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School banned a Muslim girl from wearing the hijab

“Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has refused to intervene after a school banned a Muslim girl from wearing the hijab — a veil worn by Muslim women and girls.”

The sooner the West starts to normalise its views on Islam and begins a detox process to get rid of the poison of Islamophobia, the better it will be for all people, both here in Europe and over in those far away countries where Muslims live.

It must be said, and said so without any ambiguity: There is nothing progressive and nothing pro-freedom in banning the veil, niqab or the burqa and putting an 11 year-old girl into the focus of a never-ending debate on Islam, culture and religion.

Especially on the left, the true nature of 'freedom', 'equality' and 'democracy' needs to be understood in a much wider and historical context. And the Islamophobic versions of these concepts, with the added dimension of purist morality injected into our society, need to be rejected without any hesitation. We must do so because we have seen enough horrors as a result of the ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘women’s rights’, brought by  powerful western states to many places around the world.

It is not in the eyes of other school children, ordinary citizens - men, women, Muslims and non-Muslims – that the veil is a symbol of all things that are dangerous, backward, oppressive and incompatible with ‘modern’ life.

The Education Minister should not only care as a humanbeing, for the 11 year-old school girl who is not allowed to go to school in her veil, but he must do all things necessary to enable her to go to school, without the unbearable stress of being the ‘other’ and being the focus of a national debate.

The issue of veil, burqa, niqab is a never-ending story in Europe. Only last week we read about the forthcoming referendum in a Swiss district to ban the burqa. The arguments in supporting the burqa ban are more or less similar to other countries in Europe where these are discussed, and these arguments have been proven to be wrong again and again.

The development in Switzerland, in other European countries and the latest 'schoolgirl and the veil issue' in Ireland shows us that these are not just some isolated and individual issues. There is a very evident situation in Europe in relation to these bans, and similar policies to ban variations of Muslim dress, creeping upon many nations.

One of the most used arguments in trying to introduce a ban is ‘women's liberation and freedom’.

People who don’t trust women and their own ability to choose and experience life according to their choices, must not know anything about the women of Egypt and their fight against dictatorship, or the women of Afghanistan and their struggle against the war, or the women of Istanbul Gezi Park fighting against oppression, or indeed the women of Ireland demanding freedom of choice on abortion.

Let’s think of a country where black people are not served in shops, refugees are excluded from public places in the cities, Roma people are not allowed to enter restaurants and cafés and women are banned to wear the veil or the burqa.

One can’t help but worrying. What and who is next?

Who is the next public enemy of the approved ‘normal’ lifestyle in the country?

Well, we don’t have to think too hard. Such states exist in Europe. Maybe not with all of the above oppressive ‘features’ present at the same time but certainly with combinations of these.

Let's look at the wider situation in Europe.

The Islamic dress code debate has been with us for some years and in a number of countries in Europe.

2010 DENMARK

“The face-covering burqa and niqab veils worn by some Muslim women have no place in Denmark”, Prime Minister Rasmussen said, adding his government was considering restricting them.

Rasmussen stopped short, however, of calling for a ban on the veils, noting "legal and other limits. The government's position is clear: the burqa and the niqab have no place in Danish society. They symbolise a view of women and humanity that we totally oppose and that we want to combat in Danish society," Rasmussen told reporters.

“Denmark is an open, democratic society where we look at the person to whom we are talking, whether it's in a classroom or on the job", he said.

“That is why we don't want to see this garment in Danish society," he added.

But he got his answers pretty soon from the lengthy report from University of Copenhagen:
“The number of Muslim women in Denmark who wear the burqa can be counted on one hand, according to the results of a study conducted by the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Religious Studies. Only three women in Denmark wear the burqa, while between 150 to 200 women use the niqab, according to the survey.

Some 60 to 80 of the women who wear the niqab are Danish converts to Islam.

This is a 69 page report delivered to the Danish government and it is a clear evidence of the fact that these women did in fact choose to wear the niqab!

 

2010 FRANCE

The former French president Sarkozy made the ban on the veil his top political priority during the period leading up to the election. His arguments were not different to what we had seen in Denmark: ‘Women’s freedom and liberation’, ‘protecting women against oppression by their husbands and families’,’ the incompatibility of such dress code with the free and civilised French society’, ‘the culture of Europe and oppression of Islam’ etc…

France's interior minister has defended a ban on wearing full-face veils in public.

In 2010 the law targeting burqa and niqab veils was brought in. With the ban in place, the French police started a 'veil hunt' which created an angry response from Muslims and various activists supporting the freedom of choice.

The population of France is 64 million and France has the highest number of Muslims in Europe.
The number of women wearing the veil is estimated to be between 400 and 2000. These numbers represent a percentage of between 0.000625 and 0.00325 of the whole French population.

During the same years, France had 4000 soldiers, and had spent 450 million Euro on war in Afghanistan.

Sarkozy did not survive the elections but his ban on the veil did.
''Liberté, égalité, fraternité'' ? Not so much!

2011 BELGIUM
Belgium passed a law that banned the wearing of burqa. According to this law, any women caught wearing it is to be issued a fine of €137. There are 450,000 Muslims in Belgium of 11 million. The estimated number of women wearing the Burqa is between 30 and 100.

2013 – SWIZERLAND

“A burqa ban will be put to vote in a referendum on September 22 in Switzerland's southernmost Ticino canton and it will be the first popular vote to prohibit wearing of full Muslim face veils in public in the country, which had already banned the construction of new minarets.

It is estimated that less than 100 women wear burqa in Switzerland, according to official data, and they are used mostly by Afghan women.

The upcoming referendum is the end result of a petition campaign launched in Ticino in March 2011 that saw the collection of nearly 12,000 signatures.

Around 400,000 Muslims live in Switzerland, making up nearly 5% of the country's population”

We have enough examples from Europe to take the issue serious and defeat the arguments for banning the veil.

Let us start from the easiest argument: There is factual evidence, given the numbers above, that there is no clear and present danger of Europe being flooded by veil wearing Muslims.

These governments, utilising all state machines, along with its political establishments, the courts and the police have no justification to waste huge amount of resources and money in their ‘war against burqa or veil’. For months, in these countries, the media and ministerial offices have been pre-occupied with a ‘problem’ that clearly does not exist.

The argument that ‘in Europe, Muslim women are forced to wear the burqa or the veil’ becomes null and void given the robust evidence that born and bread European women may also decide to wear the veil according to their chosen belief system.

Let’s say that all of these women are indeed forced by their husbands or family members to wear the veil or burqa.

In this case, the legal ban is doing exactly this: The state is criminalising the women who are – as the states claim – already being oppressed by their husbands etc. The oppressed women are left to suffer between becoming the target of the state and the target of their oppressive husbands. What if the woman receiving a monetary fine does not have the money? (Remember, her husband is supposed to be an oppressor – so he probably does not give her much personal money) Is she supposed to go to her husband and ask for this money? What happens if she can’t pay, or won’t pay?

If these bans on the veil were to help the women who are oppressed and are forced to wear the veil, the state would not have abandoned them into the helplessness of being stuck between their husbands and the law.

Since when are oppressed people made into criminals due to the oppression they live under? Are we not supposed to deal with the oppressors rather than attacking the victim?

Thinking of any possibilities however, some may be manufactured by the establishment, the ban on the veil has no psychological, social or physical benefits for the women.

The bottom line of this ‘Islam’ agenda is that, almost all of these debates are originating from the events of 9/11 and the immediate period following these events. We have been going through a decade of ‘war on terror’ aggression and the political product of this offensive policies. While this on-going agenda has killed hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan and in countries in Africa, and caused the invasion of various countries, it also produced the political justification and propaganda of these wars.

The ‘war on terror’ campaign needed explanation in domestic politics and the imperialist agenda needed to be sold to the western citizens. This was crucial in escalating the wars and invasions with ever more civilians being killed in targeted countries. Wars had to have a 'good' reason and the type of people being killed in these wars needed to be somehow 'lesser' humanbeings ; the Muslims had to be turned into the strange and scary ‘others’.

The most useful ideology in all of this was the islamophobia as a form of racism. Through islamophobia, the ‘dangers of Islam’ and the ‘Islamic terror’ propaganda could have been distilled into the daily lives of Europeans. Islamophobia started appearing at every level of social life, from racism in state institutions to organised fascist gangs and ‘random’ occurrences of street racism.

Manufactured sociological ‘facts’ were presented by the rightwing-mainstram media and the political establishments. We started hearing things like ‘clash of civilisations’, ‘war of cultures’, 'good vs. evil' etc. Some even went as far as comparing the religions of Islam and Christianity.

They wanted us to think that “Islam had finally arrived at our doorsteps and we needed to act urgently to make sure that our way of life is preserved”.

In fact Islam had been in Europe, interacting with the West since the 7th Century. The Muslims and Islam did not arrive to Europe for the first time 10 years ago.

We heard again and again the concept of 'European culture and civilisation'. The idea behind this concept was for us to think that there is a single, homogeneous European culture that was at peace with itself without any contradictions and internal divide.

What culture and whose culture were they talking about?

Was it the culture of states that killed millions of people 60 years ago? Or the peaceful culture of nationalism that hated each other even at football matches? Or was it the class culture of the rich-poor / capitalist-worker divide?

Or, maybe, it was the culture of protestant – catholic hate?

Could it have been the culture of EU, IMF, ECB that in the interest of big bankers, investors and bond holders, forced upon people of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain etc, the poverty and unemployment with the never ending harsh austerity measures?

The debate on Islam, veil, burqa etc. is manufactured by the Islamophobic European rulers and their institutions with a carefully planned agenda and set of objectives. This debate is not to bring freedom and liberation to women.

We need to remember when we hear arguments such as “women’s rights” from these Islamophobic circles:

There are still huge gender inequalities in Europe when it comes to working conditions and wages.

Women still don’t have sexual, physical and legal freedom in some countries where abortion is banned, family law is extremely conservative and huge issues affecting the well-being of European women are continuously ignored by  European states.

Women are still subjected to economic and physical oppression in Europe. Single mothers still have a stigma attached on them and the austerity imposed on people affects single mothers and their children most.

We live in a Europe where governments are making a clear choice between women's refuge homes and bailing out  bond holders. While refuge homes are shut down because we are told that “there is no money”, billions are handed over to the international speculators and bond holders.

While European governments are talking about women's well-being and freedom, they see no problem in ripping a pregnant asylum seeker woman and her children out of her bed in the middle of the night , handcuffing her and flying her back into the hands of oppressive regimes that she ran away from.

Does the Irish government, for example, have any problem with the inhumane direct provision system, where asylum seeker women (and men) are forced to live in continuous poverty without access to education and the right to work?

Women migrant workers, as documented again and again, are one of the most exploited sections of the working class. Illegal practises of dodgy employers go unpunished. Migrant women workers are overworked and underpaid.

How about their liberation?

Many European states talking about women’s freedom and liberation, have no problem selling weapons to despotic regimes where women have little or no rights and the abuse of women is a daily fact of life.

These pro-democracy western states see no issue in being close trade and military partners with the ‘owners’ of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar. Western military bases in these countries compliment the oppression of women by their rulers.

The West has long been quite comfortable with the fact that the women of Gaza and their children are imprisoned and starved. Furthermore it seems to be quite OK for  western states that Palestinian women die in ambulances at military border checkpoints because they are not allowed to pass to go to a hospital.

Our aim here is not to get bogged down in a 'Muslims vs. Europeans' comparison, but when it comes to women's rights we must expose the double standards and the hypocracies of the rulers in the West.

European governments cannot take people for stupid and pretend to defend the Muslim women while economically and socially hurting millions of women - Muslim or not - and killing thousands of others as part of their illegal wars.

Mrs Clinton had claimed that the invasion of Afghanistan would bring liberation to women. Thousands of women still die from drone attacks.

The banning of the lifestyles and dress codes of Muslims, minorities, or anyone who does not fit into the forms of the defined ‘normality’, in other words the ‘others’, is not about creating an integrated just society but is about a rough and rude oppression.

This oppression will not bring about peace and a sense of security to people.

It is now long overdue for us to reject the claims that these bans bring freedom to women and liberate them from oppression. This is not the case.

Women, Muslim or not, can and will fight for their own freedom and against oppression. They will do so in their own terms and conditions.

People who don’t trust women and their own ability to choose and experience life according to their choices, must either don’t know anything about the women of Egypt and their fight against dictatorship, or the women of Afghanistan and their struggle against the war, or the women of Istanbul Gezi Park fighting against oppression or the women of Ireland demanding freedom of choice on abortion, or indeed the Kurdish women who fight for their right to exist.

And these are women in veil or not...

So, what does the Irish Education Minister Ruairi Quinn suggest the 11 year old schoolgirl should do. Can he simply say “In accordance with the provisions of the Education Act 1998, the board of management is the body charged with the direct governance of a school” ?

TD Richard Boyd Barrett is right in saying “This is a human rights’ issue, not just a uniform one. It is the right to religious expression. The hijab is not a threat to anyone.

Ruairi Quinn has a responsibiliy and needs to answer this question: What should the 11 year old schoolgirl do?

May be she is an immigrant and should go back to her home taking her 'problems' with her. Well, this is her home, this is our home!

The responsibiliy lies with the Education Minister. If he hides behind the regulations or the law, he should remember this: Nothing stops him from changing these!

 

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