Burkinis, hijabs, niqabs and lip gloss

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What’s with the lip gloss in the title? I just find it incredibly attractive on a woman, that’s all. I should, I suppose, qualify that by adding that it depends on the woman in question but as a (non-permanent) means of amplifying natural feminine charms nothing else comes close by comparison.

Anyway, enough of my salacious musings. I wanted to touch briefly on the recent controversy surrounding the banning of burkinis by several French municipalities – part of a wider conflict over Muslim women’s apparel.

Essentially the argument employed by those favouring a ban on the burkini/hijab/niqab/all three is that such attire flies in the face of Western liberal conceptions of gender equality. While it is true that Liberalism makes no pronouncement on dress codes other than to infer the preferability of their absence, the argument that certain items of clothing carry inherent ideological resonance is one not entirely devoid of merit.

Back in 2014 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on a case brought by a French Muslim woman alleging the ban on the niqab and accompanying Eur 150 fine was, inter alia, a violation of her Article 9 right to free religious expression. In dismissing her claim it was noteworthy that the court rejected the French government’s “security concerns” defence (although given the events of the past 12 months the court might today take a different view) but upheld their central contention that the ban was justified for ‘the preservation of the conditions of “living together”’. In doing so it recognised that the niqab was a threat to the social order by virtue of what it represented – a particular societal viewpoint deeply antithetical to the prevailing one. Previously the same court had upheld bans on hijabs in public institutions.

The burkini, the hijab and the niqab all emanate from a particular belief, one which rejects Western ideals of absolute gender equality and permissive sexual mores. They are a public exposition of the belief that religious texts should dictate societal behaviour; as such they are an implicit challenge to the secular basis of Western society and a threat thereby to social cohesion. I should mention that Muslim women who choose to adopt such clothing do so as an act of sincere devotion to God rather than as a part of some programme of political subversion yet nonetheless the unintended consequence is that it gives rise to considerable angst amongst the majority populace.

The French response to this rising ideological threat was predictably blunt and equally as predictably will have the exact opposite of the intended effect, driving increasing numbers of French Muslims towards “fundamentalism”. The French historically have always favoured such an approach in dealing with restless ‘third worlders’. Brutal, direct and uncompromising. The British by contrast are far more subtle. The insidious nature of the PREVENT programme is no less pernicious in its aims yet by couching it in the language of “protection” and “combatting terror” it seeks to deflect attention away from its true objective: social engineering. Whether under pain of prosecution and mulct or by way of “voluntary” re-education the aim is much the same. Groups such as Sara Khan’s “Inspire” are central to this programme and her recent prevarication over whether the hijab was part of a system of patriarchal oppression (not to mention her cosying up to known Islamaphobes such as Nick Cohen) while ostensibly defending the right of Muslim women to wear them (along with burkinis and niqabs) highlights perfectly the contrast between the British and French approaches.

May the peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon sayyidina, Muhammad. Ameen.

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