|Yasmin Alibhai-Brown publishes yet another piece attacking the burqa and niqab. |
Writing in the Daily Mail today, Yasmin refers to comments made by Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, on the burqa. Spelman, who said that her visit to Afghanistan had persuaded her that the burqa 'confers dignity' and that it can be 'empowering', is singled out by Yasmin who contends she 'must be mad.'
‘Yes, Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, really did claim that the burka delivers its wearer blissful freedom. As a Muslim, you might expect me to agree with her, but I can't. She is wrong. Her fatuous and ill-conceived defence of the burka rendered me apoplectic with fury.
Does she even understand the harm she does by sanctioning this perversion of our faith?’
Spelman has not sanctioned the perversion of Islam – she merely defended the right of women to wear what they choose, stating: 'I don't, living in this country as a woman, want to be told what I can and can't wear.' Why is it so difficult for Alibhai-Brown to accept that though she may not choose to cover her head or her face, there are many Muslims who would choose to do so?
‘Immigrant Muslims who came to Britain to get away from Stalinist ayatollahs, mullahs and women-hating fanatic regimes in their home countries must be spitting their teeth out after hearing Spelman's astounding endorsement of this dreadful garment.
‘We Muslims who came here wanted the freedom that Britain's proud history of democracy was renowned for. We wanted better education for our children and to live and pray in peace in a country which, for all its faults, gives us civil rights and equality between the sexes.’
The implication of this argument is that all Muslims in Britain are immigrants who have been motivated to come to Britain by their desire to escape tyranny. Could Alibhai-Brown be any more cliché in how she views the Muslim community? It might come as a surprise to her, but there is a sizeable community of Muslims who are not immigrants, and who reside in Britain for an array of reasons. Note also the irony of celebrating Britain’s freedoms and then denigrating those very same freedoms for those who wish to wear the niqab or burqa.
Alibhai-Brown then writes:
‘I'd like to invite Mrs Spelman to prove she believes what she says by wearing the black sheet and mask - surely she should do that as an act of solidarity with the 'empowered' Muslim sisters she admires so much.
‘And if she chooses not to, if she feels she would find wearing a burka limiting and suffocating, why on earth is she breezily recommending it as a garment for other women?’
On this matter, Arianna Dinni from Demos, writes:
‘Now more than ever it is time for Britain to stand by that sensible moderation for which it has been praised since Burke and that critical jealousy of personal liberty which Montesquieu so admired in the English. You do not have to like burqas, just as you do not have to like breast implants, goths, skinheads, or hippies. But for the Government to legislate against any of these expressions of identity is not the solution.’
Spelman, like all those who defend personal liberty, does not have to wear a ‘black sheet and mask’ to make the point that women have the right to hold differing perspectives on the issue of the veil – with some genuinely choosing to wear it, and indeed feeling ‘empowered’ by it. What gives Alibhai-Brown the authority to speak on behalf of all Muslim women and presume to know what they think, feel and articulate?
Moreover, her contention that Spelman ‘breezily’ recommended the veil is a distortion of Spelman’s interview with Sky’s Adam Boulton (see transcript here). There is a clear line between recommending a garment, and recommending the right of a woman to wear what she chooses – a distinction conveniently blurred by Alibhai-Brown to support her emotionally-charged tirade against veiled women.
‘By the time they [covered-up Muslim girls] have reached adulthood, covered-up women have all but accepted the idea that they are evil temptresses. This is a notion that grossly insults Muslim men as well - for it assumes they are sexual beasts who cannot contain themselves if they see a hint of female flesh.’
Here Alibhai-Brown meshes out the functional arguments for hijab. Can all human motivations or for that matter, society, culture, customs and religious practices be explained away with functional arguments alone? Alibhai-Brown would seem to think so for there could be no other reason – such as scriptural reasoning, devotion to faith – for wearing a veil aside from it acting as a counter-response to the sexualisation of society, or the assumption that men are ‘sexual beasts.’
Veil-observing women after all are ‘exerting a choice they can’t not make’ contends Alibhai-Brown. And how does she arrive at such a conclusion? Well of course – as a result of all those veil-observing women who, she says, turn up at her door ‘seeking refuge from their fathers, mothers, brothers and in-laws – men brain-washed by religious leaders who use physical and mental abuse to compel girls to cover up.’
Is not Alibhai-Brown’s vilification of Muslim men as ‘brain-washed’ and oppressive just as bad as the assumption of men as ‘sexual beasts’ that she contends is made by ‘covered-up’ women?
But, Alibhai-Brown does recognise that there are those Muslim women who do wear a veil of their own volition and who do not turn up at her door:
‘True, a minority of feisty Muslim women today don the veil to show off their kind of girl power.
‘If they had any conscience, they would not and could not wear the garment that, in so many sectors of society across the world, has become the main way to torment and punish women and girls. Our burka heroines collude with those who torture young Iranian women, for they are proxy maidens to the Taliban.’
Ironically, earlier in the piece, Alibhai-Brown contends that although she is a ‘life-long anti-racist and die-hard defender of Muslims’, her anti-burqa stance has ‘provoked fury and warnings from veiled women, who self-righteously tell me that uncovered Muslim females will end up in hell unless they repent. Women like me, they warn, are ‘western whores’ who should be thrown on the eternal fire, along with mothers.’
‘Western whore’ or ‘proxy maidens to the Taliban’ – Alibhai-Brown will agree that settling personal scores by resorting to tit-for-tat is not the marker of intellectual or productive debate. She ought to know better – especially if her delusions of being a progressive and enlightened Muslim are anything to go by.
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