’t help think about this as France engages in violence where they have clear oil interests at the same time they try to stomp out cultural diversity within the nation. The country claims to be secular, but the veil ban is a reminder leadership still holds white, Catholic values. Women are so often the targets of colonial violence, and I see the ban as part of the continued project to make them like us.
INITIAL POST: Secular misogyny in France remains in place:
Drider makes the observation that the law effectively places women who believe that, for religious reasons, they should wear the veil, under home detention, because going out in public subjects them to insults from the populace and possible arrest. Not surprisingly, she has experienced both.
Kenza Drider's posters for the French presidential race are ready to go, months before the official campaign begins. There she is, the freedom candidate, pictured standing in front of a line of police — a forbidden veil hiding her face.
Drider declared her longshot candidacy Thursday, the same day that a French court fined two women who refuse to remove their veils. All three are among a group of women mounting an attack on the law that has banned the garments from the streets of France since April, and prompted similar moves in other European countries.
They are bent on proving that the ban contravenes fundamental rights and that women who hide their faces stand for freedom, not submission.
When a woman wants to maintain her freedom, she must be bold, Drider told The Associated Press in an interview.
President Nicolas Sarkozy strongly disagrees, and says the veil imprisons women.
Drider has therefore revealed the true motivations behind the the enactment of the ban on the wearing of the veil. First, it has the effect of segregating these woman from the rest of French society, much in the same way that early Nazi measures against the Jews, such as the requirement that Jewish businesses identify themselves with a Star of David, did in Germany, and secondly, as occurred in Germany to much greater degree, it empowers the populace to abuse them whenever they encounter them in public. The government is relying upon xenophobes, like those who have historically supported Jean Le Pen and his daughters, to enforce the ban and create a climate of intimidation instead of the police.
Upon encountering this, one wonders, where are the feminists? Are there reports of feminist support for women like Driver? I haven't encountered them, so I'd be curious if any readers have run across any. You'd think that feminists would be concerned about a law regulating the dress of women that has the consequence of driving them underground to avoid public harassment. But no, turns out that French feminists are, by and large, characterized as being proponents of it, providing ideological justification for the measure. Nabila Ramdani, a Parisian born free lance journalist and academic of Algerian descent, has stated that very few feminist groups have actually supported these women's freedom to cover-up, arguing that it is men who are invariably forcing them to do so. Beyond the harassment, the willingness of these feminists to embrace a law that legitimizes French xenophobes is particularly alarming. Combined with the enthusiastic support of some publicly prominent American feminists for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, it is not surprising that feminism is at risk of being trapped in a Eurocentric ghetto because of the cultural biases of its most visible proponents, proponents with more social acceptability and media access than those with a contrary perspective.
Driver herself is a personal refutation of the prevailing French feminist notion that the veil renders a Muslim woman as nothing more than the property of her husband, that it constitutes a form of imprisonment. She wears the veil in public, risking harassment and arrest. She engages in civil disobedience. Even more striking, she is now running for President of France. Of course, she is probably not the norm, but can we really say that there is any norm at all in regard to something so personal as one's religion and one's practice of it? No doubt, there are episodes of domestic violence involving Muslim men and women, but, as As'ad Abukhalil periodically notes, it is highly questionable whether it is more common than domestic violence involving others. Perhaps, if there are feminists who want to liberate the Muslim women of France, it might be a good idea for them to talk to these women without preconditions, and discover what sort of liberation they really need. They don't necessarily believe that banning the veil is part of that process.