France: Banning the Hijab (Islamic headscarf)

The issue of the French Government banning the Islamic headscarf has created a major debate around the world. It has shown that the left is very confused on this issue, with the majority supporting the imperialist state’s ban as a defence of secularism. Others like the IST (Socialist Workers in Aotearoa) go to the other extreme and oppose the ban on the hijab as a symbol of political opposition to the racist capitalist state. We reprint an exchange between a CWG supporter who opposes the ban for very different reasons, and a member of the Iraqi Workers’ Communist Party who supports the state ban.

Dear Comrade Fadhil,

I am writing to you in reply to your article about the hijab in France (see below). First let me say that I enjoy the works of the WCPI, and consider it to be the closest political organization to me in Iraq. I have some disagreements, and perhaps the future will allow us to talk about them on another day. For today I want to talk about one of these areas, which is the attitude towards Islam.

I believe that we are agreed on the basic areas. Islam is a reactionary phenomenon, which in the current epoch has absolutely no progressive aspects: it is completely and totally reactionary. It is a religion (like all others, if not more so) that is based on savagery, abuse of women, and the humiliation of all people. .

However, I disagree completely with the line that you have taken in your article.

We live in the age of Imperialism. Decadent capitalism in a state of decay that is so rotten the stench is overpowering. What role does France, as one of the leading imperialist states play on the world stage? The role of the oppressor! As Marxists our position must be based on the economic and socio-political analysis of a phenomenon, not on the rhetoric that a French nationalist might spout.

As Marxists we must stand for freedom of expression, freedom of religion as well as freedom from it. You are mixing up your priorities here. The right of the oppressed to opium is more important than the right of the state to imprison the addict. And what else is Islam but an addiction to an opiate?

Why are there so many North Africans in France anyway? Is it because North Africans are biologically predisposed to Southern Europe, or is it because Imperialism has destroyed these societies and economies? Who is the main enemy, comrade, Capitalism, or Islam? I believe that like so many other Iraqis you are so disgusted by Islam that you have a violent and almost overwhelming hatred of it, which leads you to prioritize Islam as the enemy. It is good to hate Islam. But you must not let that blind you to the realities here.

Arguing against the state’s right to imprison “drug abusers” is not the same as urging people to use cocaine Likewise defending the right of a person to wear anything, yes even a hijab, is not in contradiction to arguing against these reactionary items. It’s a basic issue of human rights, the rights to express oneself and one’s beliefs is a human right. –as long as these beliefs are not fascist in which case we call for physically exterminating the fascists. Even then we don’t rely on the state to “ban fascism”!

Capitalists and their governments are not interested in fighting Islam. Not in France and not in Washington nor in Tehran. Capitalism is interested in fighting workers. Today they choose racism and islamophobia to divide the workers of France. Tomorrow they will undoubtedly strike the next blow, then the next -always against the working class. It may be against the organizations of Marxists in France, it may be against the trade unions, but always- against the workers.

This attack comes with the pretext of defending secularism. Since when do Marxists side with the oppressor against the oppressed in defence of bourgeois secularism? This is the same bourgeois secularism that bombs Baghdad in order to liberate it. It is an icon that the French state hides behind. We do not worship Allah, but neither should we worship the secularism of the bourgeoisie!

You are against holding a wedding and a funeral at the same time in the same house. I agree. Don’t hold a wedding. Don’t hold a funeral. Just organize. Help defend the workers. Strengthen workers solidarity. Defend freedom of expression. The way out of the dreaded veil is not for a French gendarme to rip it off, it is for the working woman to rip it off and cast it away!


The debate on the Hijab.

By Fadhil Nadhim January 15, 04

The heat of debate concerning the issue of hijab and religious symbols in France has already reached Canada as well. In response to the French government’s decision to introduce a law banning conspicuous religious symbols in state schools and state institutions, Islamic groups such as Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) are seeking the support of social activists in Toronto to launch a demonstration against the move of the French government. In response to this attempt, Judy Rebick, one of Canada's most respected feminists and political commentators seems to be seated on the edge of two seats. Expressing her sympathy to CIC's anxiety, at the same time Judy raises other concerns regarding Saudi and Iranian laws which impose hijab on women. Judy goes on to say "I think if we are going to protest against a state forcing women not to wear the hijab we should also protest forcing women to wear the hijab." Unfortunately, in my mind, Judy’s opinion seems confused. It is like asking to hold a funeral and a wedding party at the same time in the same house. The root of this confusion is the misunderstanding of the philosophy behind the hijab.

Two critical misunderstandings have forced Judy to give up the right seat. First, she thinks that hijab is part of Islamic cultural values that should be respected. Second, she distinguishes political Islam in power and without power.

The Islamic veil is not culture. It has been a political construction. Not all members of a particular community want to wear the hijab. In many cases not all members of a family wear hijab, and this is because hijab represents a political stand, and not all members of a family share the same political view.

These days, hijab operates as a political uniform. It is a symbol of a political philosophy. Among adult members of communities and families those who are not concerned about politics also do not care about hijab although they might have fundamentalist religious relatives. But those who are concerned about politics and social developments and pursue their goal though an Islamic outlook do wear hijab. Cultural symbols are usually carried by ordinary people. However, in the case of the hijab, ordinary people do not bother with it. On the contrary, if one asks any veiled women they will most likely find that this woman has a strong viewpoint on political issues.

The Islamic Code dress for "political Muslim women" is a means to convey a message to the public. By this means they are stating: "I reject secular values of Western societies: the civil rights that Westerners are enjoying has not been achieved by progressive social movements - they have been given by states to corrupt their citizens. What John Stuart Mill, Jean Jacque Rousseau and other Western political thinkers have said are corrupting human society." Veiled women are reinforcing patriarchal views of Islam and saying "I believe women are the source of corruption. In order to reduce the degree of corruption in society, I have taken a responsible position and have tried to cover the feminine features of my body". Hijab has been chosen by many adult women to express these differences with secular women.

Many people do not see the mission of hijab, therefore they are not able to see the values and goals that Islamic states and Islamic groups share. All Islamic groups, in power and without power, should be examined based on their fundamental philosophy. They, for example, preach Islamic values and Koranic law. According to those values and laws, Muslims are superior to non-Muslims. Men are superior to women. Punishing those who disobey Koran laws, including murder, as espoused by some, is a fundamental duty of “true” Muslims.

In practice, all Islamic tendencies implement these Islamic laws and values to some degree, depending on their degree of access to social and political power. For example, in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria, the Sudan, etc., where Islamists have all the political power, discrimination and violence against non-Muslims, women, children, and flogging, torture, execution, stoning, etc., of citizens are praised as services to God.

In Western and North American countries, however, the power of Islamists is mostly limited to the inner life of their families and private institutions. As a result, they are unable to play a determining role in our societal life. In such cases members of their families and their fellow Muslims are the target of their values. For example, abusing women, forcing their wives and daughters to cover themselves in the Islamic veil, depriving them of basic activities such as sports activities, imposing forced marriages on the young, and so on, are the values they proudly practice in Western societies. In Islamic schools of Toronto, sexual-apartheid is as systematically practiced as in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Have any doubts? Ask any Imam or Mullah how he would, for example, react if he found out his daughter loved a Jewish, Christian or Atheist man. Or simply visit an Islamic school in your neighborhood. I think Judy has not seen the communality between Islamic states and their organizations abroad therefore she is unable to take a clear position.

Regarding the issue of hijab, secularists must have a clear position. One cannot, as I said, organize a funeral and a wedding party at the same time in the same place. Either we are supporting Islamism or we are for secularism. Those who support hijab for women in western countries would boost oppression against women in two ways. First of all many young women living in Canada do not want to follow Islamic traditions; they reject forced marriage; they want to enjoy freedom of dress, to socialize with others freely and to explore their sexual desires. These are great sins according to the Islamic philosophy. In fact many females in western countries have been the victim of honor killings by their male relatives. Providing any support for Islamic groups or Islamic values will empower the anti-women, and patriarchal forces in our society.

Second, supporting Islamists will decelerate the effort of those women who are fighting against stoning and honor killing and forced Islamic dress code. When the media shows that a prominent feminist such as Judy Rebick is supporting Islamic Code dress in Western countries, it will give the upper-hand and boost the moral of Ayatollahs to unleash their virtual police forces on women.

The issue of hijab today is totally a political issue. It has divided the society into two sharp camps: secularist and Islamist. Unfortunately our secular forces in the western country are so confused that they cannot make up their mind. Instead the Right Wing French government has taken the lead on this issue. Although under the leadership of a Right Wing government, any degree of set back of political Islam will ease the struggle of women under Islamic states and groups around the world. Further, from a secular point of view banning hijab in public schools and state institutions is not enough. Hijab and Islamic schooling for children under 16 in society, even in private institutions, should be banned.

From Class Struggle 54  Feb-March 04

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