Veiled Threats and the Danger of Ideology

Via orwellwasright:

The controversy over the wearing of the niqab, hijab and burka in Western nations is picking up once again. For many Westerners, the wearing of the veil is a mark of a repressive medieval religion – the recent case in the UK where a Muslim school forced its female teachers to wear the hijab and the subsequent condemnation by officials at the National Union of Teachers is indicative of the backlash Muslim traditions face. Al-Madinah School in Derby is also accused of practicing discrimination between male and female pupils, forcing girls to sit at the back of the class – hardly a ringing endorsement for modern Islam’s commitment to contemporary values on gender equality.

Another recent controversy emerged over the issue of Muslim wearing the veil while giving evidence in court, and similar issues were raised about whether or not Muslims working for the National Health Service should cover their faces when treating patients. In France, politicians took the measure of banning the veil in public places; the bill prohibiting concealment of the face being passed into law in July 2010 and coming into effect the following year. It highlighted the tension between Western secularism and Islamic tradition and raised the difficult question of how to reconcile the two, if indeed reconciliation would be possible at all.

The hijab is often seen as a symbol of the oppression of women within Islam, and there have been countless news stories over the years which seem to justify that perception, for example the 15-year old Egyptian girl who rejected the pressures from her family to wear the hijab and shot herself. In Sudan, 35-year old Amira Osman Hamed may face a whipping if convicted for refusing to wear the hijab, reflecting a policy which rings of the Taliban’s punitive stance on religious principles. The media, with its characteristically sensationalist manner, amplifies these stories to a point where many believe that this is indicative of all Muslims – a world where Islam and extremism are one and the same thing.

A tweet I received some time ago summed up how easily misconceptions about the Muslim world can arise when a person’s knowledge comes from the mainstream media: ”Please tell me what middle eastern country allows women the vote, allows them to walk without the burka, or doesn’t stone them?” Arab women are able to vote in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Mauritania, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Iraq, Kuwait and elsewhere. A minority of Middle Eastern countries currently use stoning, and while obviously barbaric it is also very rarely employed. Overall rates of execution in the Middle East are considerably lower than America, where the death penalty is still endorsed by much of the population despite numerous cases of the execution of people wrongly convicted. As for the idea that women are forced to wear the burka in public across the region, in some Middle Eastern nations it is actually prohibited, a sign of a growing secularism which views the garment as a symbol of fundamentalist Islam largely rejected by the population.

Nevertheless, the simplistic view of Islam as a religion of oppression and extremism inevitably becomes embedded in the psyche of many people in the West who, with little or no first hand experience of Muslims and their traditions and fed on a diet of “Islamofascist” terrorism propaganda, develop a misguided hatred of the Islamic world and bigotry towards Muslims. Fear of the unknown leads to irrational hostility and intolerance, and concepts such as multiculturalism become a tinderbox from which endless protracted debates on cultural integration versus cultural assimilation flare up and invariably spiral out of control.

Right wing commentator Anne Coulter summed up the knee-jerk reaction from some Westerners in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, when she said that suspect Tamerlan Tsnarnaev’s wife should be imprisoned for wearing a hijab. Coulter stated, “This immigration policy of us assimilating immigrants into our culture isn’t really working. They’re assimilating us into their culture. Did she get a clitorectomy too?” Coulter unwittingly highlighted how uneducated many of those who attack Islam are – the barbaric mutilation of female genitals is a practice carried out in parts of Africa, not Chechnya, where the alleged bomber came from. Far be it for those on the right to temper their prejudices with a degree of understanding.

At the extreme end of this mindset the arguments become incoherent and absurd:

These ingrained attitudes can lead to hate crimes – acts of violence against the “other” every bit as barbaric as those carried out by religious extremists. It is an irony that is surely lost on the perpetrators, who fail to recognize the extremist nature of their own views as they condemn others for theirs, whether real or perceived. When a member of the English Defense League sees a Muslim they see only the crude and fallacious stereotype of the “terrorist” plotting to destroy buildings and impose Sharia Law on the UK – a one-dimensional cartoon villain straight out of an 80s Hollywood action movie.

The post-9/11 era was characterized by a revival of Samuel Huntington’s theory of the “clash of civilizations”. Huntington wrote in a 1993 article for Foreign Affairs:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Inevitably, such a clash is based on divisions which blur when viewed through a geographical lens, with representatives from various cultural groups living side by side in a community. Huntington viewed this as a conflict between “the West and the Rest”, where non-Western nations would either seek to assimilate Western values (avidly pushed upon them by Western governments) or pursue an isolationist policy. It is a simplistic view which fails to appreciate the fluctuating nature of culture and the existence of diversity found within communities, the increasingly global melting pot in which borders play a diminishing role.

This points to an arrogance in the Western mindset that is rarely acknowledged; the assumption that the Western way is obviously the best way and should be proselytized around the globe. The idea of Western cultural imperialism isn’t a new one but its effects are obvious to anyone who has traveled outside of Western nations – corporations have made great strides towards homogenizing cultural values and promoting the very ideology – materialism – their profits rest upon.

Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” represents another form of ideology, resting as it does on the assumption of Western superiority, which, as Noam Chomsky has argued, has been used as a justification by the US ”for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out”. Edward Said’s criticism was considerably harsher, describing the thesis as ”the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims.”

On the global political landscape it is Western leaders who have consistently proven themselves to be warmongering and barbaric, another point lost on those who are fearful of the influence of Islam and hateful towards Muslims. Our aggression towards nations in the Middle East is not only permissible in their eyes but completely justified by the false narratives peddled by the likes of Samuel Huntington and journalists in the popular press. The use of force becomes something noble, a necessary measure to protect us from our enemies. It is a mentality widely held by those in power, allowing people like Madeleine Albright to deem the deaths of half a million Iraq children as a result of punishing sanctions as “worth it”.

Ultimately, issues such as Muslim women wearing a particular garment of clothing serve as a smokescreen distracting away from far more important wider issues concerning tolerance and peaceful co-existence with our fellow human beings, as well as the inherent problems of ideological extremism in all its forms. Rather than focusing on the differences between cultures and beliefs and attempting to either convert them to our own way of thinking or eradicating them altogether, we should be celebrating our differences and joining together to fight against all who would seek to impose their beliefs through force or coercion.

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  • Tchoutoye

    …forcing girls to sit at the back of the class…

    Back in the day when I was in school that’s where all the cool kids wanted to sit. Made to sit in the front row was a cruel punishment.

  • BuzzCoastin

    when in Rome
    do as the Romans do
    or
    expect some shit

  • Pasquale Di Rago

    Why Bother asking for comments, when most of them are either stupid or an attempt to stir the pot. The Message is what is important, and doesn’t need, A-Holes to comment to minimize it or make it irrelevant. FWIW, I loved your Article, and I only wish people would take it seriously, and be moved to act with respect and compassion. Dialogue is what is called for, and it will only occur if people are prepared to look beyond their petty fears and ignorance, and really understand what’s at stake. Oh one parting salvo at the dumb comments league, Grow Up.

    • kowalityjesus

      It is the fate of an article to be criticized in the comments section, however unjustly. You are not the first person to complain of the overall tone of this comments section for sure. It is quite difficult to casually come up with an appropriately complex synopsis for such an article, so please join us in praising or criticizing the author and also the peanut gallery! : )

      • Pasquale Di Rago

        Thanks for the support, but without meaning to offend, your comment has a tone of Tolerance and Appeasement about it, which may lead to apathy or worse inaction. It’s a slippery Slope, that I don’t wish to go down. FWIW, I respect your wisdom and thank you for acknowledging my comment. Oh BTW, if your interested about this issue in a more in-depth way, I suggest a book called “People Like Us” By Waleed Aly, who is not only Muslim but an young Academic of some note. It is an interesting book, and one from the perspective of one who has both Experiential and Intellectual Knowledge on the topic. Anyway I will respect whatever you decide to do. Cheers Pasquale

  • Solo Vero

    I know itching about Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam. I don’t have any problems with Hinduism or Buddhism.

  • Bruteloop

    The idea of Islam as a religion of oppression is simplistic unless you believe that all religion is a tool of oppression. Then the idea of Islam as the sole religion of oppression is simply incorrect.

    Coulter, the

    • Bruteloop

      Darn, seems to be an echo in here…

  • kowalityjesus

    in events of cultural schism, its nice to have economic ties at least. Libertarianism, i.e. buy and let buy, is a suitable fundamental peaceful ground. Problem is, in a resource constrained world, it will matter more and more what other people do with their money.

    That is, until Christ returns.

  • Bruteloop

    The idea of Islam as a religion of oppression is simplistic unless you believe that all religion is a tool of oppression. Then the idea of Islam as the sole religion of oppression is simply incorrect.

    Coulter, the EDL, Albright and others like them are the flipside of the idiot extremist coin.

    Undoubtedly there is no little arrogance in the Western mindset, as well as no little insecurity. Should Western power wane there will be an equal arrogance in whatever culture becomes dominant. Such are we all.

    However, to say women wearing particular garments is nothing more than a smokescreen is disingenuous. While, yes, some women choose to wear the niqab, others do not but do have to.
    Until the choice is entirely womens’ choice,( or in the unlikely event that men start to cover themselves ) and not a signifier of brutal patriarchy and misogyny as well, it is not simply a smokescreen.

    Of course, there will still remain the absurdity of religious belief and all the other manifestations of misogyny throughout all cultures.

    Did a man or a woman write the article?

    • Bruteloop

      Apologies. I used the link and the site doesn’t attribute the article to am author that I can see. I assumed you had simply posted it here. If you are the author then obviously my last point is somewhat specious.

  • Dingbert

    Reminds me of a hat-related quote:

    “I would rather see the Muslim turban in the midst of the city than the Latin mitre.”
    -Loukas Notaras, the (last) Grand Duke of Byzantium. [Of the two persecutors, the Turks were a bit more tolerant.]

    It’s a good time to read up on the history of the Byzantine empire. West meets East. Eastern Islam, as directed by Mohammed, aims to convert the world by the sword. Western Christianity, as directed by the Pope, aims to conquer the Middle East and destroy anyone in the way. Change a couple characters and it sounds pretty familiar.
    What isn’t familiar today is the presence of an advanced empire between the two invaders that’s diplomacy-oriented and both Christian and Eastern. Oh, well. At least Mt. Athos is still raising the Byzantine flag.

  • notcreastive

    Its happening in Quebec, with the Quebec charter of values