FRANCE’S FAR-RIGHT PRESIDENTIAL candidate Marine Le Pen refused to don a headscarf for a meeting with Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim cleric this week.
Le Pen was supposed to meet with the country’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, but when one of his aides handed her a white headscarf to put on, she refused and headed back to her car.
After walking away from the meeting Le Pen said she had already confirmed with the cleric’s office that she would not wear a headscarf. “They didn’t cancel the meeting, so I thought they would accept the fact that I wouldn’t wear one,” she said. “They tried to impose it upon me.”
Women standing up for ourselves
I don’t agree with Marine Le Pen on much but I admire what she did on Tuesday. It’s about time European women stood up for our rights and values.
What’s most important here is not to protect the act of wearing a hijab as a human right, but actually protecting the right of an individual to be able to safely make that choice.
This means that when we’re critical of veil bans, we should also be critical of countries that force women to cover as well. People have rights, belief systems don’t, and no woman should have to suck it up for fear of offending religious values.
Admittedly it would be difficult to analyse and debate the flow of news and commentary over the past few years without feeling a subconscious need to be a corrective to clichés and biases about Islam. The Islamophobia in the press, our public discourse and institutions is constant and real. We live in troubled times.
Patriarchal religions enforcing modesty codes
But the myth of male weakness and the perversion of religious texts to support enforced modesty codes for women is also a fact. It’s a fugly myth that shifts the responsibility of managing a man’s sexual urges from himself and onto every woman he may or may not meet.
It’s not very different to the sick mentality behind the claim, “She was asking for it.” It’s done in the name of Islam and it has been done in the name of the Catholic church here.
Egyptian-born journalist Mona Eltahawy’s essay for Foreign Policy is an uncomfortable and obligatory read. She writes how it’s easy (albeit horrifically depressing and disturbing) to count the ways the Middle East hates women.
But it’s harder to answer the question the essay’s title proposes: WHY do they hate women? Eltahawy concludes the reason is fueled: “by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.” And she’s so right.
Right to dress as we want
I understand all the reasons for France’s niqab ban, particularly the desire on the part of the French establishment to limit the expression of political Islam through women’s dress and other things. I want the Muslim-woman-in-need-of-a-Western-saviour narrative to disappear too.
I understand the error of women having their headscarves ripped off by Trump supporters and as a feminist I stand by a woman’s right to dress exactly as she wants; the right to cover is just as important as the right to uncover.
A hijab-wearer shouldn’t have to justify her choice of dress any more than Marine Le Pen should have to justify why she wouldn’t put one on. The decision isn’t the important issue, it’s the options we women have.
Marine Le Pen did the sisterhood a favour this week and hopefully we can eventually get it right on this one. Understanding a woman’s right to choose anything is something we haven’t figured out how to discuss constructively yet.