Tag Archives: extremism

France Is Banning the Niqab for the Worst Reasons

Debbie says:

Now that the French Senate, as well as the lower house, has voted to ban the niqab, and French president Sarkozy will surely sign it into law, it’s a good time to point out Chiara’s very strong post at Chez Chiara on the political background of the niqab ban. The niqab is the full face veil worn by some Muslim women, where only their eyes show. By next month, it will almost certainly be illegal in France, and local jurisdictions are already fining women who wear it.

While France has a long tradition of laicit&#233 (which is not quite the same as our “secularism”) the ban on the niqab stems at least as much from far-right persecution of Muslims, for which the French invoke both the medieval history of the crusades and the 20th century history of the Nazis (apparently some French people have forgotten that their grandparents were victims of the Nazis).

a halal (religious Islamic bakery) in Lisieux, France with Islamic hatred slogans and a Nazi swastika painted on the wall

Here’s Chiara:

It is important to be clear–about what is being proposed, by whom, and why, in the French context specifically–before jumping on the French “Ban the Burqa” bandwagon. This ban is against wearing the face veil any time anywhere in public–not just in public institutions, banks, government offices, or police stations, but walking down the street, going to the neighbourhood park, window shopping, giving the baby a stroll, taking out the garbage, anywhere. Transgressors are subject to fines, and then further legal penalties.

The ban was originally proposed last June 2009 by President Nicholas Sarkozy. From the right to the left, all pundits and politicians consulted by their supporting newspapers then stated that this was an election ploy on his part to garner votes from the far right in order to assure his own (more centre right) re-election, and a majority Parliament, which would then include a Prime Minister on the right as well.

This manoeuvre of course makes Sarkozy more beholden to the far right who have a clear agenda against immigrants, Muslims, Arabs and Africans; and, think they should all be “sent home”, even though by now Maghrebi immigrants recruited in the 50’s and 60’s (government planes were sent to villages in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, to hire labourers for France by the plane-full) have 2nd and 3rd generation descendants. They also believe that children born in France to Arab/African-French citizens have no right to French citizenship.

This, of course, mirrors far-right hatred of Islam in the United States and the rest of the western world, although it takes its own shape in every country.

It’s very common for Western feminists to have complicated reactions to the niqab and other forms of religious headscarf. It’s a complicated question. Here’s how I feel:

1) Many women wear the Islamic veil out of their own examined choices and their own beliefs. While some women may be forced into modest dress by a patriarchal society, there’s no way to tell by looking at a woman what her motivations are, and it’s not my (or your) business to try. The right to choose one’s own clothing extends to the right to choose religious clothing–although France has issues with crosses and Jewish yarmulkes, along with headscarves, nonetheless the freedom to observe one’s religion is a key freedom and should be supported everywhere.

2) Extremist hatred of Islam (and all hatred of Islam), like any other kind of bigotry, cannot be tolerated by our governments, let alone supported. Just as we in the U.S. must work to get past vile concepts like “anchor babies” and the completely inaccurately described “Ground Zero mosque,” the French also have obligations to each other. When hatred is allowed to thrive, everyone is in danger. Sarkozy is allowing himself to get in bed with hatred, and you always wake up changed when you do that.

3) Because Muslim women dress in ways that visibly mark their religion more frequently than Muslim men do, this ban unfairly targets women and young girls and is, in and of itself, a sexist law.

No one in the U.S. should be patting ourselves on the back about this one; it’s worth looking at from here as a cautionary tale, not as grounds for superiority.

Thanks to delux_vivens for the pointer.

Blaming the Activists

Debbie says:

Laurie and I had a plan for today; we set time aside to blog together about the movie Wall-E and this fat activist article about it from Slate.

It would have been an interesting post–maybe it still will be. But I’ve been derailed, by my friend P., who sent me the link to the Slate article.

Apparently, the Slate article (which I agree with in some part and disagree with in some part) pushed my friend’s buttons, and she published a vitriolic, name-calling anti-fat-activist rant on her blog. It’s public, it’s not password-protected, I could send you to it. But I’m not going to, and at the end of this post, I’ll explain why.

Warning: if you’re a fat activist or an ally, you may find this next paragraph hard to read.

The title of the post is “Idiocy.” She calls fat activists “as a group,” “rabid and out of control.” She says we will respond to the “tiniest bit negative about being fat” by “jump[ing] down your throat and rip[ping] you a new asshole from the inside.” She says that if you suggest there’s a choice involved (in being fat), “you should fear for your life.” She says that if you write a fat character “in a less-than glowing light, you will be crucified on the activist’s altar.”

When I put in a mild response, she replied that she thought I was “one of the few sane ones.” That pushed me over the edge.

As a fat activist for the last 25 years, and an activist on other issues for the last 40, I have (of course–so have you) seen this kind of thing many times before. In milder terms, I’ve taken P.s side.

But here’s the thing that P. never acknowledges.

Everything she describes about fat activists is a hundred times, no a thousand or a hundred thousand times, more true of weight-loss true believers. For every individual who doesn’t think she should lose weight, there is a million-dollar business pushing her to lose weight. For everyone who doesn’t want to admit that there might be something the “tiniest bit negative about being fat,” there are hundreds of thousands of doctors, thousands of bariatric clinics and hospitals, who won’t admit that there might be anything the “tiniest bit negative” about being thin. Trust me (from personal observation), a 109-pound person has a harder time in chemotherapy than a 209-pound person. That’s just one. Have you ever heard anyone other than a fat activist say it?

Here’s where I agree with P.: In an ideal world, none of us would be telling anyone else how to live their lives. No activist would be criticizing women who diet, or get breast prosthetics, or African-American women who straighten their hair. In that same ideal world, no one would have been so barraged with hateful messages from early childhood that s/he would become an extremist in the other direction.

I work hard not to be the kind of activist (fat, queer, antiracist, whatever) that P. describes. This decision is made solely on the grounds of usefulness. I’m well aware of the part of me that wants to jump down the throat of every weight loss evangelist, every person who tells “socially acceptable” racist jokes and doesn’t see the harm in it, every person who says, “That’s so gay! and means “That’s so stupid!” I don’t jump down their throats, because I want them to listen to what I have to say. This makes me “one of the sane ones,” but you know what? The “insane” ones by this standard seem pretty damn sane to me. They’re angry enough to say things that have to be said. (Think anyone would have printed that review if Daniel Engber had said, “Wall-E gets some things about fat right and some wrong?” Maybe, if he has a regular column. But that’s not how you get a regular column.)

If you want individuals to listen to you (which is what I want), you have to learn how to moderate your extremism. If you want a soapbox, a place to yell from (which I desperately want my allies to have), you have to learn how to minimize your moderation and be extreme. You have to define the endpoints to move the middle–I learned that in college, studying the abolitionist movement which got rid of slavery in this country. For each Daniel Engber, a thousand people in theaters are nodding and thinking, “See, I knew the people covering the earth with garbage were fat.” And no, the movie does not say that. The movie is nuanced and interesting and worth discussion–but first there’s a cheap takeaway message for the people who aren’t noticing nuances.

I do not want to be “one of the sane ones.” I want to stand with my “rabid and completely out of control” allies. I’m sometimes wrong-headed, sometimes overly didactic, sometimes an extremist. I also know that what “extremist” really means is “angrier than me.” And right in the moment, I’m pretty damned angry. At the same time, I want friends who choose to diet or have weight loss surgery to be willing to talk to me; and I want to support them without giving up my beliefs.

So why didn’t I give you the link to P.’s post? Because I know that some of you wouldn’t be able to resist going and ranting there. And ranting at her is not going to be useful. This post is an attempt to practice what I’m preaching: be extreme on the soapbox and moderate when dealing with individuals.