Citizenship and Submission

by matttbastard

I’m having trouble reconciling the following with “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”:

France has denied citizenship to a Moroccan woman who wears a burqa on the grounds that her “radical” practice of Islam is incompatible with basic French values such as equality of the sexes.

[…]

The woman, known as Faiza M, is 32, married to a French national and lives east of Paris. She has lived in France since 2000, speaks good French and has three children born in France. Social services reports said she lived in “total submission” to her husband. Her application for French nationality was rejected in 2005 on the grounds of “insufficient assimilation” into France. She appealed, invoking the French constitutional right to religious freedom and saying that she had never sought to challenge the fundamental values of France. But last month the Council of State, France’s highest administrative body, upheld the ruling.

“She has adopted a radical practice of her religion, incompatible with essential values of the French community, particularly the principle of equality of the sexes,” it said.

The article goes on to explain the Council of State’s definition of ‘radical’:

The legal expert who reported to the Council of State said the woman’s interviews with social services revealed that “she lives almost as a recluse, isolated from French society”.

The report said: “She has no idea about the secular state or the right to vote. She lives in total submission to her male relatives. She seems to find this normal and the idea of challenging it has never crossed her mind.”

The woman had said she was not veiled when she lived in Morocco and had worn the burqa since arriving in France at the request of her husband. She said she wore it more from habit than conviction.

Someone who adheres to a non-mainstream religious practice “out of habit” rather than “conviction” doesn’t strike me as all that “radical”.

Daniele Lochak, a law professor not involved in the case, said it was bizarre to consider that excessive submission to men was a reason not to grant citizenship. “If you follow that to its logical conclusion, it means that women whose partners beat them are also not worthy of being French,” he told Le Monde.

I really do find the use of the term “radical” interesting. The connotations are that the practice of Faiza M’s beliefs somehow pose an existential threat to French society, thus the rationale behind the denial of citizenship. And it’s telling that it’s the women who always seems to be the ones who are placed in the position of having to justify their existence (damned if you do, damned if you don’t).

But what about the men to whom she has “submitted”? They are already French citizens, and seem to be facing no consequences for making such “radical” demands upon Faiza in the first place. She has, in effect, been denied agency, reduced to a wayward vessel who deserves to be punished for, in effect, not saying ‘non’ as a ‘real’ Frenchwoman would (except when they don’t, as pointed out in the article). Once again, Muslims–specifically, Muslimahs–who dare to practice their oh-so-freaky religion in ways the majority find distasteful serve as public whipping posts for the sins of the nebulous ‘other’ which, by virtue of mere existence, is apparently chipping away at the structural integrity of the liberal democratic secular state.

And that’s really all I feel comfortable saying at this point, and probably won’t comment further, apart from moderation duties. I would much prefer to hear from women–especially Muslimahs–about what they think and how they feel about this.

Thoughts?

Update: Also see this thread @ BnR started by Chrystal Ocean of Challenging the Commonplace.

Edited at Chrystal’s recommendation (thanks!) to incorporate additional commentary originally posted at BnR/in comments in slightly different form (ie, I corrected some typos)

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“I am a little tired of prosecuting Mrs Bardot.”

by boomgate

Oh, look–Bridget Bardot is being racist again.

How surprising.

[link corrected]

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The Universal Fundamentals of Misogyny

by matttbastard

The murder of 16 year old Toronto high school student Aqsa Parvez this past December became an international cause celeb. Despite the lack of concrete information, media outlets from around the globe resolutely declared that Parvez was murdered by her father, an observant Muslim, in what must have been an honour killing (purportedly because Parvez refused to wear a hijab, although this popular line of speculation was later disputed by a close friend of hers). Ignorant opinion scribes quickly untied innumerable bales of straw, binding their hasty preconceptions about Islam into a virtual crusader army of anti-Muslim fallacies.

Yet if one digs deeper than knee-jerk Islamophobic squick, one will see that the practice of honour killings predates and transcends “fundamentalist” (read: contemporary heretical) Islamic practices. Nor is practice of using family or clan ‘honour’ as a justification for murdering women exclusive to Islam, or the so-called ‘Third World’. Though it’s comforting to pawn off deadly misogyny on the uncivilized darkies, we in the oh-so-enlightened West aren’t exactly saintly in our treatment of women.

IOZ puts it better than I ever could:

“[H]onor killings” are the sort of thing that happen in America all the time, with nothing to do with Islam. They’re plotted on prime time. They play daily on Law and Order. The absence of overt religious motivations doesn’t negate the fact that guys kill girls for cheating; husbands kill wives; fathers kill daughters. Intrafamilial and intracommunal violence is horrific and sad, but let us not pretend that it somehow affects the adherents of this or that sect more acutely than some other. Violence and possessiveness are universal frailties of our unfortunate species.

Violence against women must be addressed in a broader context than simplistically labeling it a Muslim problem. But, all too often, when feminists try to expand the boundaries to include men in all cultures, including our own, they are often unfairly criticized by those who would prefer that the “evils” of Islam be the focus of debate, rather than the many, many evils that men of all races, creeds and geographic locales commit on a daily basis. Thankfully, some feminists defiantly ignored narrow parametres of discourse when addressing Parvez’s murder:

We, as a society are bombarded with sexual images, young girls and women starve themselves to death in a deluded attempt for control over any aspect of their lives, we hear loudmouths constantly telling us that some women who are raped, asked for it.

Some would hold lifesaving information and attend disgusting “purity balls” so that their daughters can be handed directly from their father’s to their new owner, the husband.

[…]

[Women in the West] still are fighting the battle for control over our own bodies, uphill because there are those that would also not let women and girls know how to not get pregnant.

Boys will be boys, after all. Girls will be quiet and docile. “Girl Power” often is portrayed in such a way as to make damned sure that it includes lots of cleavage and butt shots.

[…]

So.

Aqsa Parvez was probably murdered by her father because of some “cultural” battle. (the 911 tape has a man saying he had killed his daughter)

Culture? Yes. The prevailing [culture] of men. The only way to change this? Is to change the prevailing culture Worldwide to a culture of humanity.

This post @ Muslimah Media Watch is also directly on target:

Apart from the role of Islam and culture, we must always remember that, at the end of the day, this was a case of violence against a woman. The result of patriarchy and in its worst manifestation. And although there is some merit in bringing to attention the pressures of clothing among Muslim women, the real issue in this case appears to be something much greater. We should not lose sight of this in the media portrayals of the case.

Of course, the mere suggestion that domestic violence stems from a universal culture of patriarchal dominance (and is not endemic to teh MOOSLIMZ!111) would likely raise the “secularist” (snicker) ire of cultural supremacists like Danielle Crittenden. However, secularism isn’t (or shouldn’t be) the antithesis of observance (nor is integration in opposition to the much-abused concept of multiculturalism, although with that said, I must admit that I’m uncomfortable with recent calls in the UK to recognize–even superficiallysome variation of Sharia law). To paraphrase Holyoake, “Secularism is not an argument against Islam, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Islam; it advances others.” I really like (and, as a secularist, embrace) the definition of secularism offered by wikipedia: “promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief.”

To be fair, according to some estimates, 1/5 of honour killings in the year 2000 occured in Pakistan, where the Parvez family originally emigrated from. But putting an inordinate level of focus on Islamic fundamentalism (or supposedly “backwards” foreign culture) as the primary culprit is to place too much stock on a mere symptom, not the disease (ie, the denial of women’s agency in cultures where women are seen as mere property, to dispose of at whim–again I stress that Western culture is not immune, even if the set dressing is different). At some point, Aqsa’s father (and, in the capacity as accessory after the fact, brother) made the choice to kill a female family member.

Why?

At this point we really don’t know.

Speculation is fine, yes. But I don’t hear the staunch secularists-as-long-as-the-religion-in-question-isn’t-Christianity raising a single peep when white Western (Christian) women are murdered at the hands of male family members. In fact, in some instances one hears a lot of disturbing apologetics with regards to home grown (middle class) domestic violence (“She was asking for it”; “Why didn’t she just leave?”; or my personal fav, “Oh yeah? Men are abused by women, too!!1”)

These sorts of issues lay bare the base motivations of all involved in the discussion. And, frankly, those who rant the loudest about the inherent evils of Islam–eg, Michelle Malkin and Robert “I hearted Vlaams Belang until I didn’t” Spencer–don’t strike me as the sort who would normally give two shits about uppity wimminz (nor teh queerz).

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Aqsa Parvez almost instantly became the latest prop to be opportunistically appropriated by the usual xenophobic suspects as a crude means of advancing their narrow-minded, nativist Holy War against the Jihadi horde. That so many have quickly jumped to the conclusion that Islam is, by default, complicit in Parvez’s death further highlights the simmering resentment for the ‘other’ that, ever since 9/11, has threatened to boil over here in the civilized West.

Judging by how even Canada no longer appears to be exempt (if we ever truly were), I fear that it soon will.

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Paradox and Hypocrisy

by matttbastard

Fatemeh Fakhraie examines the reaction garnered by the story of a female Saudi gang rape victim who was recently sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison as punishment for speaking to Saudi media outlets about the crime perpetrated against her. Fakhraie laments the subsequent no win situation Muslim women often find themselves in when situations like the Saudi incident arise, forced to choose whether to defend themselves “against Islamophobia, against racism, or against misogyny”:

This “triple threat” is one we often face as Muslim women (especially if we are also women of color). We always seem to be battling against one (or more) of these three issues: racism (for Muslim women who are also non-white), Islamophobia, or misogyny (not just from our own Muslim communities, but also from non-Muslim communities who think they know what’s best for us).

Being on the defensive all the time creates reactionary behavior. We always feel like we have to keep our guards up to defend our faith and our choices, and it gets tiring. Most Muslims don’t necessarily mind explaining stuff (that is, if you’re genuinely interested in understanding instead of starting an argument), but we can’t all be Encyclopedia Islamicas all the time.

Some of this “damage control” keeps us from having dialogues within our communities. Muslim women face a lot of problems within our communities as well as outside, but we’re afraid to talk about it because it can potentially be used against us. People in our own communities this power: for example, feminists in Iran are accused of being too “Westernized” by compatriots who have no interest in changing the status quo for women. Many women who seek their fair share are given this load of crap in order to guilt them into shutting up, because Westernization is equated with undesirable qualities in the Muslim world. Or, if we try to speak out to a non-Muslim audience, we are accused of “betraying” Islam or our communities by airing out our “dirty laundry.”

And this is a legitimate fear. We don’t want to reinforce negative ideas about Islam, Muslim men and women, or Muslims of any race. But if our own communities won’t listen to us or engage in a dialogue to raise awareness and potentially enact change (phew, a lot of buzzwords in there!), what else are we supposed to do?

Related: Laila Lalami reviews The Politics of the Veil by historian Joan Wallach Scott, which “examines the particular French obsession with the foulard [headscarf], which culminated in March 2004 with the adoption of a law that made it illegal for students to display any “conspicuous signs” of religious affiliation.” As Lalami notes, “both Islamic Sharia and strict French laïcité produced gender systems that essentially deprived women of the right to dispose of their bodies as they wished”:

[I[n Islamic tradition, women are urged to be modest and to steer clear of tabarruj. This Arabic noun has its roots in the verb baraja, which means “to display” or “to show off,” and the noun can be translated as something like “affectation.” In A Season in Mecca, his narrative book about the pilgrimage, Moroccan anthropologist Abdellah Hammoudi uses the term “ostentation” to translate tabarruj, “the invariable term for a bearing that is deemed immodest or conspicuous, a hieratic stance.” Similarly, the French law born out of strict definitions of laïcité warned schoolgirls about displaying “conspicuous” signs of religious affiliation. In short, the battle between the two modes of thinking was played out in women’s bodies.

The sexual argument against the foulard was common in France in 2003, although by that point the word “foulard” had all but disappeared from public discourse and was replaced by voile, or veil, which covers the entire face except for the eyes. This was erroneous but not entirely innocent, of course, because it made it possible for commentators to talk in terms of more general stereotypes of Muslim women in places like Yemen, where the veil is prevalent, rather than the reality of suburban Paris, where it is not. More recently, in an interview with a London-based newspaper, Bernard-Henri Lévy went as far as to say that “the veil is an invitation to rape.” It is perverse to suggest that a woman is inviting rape by the way she dresses, but such is the extreme that Lévy will go to in order to preserve the idea of a homogeneous female European identity. In this view, a European woman is uncovered, and that signifies both her availability to the male gaze as well as her liberation.

It is interesting, too, that Lévy demands for himself that which he is not willing to give others. In 2004 he hired the designer Andrée Putman to renovate his vacation home in Tangier. The home lies next to the famous Café Hafa, whose regulars once included Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and Jean Genet, and which has unparalleled views of the Mediterranean. Patrons of the cafe can no longer enjoy an unobstructed view, however, because during the renovations Lévy constructed a wall around his terrace, where his wife, the actress and singer Arielle Dombasle, likes to sunbathe. Lévy reportedly wanted to protect her from the eyes of the men at the Café Hafa. Unveiling only goes one way, it seems.

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