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The Veil as a Political Act

16 2 9

There is something very odd about the issue of the ‘veil’ and what the Western media collectively calls the ‘Muslim woman’. What’s odd about it has to do with its effects on us, when we try to discuss it. Yes, there are issues to be discussed: it tends to get under our skin, it makes us angry and nervous, and sometimes we end up behaving irrationally. In fact, we often try to stop the discussion before it even starts.

I use the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ a lot. And this can be confusing.

By ‘we’, do I mean people of the human race, of Muslim-majority countries, or of Western democracies?

The first is my favourite ‘we’; I use the other two within their contexts. I belong to all three categories and that makes me a bridge. But when it comes to the ‘headscarf’ and the ‘Muslim woman’, I mean the ‘we’ that is all of us.

We get emotional when we talk about this ‘piece of cloth’ and the ‘right’ of a ‘Muslim woman’ to wear it. Some well-meaning Western women are actually engaging in campaigns to wear headscarves as a sign of solidarity for the ‘Muslim woman’. They sincerely believe that their actions will help the ‘civil rights’ of the Muslim woman. If you are one of these women, I ask you to recognize that the issue is not as simple as you are made to believe. There is an element of choice in the matter, of course, but the issue also has social, power, ideological and political dimensions. When you look at the issue from all of these dimensions, it becomes clear it requires action, and those actions certainly do not involve silly campaigns of wearing headscarves. Would you engage in similar campaigns for the right of women forced to wear the veil? These campaigns are many.

I stand among scholars of Arab and Islamic heritage who believe that the headscarf is political.

It is the core of an Islamist political project. With it, Islamists mark their presence.

If you think I am exaggerating, listen to Essam El-Erian. He was the Egyptian vice chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Egyptian political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as a former member of the Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood.

He was in fact gloating about the Brotherhood’s success in spreading the headscarf in Egypt without force. In a recorded talk he explained:

When I entered medical school in 1970, there was only one veiled student, and we [the MB group] realized that it was necessary to control this situation. So we decided to launch our missionary work, so women would choose the veil for themselves. We started to distribute booklets, statements and the book To Every Girl who believes in God, written by the Syrian [Islamist] preacher Mohammed Saeed al-Bouti. Given the fact that the veil was not used at the time, we took action to remedy the situation [by providing a supply] and made a deal with certain factories, which enabled us to distribute the........

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