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Posts Tagged ‘muslim’

We Want to See Your Face: The Burqa in France, Belgium and Quebec

March 31, 2010 7 comments

Poster for Montreal film-maker Natasha Ivisic's documentary 'I wear the Veil'

 

On International Women’s Day, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg released a viewpoint which argued against restrictions on women’s religious dress. He stated that: 

Those who have argued for a general ban of the burqa and the niqab have not managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals. The fact that a very small number of women wear such clothing has made proposals in such a direction even less convincing.  Nor has it been possible to prove that these women in general are victims of more gender repression than others. Those who have been interviewed in the media have presented a diversity of religious, political and personal arguments for their decision to dress themselves as they do. There may of course be cases where they are under undue pressure – but it is not shown that a ban would be welcomed by these women. 

Hammarberg seems to be in something of an unfashionable minority.In the past fortnight, three significant stories have broken about the regulation, in France, Belgium and Quebec, of the niqab and burqa worn by some Muslim women.  

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Polygamy in the High Court

February 8, 2010 1 comment

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that the High Court will soon rule on the validity of an Irish citizen’s marriage under s. 29 of the Family Law Act, 1995. The man is Lebanese. He married two women in Lebanon, where polygamous marriage is permitted. He entered Ireland with his second wife and claimed asylum. His first wife arrived in Ireland much later.  The man has children with both and  apparently lives with both in Ireland.  Seven years ago the Department of Justice had refused to grant a visa to the man’s first wife. However, after the man challenged the refusal in the High Court, the Department agreed to quash its initial refusal. As part of this settlement, the man is required to seek a s. 29 ruling. The Times reports that ‘[t]he state and the wives are all represented in the case. The residency rights of both spouses will depend on the decision. A number of similar cases are awaiting the outcome.’ The case looks to be (or is very similar to) that of Hussein Ali Hamoud. The Irish Independent reported on his case in 2003 here.  There is been remarkably little media discussion of the case today. Marian Finucane discussed the issue, to some extent, on RTE Radio 1 yesterday. The podcast is here (from minute 21). The Examiner also published a short opinion piece.

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‘A Law of Liberation and Not A Ban’: Update on France and the Burqa.

January 17, 2010 5 comments

Jean-François Copé (pictured left), of the conservative French political party, the UMP, has recently tabled legislation that would make wearing the burqa or niqab in public an offence punishable by a fine of 750 euro. The draft text reads: “No one may, in spaces open to the public and on public streets, wear a garment or an accessory that has the effect of hiding the face.” André Gerin, chairman of a parliamentary inquiry into the use of full face veils in France, ruled out the possibility of a total ban in November of last year. We blogged about the Gérin Commission here. It is expected to report some time this month. The New Zealand Herald translates an interview which Copé gave to Le Figaro explaining the rationale behind his proposal:

“The parliamentary resolution will help to recall the fundamental principles of respecting the rights of women as a key element of the Republic. The law will respond to the question of security… How can we imagine that a teacher can let a child go out of school and be handed over to someone whose face cannot be seen?… At a time when we are developing the means of video-protection, how can we think of people walking around with their faces covered?..Exceptions to the ban would be made for “carnival or cultural events” where people were masked, he said.

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The Swiss Minaret Ban: Key Points

December 7, 2009 1 comment

8 days ago, the news was announced that over 57% of Swiss people voting in a referendum had chosen to amend Article 72 of the Swiss Constitution. All but 4 of Switzerland’s cantons voted in favour. The Article currently reads:

(1) The regulation of the relationship between church and state is a cantonal matter.

(2) Within the limits of their competencies, the Federation and the Cantons may take measures to maintain public peace between members of the various religious communities.

As a result of the referendum, a third clause is automatically added to the constitution, to incorporate the sentence: ‘The construction of minarets is forbidden’.The vote was in response to a proposal by the right-wing anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party (SVP) – the country’s largest party – and the ultra-conservative Federal Democratic Union. Proponents of the ban argued that minarets bring Islam out into the public domain and symbolise a demand from political power which asserts a demand for religious freedom at the expense of the rights of others. The SVP’s campaign rhetoric sought to link the construction of minarets to an undesirable ‘creeping Islamisation’ of Switzerland; for instance a controversial poster promoting the amendment depicts the dark figure of a woman in a burkha next to minarets rising like rockets out of the Swiss flag (a debate about whether these posters defamed Islam, were racist, or were a legitimate exercise of free speech grew up as an offshoot of the minaret debacle, with some cities banning the posters while others allowed them to be displayed. The Federal Commission Against Racism published this opinion, in which it noted the destructive impact of the posters’ reliance on negative stereotyping of Muslims). The sponsors claimed that“[t]he minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls”. Some Swiss women appear to have found these analogies especially persuasive. The prominent Swiss feminist Julia Onken said in the lead-up to the referendum that “[m]osques are male houses, minarets are male power symbols…The building of minarets is also a visible signal of the state’s acceptance of the oppression of women.”
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A Primer on ‘Hijab Debate 2009’.

September 9, 2009 6 comments


The garments.

The beginning of the new school year is as good a time as any to take stock of Europe’s seemingly boundless obsession with Muslim women’s dress. I blogged on the hijab in Ireland’s schools for the CCJHR blog in June of last year. Since then, RTE has produced a radio documentary about Shekinah Egan, whose case sparked Irish engagement with this issue.

When I talk about Muslim women’s dress, I have in mind a number of  types of garment which cover the face and body to varying degrees. They are displayed and labelled in the picture on the right, adapted from the BBC website.  The European debates have revolved around the permissibilty of restrictions on this broad class of dress. Even as it becomes a visible part of European popular culture and lived multiculturalism;  in rap music, art and sport, ‘the veil’ excites ever more exclusionary policy-making. This post is intended as an entry level guide to current debates and is confined to a selection of the most important ‘hijab’ stories which have been reported since January. Rather than getting into my own analysis  (or indeed, into the law or the voluminous academic commentary) in any detail in this post, I wanted to write a ‘basics’ post now which will introduce readers to the topic and ground my later contributions.

The European engagement with Islamic dress can be understood in terms of four broad themes: the what, who, where and why of restrictions on Muslim women’s dress.

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