The hijab: never voluntary

Houzan Mahmoud, UK-based overseas chair of the Iraq Freedom Congress, writes for The Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, Oct. 7:

It’s not a matter of choice
More than ever, women are claiming that wearing the veil, burqa or niqab is their own decision. I totally reject this view.

The veil is not merely a piece of “cloth”, but a sign of the oppression of women, control over their sexuality, submissiveness to the will of God or a man. The veil is a banner of political Islam used, to segregate women born by historical accident in the so-called “Islamic World” from other women in the rest of the world.

I could never have imagined having anything in common with Jack Straw, but I find myself in agreement with him about how it feels talking to a woman covered up in hijab or the “niqab” that covers women fully.

However, I think he has discovered this rather late; in fact, the whole British government is late in drawing attention to this growing phenomenon. Women covering up their entire bodies, young boys becoming suicide bombers and the ever growing demands of religious organisations in the UK to implement Islamic sharia law when it comes to “Muslim family affairs”.

Jack Straw’s government has always been proud of its “multicultural society”, in which all kinds of backward and anti-human cultures are respected and given space by the state. Women from an Islamic background will be among the most oppressed.

Celebrating “different cultures” the existence of mosques and religious schools is a place for brainwashing the young people with Islamic values which can only produce political Islamists.

A ghettoised lifestyle, isolated communities, lack of integration and institutionalised racism are all part and parcel of this growing number of brain-washed young generation of girls and boys defining themselves by their religious identity.

Political Islamists are seeking to unify youth from a variety of backgrounds around the project of a “jihad” under which the whole world will be dominated and ruled according to the “ethics” of Sharia law.

More than ever, women are claiming that wearing the veil, burqa or niqab is their own decision. I totally reject this view. Not wearing the veil can create harsh problems for women – if it doesn’t cost them their life, as in Iraq, it can cost them long-term isolation from their community, with those considered “loose women” having less chance of getting a “decent marriage”, and less chance of going out and entering education. When a family sees this as a threat to their “honour”, it can have disastrous consequences. The policies of cultural relativism have claimed the lives of many women in the UK, with their killers not properly brought to justice because “culture” and “religion” are taken into account by the courts. Women’s rights are universal. A criminal must be sentenced according to the law, not on religious and cultural grounds.

Imagine if a girl has been told to wear the veil from as early as four or five years old, where is the choice in this? If you are born and open your eyes in an environment that imposes Islamic values, norms and lifestyles, alienated from the rest of society, how easy is it to make another choice? I understand why girls would veil, but I cannot see it as anything other than a solitary confinement prison.

The government’s endless funding to promote religious activities and run religious schools must be ended. We need a secular education system: universal standards must be applied to all schools and educational institutions. I want my daughter to learn about the wealth of human art, literature, music and science, not religion and the joys of “different religious cultures”. Children know no colour, race or religious segregation; they are all friends and part of the same community – until parents impose their beliefs on them.

The veil should be banned for under-aged girls and children must be protected from abusive – yes, that is right, abusive – parents who seek to impose their religion on them.

Having a society free from politicised religion is the precondition for women’s freedom and progress. In the west where religion has been pushed back and separated from the state, we see women are more free and equal to men as compared to the countries where Islam is dominant.

In Iraq we have witnessed widespread terror and violence against women who refuse to wear the veil. In Iraq the veil is being imposed at gunpoint – the only choice women are offered is to obey.

In Iran women are lashed or sometimes stoned to death for expressing their simple right to exercise human desires. The Islamic Republic has been repressing women for almost three decades now. Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia: we witness how women’s oppression and terror against women is top priority for every Islamic regime, whatever its stripe.

Therefore: the veil is not merely a piece of cloth, but a political statement, the banner of a political movement, political Islam, in the Middle East, Europe and worldwide. We must take a firm stand against this by demanding secular laws, secular education and equality for all.

Religion must be privatised! Religion is a personal matter and should not be brought into everyday life. Criticising all religions is our right; freedom of expression should not be compromised.

See our last posts on Iraq’s civil resistance, the struggle within Islam, Islam in the UK, and other feminist criticism of the left’s embrace of Islamism.

  1. I think it would be wise for
    I think it would be wise for you to do some research next time about your topic before actually writing the article, because obviously you know nothing about the religion, or muslim women. Firstly, its not true that women who do not wear hijab are isolated from their societies. In fact it is very common that women do not wear them in their respective countries. In your article , you only refer to two of the most extreme countries, not taking into account the various Muslim countries that exist. And I know you dont realize this, but they arent all the same. Also, take into account that this “evil” religion, is the fastest growing in the world, and that all world religions have been responsible for great atrocities, christianity as much as Islam. Your article does nothing but promote hate. You are free to say it, just like the KKK is free to say hateful things about blacks and jews, and muslims for that matter, but you have committed the crime of generalizing an entire religious population, that really you dont seem to know anything about. Your hate is obvious in your writing, and it is hate that promotes violence, not religion.

    1. Forgive me….
      If I trust Houzan Mahmoud more than I trust you. She is a woman who grew up in a conservative Islamic environment. Are you? I am interested in promoting neither violence nor religion, thank you.