Friday, February 15, 2008

Head Scarves: Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don't

A while back, the French government wandered into a minefield when it tried to ban Islamic headscarves. Now, a Turkish lawyer is fighting a similar ban: she wants the right to choose whether or not to wear the scarf.

I'm not really interested in writing about the awesomeness of liberal choice ideology, or multiculturalism. I insist that the Islamic head scarf is a symbol of oppression; it falls under the category of "Islamic douchebaggery." One can't "choose" to accept a symbol of oppression; in the 1960s, some southern blacks actually resisted desegregation. It would be easy to say "it's their choice!" but it isn't possible to make a "choice" to tear up one's ethical dignity.

So I disagree with the women that fight to keep wearing their headscarves. But I can't agree with the ban on them, either. When you say to someone "Do X and liberate yourself," they are perfectly justified in responding "Don't tell me what to do, you crusading liberal white male!"

These women are trapped between a rock and a hard place. If they wear the scarves, they are playing into the vile patriarchal structures of their culture. If they remove the hard scarves, then they are submitting themselves to a wholly other patriarchal structure, the one that wants to save them from themselves.

The only thing to do is to completely drop the head scarf issue. Ignore it. What needs to be attacked is the underlying problem, that of the oppression of women in Islamic countries. And on this, I am on the same page as Fatma Benli, the lawyer fighting the scarf ban. She says,

“I could tell you about domestic violence, about honor killings, about the parts of the criminal code that discriminate against women,” she said, ticking off her areas of expertise in rapid-fire sentences. “But we can’t move on to those issues.

“The head scarf is where we are stuck.”

So the head scarf bans need to go, but so do the repeated refrains of "choice!"


David Grant said...

This reminds me of something I encountered with Indians years ago. They were working on funding to strengthen their historical roots. The problem was that to get funding they had to do evaluations that violated one of their main beliefs that whatever is, is. Life isn't to be evaluated.

The comment that someone made was, "in order to remain Indian we have to become white."

Jamie A. Grant said...

I like the final quote, and the rock-and-hard-place perspective. Really made me think...