Dignity vs Freedom

One of the biggest questions that have been in my mind for a long time is whether we call Culture a sum of traditions that we should feel proud of, a sum of prejudices (and sometimes injustices) that we refuse to get rid of, or both of them. I have more or less the same feeling about religions (which are supposed to be part of cultures). Most of them seem to be (in between many other things) idolizations of a past that is no longer valid, Gods that are no longer ours.  We still see, for example, a Catholic church that believes that women represent the first sin and that still doesn’t allow them to become priests; a catholic church that has troubles accepting contraceptive methods. We still see how women get bitten up and how little girl’s genitals are mutilated, in the name of religion.

Today, however, I’m going to talk about something more specific than culture and religions. Some months ago, I read in the newspaper that French politicians had decided to ban a form of Muslim veil: The ‘burka’ and the ‘niqab’. These veils are two of the most radical Muslim veils because they cover all of the woman’s body and face. When I read that news I was shocked, I had never had enough time or interest to even think about the possibility of a country banning them. But the days passed by and I didn’t think about it anymore.

Some weeks ago, however, I was reading again the newspaper and I found out that some Spanish cities had already decided to ban the veil in all public places (including schools), following the French example. Alicia Sánchez Camacho, the president of the Catalonian (Spanish region) Popular Party defended this law by saying that wearing the burka or niqab “is a way to understand the relationship between men and women that the westerners cannot accept”.

In the name of freedom Spain and France have banned the veils, but also in the name of freedom many people refuse to accept such law.

France and some Spanish cities banned them in the name of women who don’t have a choice when it comes to the impositions of an inherited religion. But somehow, this apology of freedom has become an imposition itself.

I studied with more than one girl who came from Islamic cultures and wore different forms of veils. Where we studied, none of them was obligated to wear the veil (they were far away from their families and countries). Actually, some girls that also came from radical Islamic cultures had decided not to wear the veil anymore (at least not while they were outside of their country). When I saw them, I thought that it was insane how those beautiful girls were covering their hair and bodies. Beauty needs to be seen, there’s nothing wrong with it! All those layers covering their bodies seemed (and still seems) to me outrageous. But I felt that I was no one to tell them that it was wrong for what is right and wrong is not at all in my hands. They thought that it was right.

Now, it’s been almost two years since I studied with some of those girls. Nowadays, after living in the western world for some years, none of them wears the veil. I haven’t had the chance to talk to them about it, but I know this because… you know… Facebook pictures.

I understand that governments have more than one reason to pass laws like this one. The second reason for France and Spain is that these kinds of veils don’t let people be recognized and so terrorist acts can be more easily made. But I still have troubles to understand how this reason, together with the fear of “bad influences” and the defense of “women’s freedom” can be enough. What about the freedom of religion? What about diversity, with its good and bad? What about realizing that an imposition is not the best way to end with other impositions? I thought we were in the 21st century and that in such a cosmopolitan world we shouldn’t fear to be “poisoned” by other people’s beliefs, but this shows how we are indeed making our own history and how this life is our teacher instead of the past.

I agree with the fact that veils such as the burka and niqab are an unnecessary aberration to women’s right to exist and to enjoy of a full identity, it seems to me like another injustice that has been given the name of culture. But I cannot agree with laws that ignore how deep and rooted are these beliefs in the women that wear those veils. These women will not stop wearing their veils but will isolate themselves (even more than now) from all public places. Kids are been kicked out of their schools and I can see in the future how most of them will end up in a few private schools that will be willing to take them. Again, I don’t agree with this narrow minded laws that lack empathy and cleverness, and that are born out of fear.

The Islamic community in the world is changing and will continue changing… they’re the ones that may judge themselves and I think that all those European conservative members of different parliaments shouldn’t lose time judging Muslims and should start judging themselves, their “cultures”, religions and lives.

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5 thoughts on “Dignity vs Freedom

  1. Lovely readers: PLEASE COMMENT. I would love to know what you think, specially on this topic. My understanding is limited and I would love to expand my thoughts by knowing yours.

  2. Arnoia says:

    Nice reflection, Marce.
    I must say that not only the Spanish conservatives support the law in Spain, though. If I were to vote for or against it, I think I would vote FOR it – and as you know I don’t consider myself conservative. I do recognise, though, that it IS a very sensitive topic, and I understand that imposing something, whatever it is, will never be something 100% right to do. However, if you compare the benefits that the law could bring for most women… What I feel here in my society, where women wearing veils are scarce, is that it is in fact the veil what isolates those women from the rest of society (I know it’s unfair because that’s judging people from the exterior, but that’s really how it works and sadly, I must say that it’s quite impossible to change) and, specially, it makes it virtually impossible for them to get a job or to get integrated in society in any other way. Moreover, I guess that, for some women, (specially married women who live with their husbands in the western world) it is very difficult to get the courage and say to their husbands: I’m not going to wear this anymore. However, if it is something prohibited by law, women won’t have to face their husbands, but their husbands instead will have to accept it as it is – and, again, I think that not wearing the veil is very important – even crucial- for such women’s integration in a western society and, even more, for their own emancipation.

    I would like to make one last comment. Sometimes open-mind people (where I include myself!) tend to be “over” respectful towards cultures. And although cultures are the richest thing humans can produce, they are just that: cultures. And the fact that something is “cultural” does not necessarily mean that it is right or that it needs to be respected. Wearing a veil is something less… radical, so to speak, but genital mutilation, as you said Marce, is indeed something cultural and that doesn’t meen that we have to accept it or respect it. And the same works for western cultures. The great challenge is to identify the wrong things/prejudices/habits inside our own cultures!

    I had also given this issue some thought lately, but I agree it’s too complex… There are many variables in place!.

    Beautiful blog, Marcelita!

    (L)

  3. Arnoia, first of all… THANK YOU VERY MUCH for posting a comment! You’ve actually been the first person that has contributed somehow to the blog, and I really appreciate it. It’s not easy to post your thoughts so everyone can read them (and judge them).

    You’re Spanish so I understand that you know better about the Spanish public opinion than I do. However, I insist in the fact that this law feels wrong to me, even though my logic cannot find an explanation to my feelings, yet. Is it the best way of convincing someone of what is “right” to us (and maybe to them)? Are we attacking the synthoms or the causes of “the problem”? Am I being too naive if I think that if we think in the long term, this law will bring more bad than good? Isn’t this law messing around with what is unknown? How many Muslim women have declared (even anonnimously) that they approve it? Are they really making a law to protect the Islamic women or to protect themselves? When this law was debated, where there muslims defending what they consider right in the parliament? Where they represented?

    I really don’t know… but it’d be worth trying to find the answers.

    I agree with you, sometimes “open-minded” people tend to be too permisive. It’s also an important part of the debate, I think; I also agree with you with the fact that it’s not possible to make everybody happy.

  4. Kanmani says:

    Marcela,

    As far as the banning of the veil goes, I don’t think it’s right. France, especially, for a long time has been against various forms of religious expression. Religion and state are meant to be two separate things, and I think in France’s fight to keep both things separate, they are converging them more than ever. There have been problems with Sikh men and their turbans, and now with Muslim women and their hijabs/burqas.

    As much as it’s difficult for people in our place to completely understand why it is that Muslim women choose to cover their faces, hair, etc, it is all based on a set of traditions that they believe in. And people are entitled to their beliefs. Although the burqa might be seen as a contradiction to freedom of expression, it can also be seen as freedom of expression.

    Love.

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