Monday, July 17, 2006


Women of Courage

Feminists defending the wearing of hijab and other veils intended to cover up the female body has always made me feel deeply uneasy. It seems somehow deeply, intrinsically wrong for women to support such a blatant symbol of other women's oppression.

Of course, the argument goes that it's up to Muslim women themselves to decide whether they want to wear it or not, but really, given the consequences of not covering up in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, can it actually be described as a choice?

I find it particularly infuriating when the reason for it — to prevent glimpses of female flesh, or hair, from inflaming male desire — is presented as legitimate. If men are such animals, surely it should be them who are covered up and kept off the streets, not the poor women who are the subjects of their uncontrollable lust.

Which is why I have been so pleased to hear what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Fadela Amara, two Muslim women brave enough to stick their heads over the parapet, have been saying lately on the subject. Ayaan was talking on Radio 4’s Start The Week last week (you can still hear the programme by going here), and there's an interview with Fadela in today's Guardian.

A Dutch MP until recently, when controversy erupted over details on her application for asylum, Ayaan is famous for her outspoken views on Islam and for writing the film that lead to the Dutch film-maker, Theo Van Gogh’s brutal murder by an Islamist extremist.

Fadela, passionate about defending France’s secular democracy and ferocious in her fight against fundamentalism, has split with much of the feminist establishment in France over the 'cultural relativism' which allows them to defend the wearing of the veil — which she describes as an archaic symbol of the subjugation of women — on the grounds that it is traditional.

"…the first victims of fundamentalism are women." she says " I don't care if it's Islamic fundamentalism or American evangelism. A fascist is a fascist."

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