As Muslims it’s been our recent experience that many of the voices raised loudest against Muslims in the west have connections to Israel, particularly in the United States but also in the UK; they include radical Zionists, secular Jews who like to police which types of Muslims the left, in particular, associates with, and Christian Zionists. Now, it’s the turn of the Jerusalem Post to basically tell the west how to deal with its Muslims: the “burka” cannot be tolerated because it is supposedly misogynistic, because it “undermines social cohesion”, and because it’s a security and crime risk. Do we really need them to tell us how to manage our own security?
In Israel, the problem is complicated by a small group of Jews who have decided that their women have to wear what they are calling a “burka” as well. There are said to be groups of Christians who adopt modes of dress nowadays associated with Islam, particularly in the USA, also. The problem is that Muslims, and for that matter Haredi Jews, living in the west do not attempt to impose their way of life on everyone else. When you travel through one of their districts in Jerusalem, the buses are segregated with men at the front and the women at the back. I have never heard of such things happening in London or any city in the Midlands or the North of England where there are areas with, if not a majority, then certainly a distinct Muslim character. (There is nowhere in London that has a Jewish majority, although the presence of Haredi Jews in places like Stamford Hill is certainly substantial.)
Their article clearly reveals their ignorance about Islam itself: they state that the niqaab, or “burka” as they insist on calling it, “is worn in more extremist Muslim traditions as part of a conscientious adherence to hijab”, before moving onto the issue of the “zealot sect” of Jews which has adopted it. Having come across a number of women who wear niqaab in my time as a Muslim, I can safely say that most are not extremists. It’s true that there are one or two groups whose members can be more reliably counted on to wear niqaab than others, but even this does not make them a threat to anyone, even if they tend to keep to their own kind. They are groups that can best be compared to the Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses or some of the Haredi Jews, all of which keep themselves isolated (far more than any Muslim group does) and cause no great distress to society.
The editorial claims,
But while the objectification of women is wrong, it cannot be compared to the brutal erasing of their very presence. The burka deviates so radically from accepted Western norms that it cannot be permitted under the pretext of freedom of religious expression, just as full nudity can’t. That’s why the vast majority of moderate Muslims oppose the burka.
The niqaab does not “erase their very presence”; in my observation, many (though not all) combine the niqaab with overclothes which do not totally erase their femininity, much less their presence, and are often nicely decorated abayas and coloured scarves rather than single-coloured “tents”. Muslims did not come here on the condition that they obeyed western “norms”, only local laws, and generally laws do not enforce norms but forbid harms. As for “moderate Muslims”, if what is meant by this is the Melanie Phillips definition (which, judging by the talk of “social cohesion”, is what is meant) of Muslims who are pro-Israel, perhaps this is true! But no Muslim can fail to respect women who wear the niqaab because its religious merit is well-established.
The burka also undermines social cohesion. Women who wear the burka in Western countries send out a strongly anti-integrationist message. It is part of a wider rejection of Western values by radical Islamists who insist on full communal autonomy and the official recognition of Sharia law, including the imposition of the niqab (full veiling of the female face), and sometimes the right to perform female genital mutilation.
Here we see them thrashing about looking for connections where there are none. The majority of Muslims in the UK are from north India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where the vast majority of women are not circumcised and never have been. It is just not an issue with them; it is an issue with Somalis and other Africans (not all of them Muslims). The niqaab has nothing to do with “radical Islamists” but with women who regard it as part of perfecting their religion, most of them not at all influenced by “radical Islamists”. Not all of the women associated with the radicals wear niqaab; before al-Muhajiroun became what it is today, it was rare to see women in niqaab at functions they organised. Mostly they wore the normal hijaab with a long dress coat. However, it is more common to find women in niqaab (and men in traditional attire) in areas where they feel safe doing so, meaning areas where Muslims are numerous.
They also mention that the niqaab “can be a security or crime risk”, hiding the identity of “a potential terrorist or criminal”. They should consider the experience of the UK, where women have been wearing niqaab in large numbers since at least the 1990s, and the fact remains that robbers who want to conceal their identities wear balaclavas, not niqaabs, and will no doubt continue doing so even if Muslim women are banned from wearing niqaab. Niqaab and the clothes commonly worn with it are best suited to walking around gracefully, not making quick get-aways from scenes of crimes. The best-known “incident” of a niqaab being used for such purposes has in fact never been proven to have happened, but involves a failed terrorist supposedly using his wife’s niqaab and passport to flee the country in 2005 — not to actually perpetrate an act of terrorism. This could have been averted by the security staff at the airport doing their jobs properly and pulling him (if that’s who it was) over to ask a few questions. If something is known to be used as a means of concealing a threat, then there is a case for restricting it, but in the twenty years that the niqaab has been commonly worn by some Muslim women in the UK, it hasn’t been. That somebody in Israel thinks it could be has no relevance to the UK.
Those who support such legislation realize that an easygoing multiculturalism works only when there are basic shared values and a willingness to integrate. But European multiculturalism has deteriorated into rudderless moral relativism and a pusillanimous reluctance to criticize radical Islamic customs for fear of being branded an Islamophobe.
This is a piece of nonsense which has been discredited many times before. The press in this country are certainly not shy of being called Islamophobic — why would some newspapers have printed front-page attacks on the niqaab if they had any such fear? Articles hostile to Islam and aspects of Muslim culture appear in the western press all the time. Where did they get this nonsense?
Sadly, some Jewish leaders, such as Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow and leader of the Conference of European Rabbis, have helped foster such unfounded fears. “Sixty-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz,” wrote Goldschmidt in the New York Times in February, in an op-ed opposing the idea of bans on the burka, “Europeans can permit themselves to be squeamish about how things start and how things, if left unabated, can end.” As a rabbi, he added, “I am made uncomfortable when any religious expression is restricted, not only my own.”
Goldschmidt has got it wrong. Europeans have a right to feel uncomfortable. But not, as Goldschmidt argues, because Europeans are being too hard on Muslims. Rather, because they are being too soft.
So, Goldschmidt should stop behaving like an downtrodden, self-hating diaspora Jew and treat Muslims like what that author considers Muslims to be: the enemy. Jews and Muslims living in the west have various things in common, such as being a religious minority with dietary customs in particular which aren’t shared by the majority population, and with differing dress codes in some cases and a well-founded fear of discrimination and persecution, particularly in Russia where there is a long history of anti-Semitism, of hostility to religion, of an aggressive dominant Christian church, and a recent upsurge of fascist and racist violence. It is an environment where religious minorities have to stick together, not fight each other in the interests of a foreign power. That is not the case in Israel, where Jews are dominant but the Muslim (and Christian) minority they have occupied are the enemy. Why does this writer not just do the honest thing and tell Goldschmidt to move to Israel?
It’s impossible to escape the feeling that this author simply wants Europeans to stick the boot into Muslims because he or she fears them as an Israeli Jew. Israel is reliant on America and Europe to support it by both buying its agricultural exports and by paying for its defence. It is a myth that Israel is some sort of vanguard for western interests in the Middle East; it is a subsidised armed encampment in hostile territory that the West could actually do without. As it happens, Israelis do not particularly welcome foreigners, including diaspora Jews, telling them how to run their country and how to deal with the Palestinians, so why on earth should they expect the west to change the way they deal with Muslims simply to suit their interests? Of course, an Israeli op-ed writer is not the only foreigner who could tell the west that he or she “knows all about the Muslims” — the leaders of the Indian BJP and its associated organisations, various Serbian religious figures, Peter Akinola and his fellow-travellers in the Church of England; would the west be taking their advice also? None of the arguments presented here stack up, and while it may be true that only a tiny percentage of women on the continent wear niqaab, the experience in the UK is of large numbers wearing it over a 20-year period without any significant problems.
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