Veiling The Face – The Right To The Choice

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The chosen attire of a small minority of Muslim ladies has been in the news a lot this week, mainly because (before crashing and burning in the local council elections) the UKIP party made the abolition of the burka (full face and body cover) and niqab (the face veil) a key objective in their manifesto.

Leaving aside the fact that with only a month to go until the General Election most of us would prefer to see an agenda with items of more wide spread relevance than ladies’ clothing being raised by our political parties, the discussion around Muslim ladies’ dress has been given extensive press coverage which has led to a lot of discussion in public forums and social media.

A lot of the discussion has rehashed old ground – with the usual objections to the covering of the face being trotted out, sometimes with good intent, sometimes with an underlying agenda of Islamophobia. It is worth considering the merit of some of these objections in detail when considering why the face veil continues to provoke such strong debate.

Integration

Denigrators of the niqab claim that covering the face displays an unwillingness to integrate with the wider community. The veil is perceived to be a barrier that prevents social interaction.

It is my view that a barrier is only a barrier if people allow it to become one. I have lived and worked in communities where we have all, Muslims and non Muslims alike, chosen not to let the fact that some women wear the niqab be a barrier to our interactions and communication. By welcoming engagement with ladies who choose to cover, in exactly the same way we would interact with any other member of the community, the face veil presented no obstacle to friendly interaction and community integration.

Female subjugation

For some the face veil represents the subjugation of women and is seen as a barrier to female rights and freedoms.

If the face veil was a mandatory code of dress imposed by men on women then I would agree. But what the critics fail to take account of is the fact that (in the main – I am not denying there are some exceptions of coercion) covering the face is a choice made by women for themselves.

It is a clear case of double standards if we fight for the rights of women but then try to deny women those rights when they choose to exercise them. Anybody who is really serious about standing up for the rights of women should be equally as vehement toward defending their rights to the burka as they would be the bikini. Those who base their objection to the face veil on the argument that women cannot think for themselves and are doing the bidding of men who impose the veil upon them are actually insulting women and doing women’s rights no favours at all.

We have moved a long way from the ankle flashing scandals of Victorian times as we have become more enlightened and comfortable with the natural state of the human body.  It is very positive that women no longer feel they must cover themselves to meet the expectations of society. But equally we must guard against stigmatising women who do choose to cover themselves. We cannot congratulate ourselves on our liberal attitudes toward how women choose to dress if we are still going to judge them if they make a choice we don’t agree with.

Security

I think it is important to be clear that people who worry about the security implications of face covering garments are not necessarily implying Muslim ladies as a collective are of criminal mind but rather that an individual of any faith, colour or gender could use the concealing garments to disguise their identity and break the law.

However this argument could apply to many different articles of clothing, none of which are receiving the relentlessly negative publicity that niqab wearing ladies have been exposed to. The balaclava argument is a bit trite as is the beekeeper argument (we are unlikely to see these on the bus or tube) but a lot of people do wear hoodies and neck scarves pulled up to cover their faces and these pose exactly the same security threat (or non-security threat, depending on your view) as the niqab. This also raises the question as to why it is always religious dress that attracts censure?

Against British Values

Some individuals claim they find the covering of the face offensive and that they believe it to be against British values.

I am British and yet I have no idea what traditional British values the face veil is supposed to be offending.  For me, being British means being inclusive and embracing all views, cultures and ways of life. I can think of nothing more British than allowing an individual to go about his/her business without comment or judgement. It is prejudice, not the face veil that goes against true British values.

The face veil may not be what you choose to wear. It isn’t what I choose to wear. But we live in a free society where people are free to make choices for themselves. Once we start believing we have the right to dictate to women we undermine the efforts of every woman who has ever fought for those hard won rights we enjoy today. You may not always like the choices people make but, if you enjoy living in that free society, you need to defend their right to make them.

Roanna is one of the founder members of Resisting Hate. She is the author of the majority of our articles, and also publishes a blog on Huffington Post UK
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Robinson and Mcloughlan’s ‘Quran’

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If you wanted to read a layman’s guide to the Quran chances are you would expect that guide to be written by a knowledgable Muslim scholar or Imam, somebody with a good understanding and personal experience of the faith.

You would perhaps be as sceptical as we are to hear of a book entitled ‘Muhammad’s Koran’ written not by a practising Muslim but by a duo of non Islam practising individuals, known publicly for their Islamophobic views.  The publicity claim that with this book you can “understand the Quran in minutes not months,” does nothing to enhance the credibility of this dubious piece.

Peter McCloughlin is the author of “Easy Meat.” The intro to his book on Amazon reads:  Peter McLoughlin spent years believing the Leftist narrative, namely it was ‘a racist myth’ that organised Muslim groups in Britain and the Netherlands (‘grooming gangs’) were luring white schoolgirls into a life of prostitution. This sets the tone for what is essentially a long, self indulgent whine about Muslims in the UK.

We thought this review summed it up the best:

Tommy Robinson, ex leader of the EDL has been written about by us here and here. He has been arrested on numerous occasions for ‘threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour’ (and other crimes including mortgage fraud) and his association with Pegida UK is indicative of his personal antipathy toward the religion of Islam.

If ever two wannabe authors were more likely to bungle a discussion on the Quran it is these two.

We can’t work out from the Amazon site if this book has actually been released or not. It only has 2 reviews (one of which acknowledges they haven’t actually read the book) but the site says it is out of print and we couldn’t find an option to buy for the kindle (not that we actually planned to buy this xenophobic bilge lol). However should you come across it be warned, this will be Robinson and McCloughlin’s usual biased Muslim hating rubbish and about as academic as an Enid Blyton book.

Roanna is one of the founder members of Resisting Hate. She is the author of the majority of our articles, and also publishes a blog on Huffington Post UK
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Halal and Kosher – Facts not Prejudice

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Not being a reader of the Daily Mail their article on the subject of Halal slaughter published on the 24 October would have normally gone unnoticed. However when it was brought to my attention on Twitter I decided to have a closer look at some of the claims made by the Mail and explore some of the facts behind the hate rhetoric that the paper publishes in place of news.

In researching this article I didn’t want to base my viewpoint solely on the usual academic publications and news articles so I have spent the last two days watching actual abattoir footage demonstrating the three different techniques of pre stun slaughter, no stun slaughter and post stun slaughter. This isn’t an ivory tower approach, I have watched these animals being killed for myself.

The terms Halal and Kosher in this context (Halal for Muslims, Kosher for Jews) relate to food which is permissible to eat under the two religions. These do not exclusively relate to the slaughter methods, there are many other dietary laws involved such as the type of animal that can be consumed, how the meat is served/stored and even the diet of the animal itself. However for the purpose of this article it is the slaughter methods I am concerned with.

The two primary requirements of Halal and Kosher slaughter involve the fact that the slaughter must be performed by somebody of the religious faith and that the animal be killed by a single slit to the throat with the body completely drained of blood afterwards. This is usually achieved by the hanging of the carcass so the blood naturally drains away from the animal. Both faiths emphasise the importance of minimising suffering to the animal and advocate the use of a sharp non serrated blade so the animal is killed quickly due to deep severing of the primary arteries. In both Halal and Kosher slaughter there is a religious observation involved in the ritual. Halal slaughter requires that the name of God be spoken before the individual animal is killed and Kosher slaughter requires a blessing to be performed before each session of slaughter takes place.

There is a common sense approach to the religious requirements of both faiths. A carcass that is not properly drained of blood will quickly spoil. Also, historically, the requirement to slit the throat of the animal would have been one of the quickest methods of despatch available to Muslims and Jews and so would have fit with the humanitarian aspects of both faiths. Incidentally the dietary laws in general have many common sense elements. Neither Muslims nor Jews eat the flesh of the pig which in the hot climate of the pre refrigeration era in the Middle East would have been very sensible indeed as pork does not store well and carries a much higher risk of food poisoning.

The Mail headline as usual makes a claim without bothering to explain the actual facts. The statement “The animal must be alive when its throat is cut and be allowed to bleed out” is misleading as it makes no reference to the time spans involved. It takes on average between seven and thirty seconds for a sheep to lose consciousness after having its throat slit. The bleeding out process is completed while the animal is unconscious and the animal will go from unconsciousness to death with no suffering involved.

The “unnecessary agony” is also an example of rhetoric rather than fact. Many animals are stunned with electricity prior to slaughter so are rendered insensible before the throat is cut. The Mail tries to play down pre stun slaughter by stating “In a number of abattoirs the animals are not stunned over fears it is not permissible.” However, statistically in the UK, 88% of the Halal food chain is killed by pre stun methods. (Check the actual Food Standards Agency figures, not what the Mail tells you the FSA statistics are).

Interestingly enough it is Kosher slaughter (which the Mail makes notably little reference to except as a definition in a side paragraph) that does not permit the pre stun prior to the kill. One senses the ever present anti Muslim Daily Mail agenda at work here.

The Mail makes reference to both non stun and pre stun slaughter but fails to mention the third method of slaughter – post stun – or the fact that this method has gained popularity in recent years. This method involves an electric shock being administered to the animal immediately after the throat has been cut. This is acceptable to most Muslims as the objective that the animal be conscious when slaughtered is met. It is also, unlike pre stun slaughter, accepted in the Jewish faith. The post stun method means that the animal is not even aware of pain for the seconds it takes to lose consciousness. To my mind this increasingly popular method of slaughter also shows that both the Muslim and the Jewish religion are willing to look for new ways to be compliant with their faith while also considering the important point of animal welfare.

I am personally committed to the idea that animals should be killed in a humane manner. As I said at the beginning of this article I made the effort to watch significant amounts of footage across all three slaughter methods to determine in my own mind if I believed Halal and Kosher slaughter methods humane or not. The conclusion I reached was that all three methods (pre, post and non stun) when administered correctly by licensed professionals in authorised premises were to my mind acceptable in the sense that unnecessary suffering was not experienced by the animals. The myths I had heard about – in particular the violent death throes of the animals after the throat is cut – were simply that, myths. The footage I saw of the animals writhing around in what admittedly does look like pain is actually down to post death muscle movement. Even with no stun slaughter the animal is dead and beyond pain within seconds.

I find it suspicious that these two religions should receive such bad press for their religious requirements and strongly suspect this is more to do with the attitude of the right wing media toward the faiths themselves than it is a genuine interest in animal welfare. What my research into abattoirs did show me is that there are still a large number (and I’m talking secular abattoirs now as well as ones with a religious focus) where animal welfare is not a priority and where abuse and neglect still go on. This should be the real expose, not the fact that some animals are slaughtered using what I personally witnessed to be humane Halal and Kosher methods of slaughter.

Roanna is one of the founder members of Resisting Hate. She is the author of the majority of our articles, and also publishes a blog on Huffington Post UK
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Get Your Burkinis On Ladies!

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For any individual who hasn’t spent the last week and a half holidaying in a cave, the issue of France and the burkini ban will have turned up at some point in their newspaper or social media feed. The headline image of four armed French policemen forcing a Muslim lady to remove layers of clothing has raised eyebrows and debates all over the world.

After a fraught few days of controversy the French state council has finally ruled that mayors of individual regions do not have the authority to restrict civil liberties without justifiable cause.

It is surprising that mayors in these coastal French towns ever thought they did have the authority to impose such a dictatorial ban. It was an edict with obvious connotations of religious discrimination and far reaching consequences that went beyond the victimisation of the French Muslim communities to encroach on the rights of the female gender as a whole.

Essentially regions of France were saying that it is the job of the state to police what women choose to wear. It is interesting to notice that no such directives were issued on male dress. It is also ironic in that while attempting to “prevent repression of women” the French were doing precisely that and taking away the choices and freedom of women. This is blatant sexism.

As a garment in itself the burkini is pretty innocuous. It is best described as a slightly more stylised wet suit – or swim wear with a greater body coverage than more conventional swim suits. It is precisely this modesty that seemed to raise the blood pressure of the French mayors. Women in their eyes should evidently be uncovering more of their bodies on the beach. This begs the question whether French mayors see women as individuals and decision makers in their own right or whether they seek to objectify them as commodities for sexual gratification.
The rationale for the ban seemed to boil down to two key points:

  1. The burkini is an affront against French secularism.
  2. The burkini threatens social tensions within communities.

If the burkini ban is to be justified by the concept of enforced secularism then I would strongly question why only the chosen dress of Muslim ladies was being held to account. Surely Christian crosses, Sikh turbans and Jewish Stars of David are equally prominent symbols of a chosen faith? By targeting one faith community and one faith community alone the French were being deliberately discriminatory and divisive. The intention was obvious, they wished to persecute Muslims.

The French attempted to justify the bias toward banning the burkini by making oblique references to terrorism. To the best extent of my knowledge (and I run an anti hate group, I do a fair bit of reading in this area) not one single act of terrorism has been committed by an individual wearing a burkini. Very few acts of terrorism have been carried out by females. It is tenuous in the extreme to try and link a lady’s swimming costume to a terrorist agenda.

The claim that banning the burkini will reduce social tension is equally laughable. Divide a community and you get a divided community. The ban reinforced the dangerous misconception that the Muslim in the street is associated with hate groups like ISIS. This increases social tension between Muslims and non Muslims and does nothing to promote the value of integration between different faith communities. Divisive tactics like this create a climate of fear and mistrust and actually worsen the social tensions that the ban was (supposedly) meant to reduce.

As to why the ban was put into force in the first place I would suggest that it was a poorly executed spin attempt to assure the public that steps are being taken against terrorism. It is far easier (and more enjoyable) for the French police to stroll the beaches asking ladies to remove their clothing than it is to actually get on with the more challenging job of tackling extremist terrorist groups. This was a sop to the public and an insult to those who expect the law to be using its full resources toward promoting the safety of the public.

The ban, in my opinion at least, was also intended to mobilise the far right voters. It was obvious that such targeted discrimination would achieve mass publicity and that this very public furore could then be used to promote the far right agenda of individual politicians. Only days after #burkinigate broke Nicolas Sarkozy went on record saying that if elected he would support a national ban of the burkini across France (he has actually gone even further since and stated he would also ban the hijab from French universities).

The results of the ban, had France not finally come to its senses, could have been extremely far reaching. The growing civil unrest aside, it would have had local implications for families with some mothers unable to visit the beach to supervise their children, safety and security issues on the beaches and an emerging generation of children confused and upset about why their mothers are being treated differently to others.
Once a legal system is allowed to legislate this kind of petty prohibition it sets a precedent for removing even more human rights. It is only a short step from “You must not wear” to “You must wear,” and before we know it we are back in Nazi Germany. This may have started as a Muslim lady issue but it did not end as one. Every single human being, regardless of gender, race or religion has a personal vested interest in standing up to bureaucrats who want to destroy the rights of the people.

Because if you let them take somebody else’s rights away, you can bet your bottom dollar they will come for yours next.

Roanna is one of the founder members of Resisting Hate. She is the author of the majority of our articles, and also publishes a blog on Huffington Post UK
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