Switzerland: here are my views on Burqa
German Translation: click here
A few weeks ago, I was invited to a reunion of the association of freethinkers inSwitzerland, and was accompanied there by Daniel Stricker the blogger and youtuber, who happens to be also the president of freethought association in St. Gallen.
During our journey by train, we discussed a document prepared by his association concerning a bill presented by the Swiss People’s Party, which demanded a legal ban on burqa in Switzerland. My friend Daniel was hesitant, particularly because this topic is closely related to human rights issues, like individual freedoms, and women’s right to dress as they see fit, but he completely agreed with the local freethinkers’ point of view: ” I am against the burqa but also against the banning of the burqa.. because in Switzerland it is simply not a problem yet. And right-wing parties (members of these parties who are christians) want to make that an issue in order to gain votes. I cannot support that.
As a person with an Islamic background, who understands the implicit significance of burqa, I replied:
To me burqa enforces gender inequality and contempt for women. I may even say that it’s a denial of her existence, and her right to share the public space. It’s as if Islam, with its hijab and burqa, wants to tell us that the normal place for a woman is between the walls of her home, away from the prying eyes of society, in an attempt to isolate her and deprive her of her right to share experience in society, to communicate and make friendships.
So how can we accept such a grave infringement on women’s rights in Western societies without any attempt to fight such a backward and sick culture, where women are reduced to a hole for sex, and a machine to procreate and cook, when their counterparts in the West compete with men in all intellectual and artistic fields? We may accept with much pain and grievance to see women wearing burqa on TV or on the Internet, in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Iran… but allowing such slavery creep into Western countries like Switzerland under the guise of respecting alternative cultures, would be unacceptable. How can I respect a culture that degrades the value of women and infringes on their basic rights? It’s like being asked to respect Nazism or stoning in Iran! Frankly, it’s an attempt to spoil European sophisticated taste, by exporting the culture of hijab and burqa to the West, where forward steps had already been taken in such matters since the beginning of the Renaissance and the Enlightenments, thanks to the great sacrifices of feminist movements.
Burqa, as a form of disguise, is a big threat to security in the social milieu, because the face is the best way we can recognize a person, and the means through which we can communicate with the people with whom we share the public space, thus sharing emotions implicitly, like the feeling of security or fear. How can I feel secure in a bus for example, when the person next to me is hiding their face, and I can’t know whether they’re a man or a woman, a friend or a foe?
Hijab and burqa convey dangerous religious and racist messages as well: a girl dressed thus conveys the idea that she would only marry a Muslim or someone who converts to Islam (after they had undergone a circumcision), which would severely hinder their ability to integrate into Western society. Every Muslim expects that his sister (in the religious or literal sense alike) would only give birth to a Muslim, and that’s why such mode of dressing, like burqa and such, should be prohibited in educational institutions, and other social and economic sectors. Hijab, despite giving off a similar connotation, remains a moderate form of Islamic dressing, and though I’m not in favor of that practice (why wouldn’t Muslim men, for the sake of equality, cover their hair as well?), I don’t think a legal solution regarding it should be sought at this point. I have to say that a legal ban would not suffice by itself to solve this issue: Islam has to be reformed, so that Muslim women can have the right to marry non-Muslims… and so that the old teachings are renewed, because they belong to the past, whereas the future is for freedom, equality, and human rights. But, because there seems to be no will to renovation and intellectualization within the body of Islam, the legal solution is the only one available.
During my visit to Zurich, I was surprised to see women sitting near the river that runs through the city, with their children, wearing burqa. The scene seemed exotic to me despite the fact that I was used to seeing women with hijab and burqa in my own country Morocco, because I was not expecting that such a sick mentality has gone beyond its borders, infecting everything like a cancer.
It is not a necessary practice of the religion as many extremist scholars try to depict it, but a mere recent invention in its present form by the salafist current. Similar forms of dressing existed long before Islam as well in nearby civilizations, but when they started to spread among the Muslim population, they were not stopped; instead, the then new dress was encouraged by many as a means to enslave women and restrict their movements even more.
Some people may say that burqa cannot be considered as a “phenomenon” in Switzerland, to justify a legal ban; but why not? Why do we have to wait until the problem becomes a phenomenon, with a large base of supporters, and then the challenge would be greater, and it would be quite difficult to ban burqa legally? It would be wiser to ban burqa and any cultural practice that degrades the value of women and diminishes their freedom.
I beseech human rights activists to discuss phenomena socially and historically before making any positive or negative judgment, instead of using the method of a sports critique, which is weak and unacceptable. Burqa wearing may seem like a right that should be protected, but in fact it’s no more than the manifestation of negative and inhumane culture.