Debate & discussion: Veil: not a private matter

Submitted by Anon on 5 February, 2004 - 4:35

In recent issues, Solidarity has printed translations and articles from revolutionaries in France responding to the current ferment around the French government's plans for a law banning the Islamic headscarf from state schools in France by arguing "no to the veil, no to the law".

Here we print a translation of the views of Lutte Ouvrière, who place much more emphasis on opposition to the veil.
"Neither father nor brother nor husband, it's we who have chosen the veil"; "Veiled or unveiled, the freedom to choose". Such were among the most common slogans on Saturday 17 January at the Paris demonstration against the planned law banning religious signs in school.

But what liberty were the four or five thousand young women talking about who gathered in Paris on the initiative of the Muslim Party of France?

To go by the energy with which they proclaimed it, the majority had in fact decided to be there to demand the right to be veiled. If they had freely chosen to veil themselves, that is their business, but one is tempted to say, so much the worse for them.

These activists of Islamist organisations are demanding the chains which will subjugate them tomorrow if they keep to their choice. But they are demanding them not only for themselves.

They are campaigning for the subjugation of thousands of women who, for their part, have not chosen it, who are not asked for their opinion and who have to fight to give an opinion. Fortunately, there are some who do that, and it is those whom we support.

School must remain a place when Muslim girls can escape from the pressures of those - fathers, brothers, or lads from their suburbs - who make them veil themselves when they go out. Those girls do not get a voice in the media because for them the veil comes with a ban or a limitation on going out and a confinement to their homes.

The reality is about some tens of thousands of girls who are forced to veil themselves and in some cases pushed into forced marriages. Their only future is as women morally and physically imprisoned by men who have claimed full power over them. And not only in Iran, in Afghanistan, and in countries where Islamic law prevails, but also here, on the housing estates.

If the veil was simply a religious symbol worn by men and women, wearing it or not would be one's private business. But the veil under discussion today is not a religious symbol. It is the concrete token of the oppression of women, of a whole conditioning to facilitate the production of wives and mothers with no rights other than to obey their lord and master, kept shut up in their homes, as were, not so long ago, those sent as nuns, with their consent or otherwise, to convents.

This fate for women is not special to the Muslim religion. It is the place reserved for women whenever the churches gain power - official, or imposed by custom - over a human community.

Religious hierarchies have always opposed women's rights. Jewish fundamentalists - the men, of course - recite each morning a prayer in which they thank their god for not having been born female.

As for the Pope and the whole hierarchy of the Catholic Church, women have had to fight them to gain their rights. When in the early 1950s techniques for childbirth without pain were developed, the Pope and his representatives banned them on the pretext that the Bible said "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children".

In the same way, they opposed - and still oppose - divorce on the grounds that "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder"; contraception in the name of "Be fruitful, and multiply"; abortion on the pretext that the embryo is a person from the moment of conception; and even the use of condoms, including when they know about the ravages of AIDS.

As for the law being prepared against the wearing of religious symbols in school, whatever the mental reservations of the government and the right-wing majority in the National Assembly - will it be a point of leverage for those who, by opposing the veil, combat the oppression of women?

That remains to be seen, depending on the many amendments which will no doubt be attached to the law.

What is certain is that the fight against religious fundamentalisms is far from over. And when those reactionary ideas pull society backwards, it is our duty to go into battle against them with the greatest energy.

Lutte Ouvrière, 23 January 2004

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.