Our Austrian correspondent Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff has compiled a report about the debate within Germany over the banning of the burka, with a focus on the feminist writer Alice Schwarzer.
The Fascists of the 21st Century
by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
Alice Schwarzer may be the most important contemporary German feminist. She is the founder and publisher of the feminist journal Emma, and has become highly critical of Islam(ism), its political manifestations, and in particular the position of women in Islam. She favors prohibitions against women in schools or other public settings wearing the Islamic headscarf, which she considers a symbol of oppression. She warns of a creeping Islamization of Europe, leading to an erosion of human rights and especially women’s rights.
Shortly after 9/11 Alice Schwarzer compiled and edited one of the first books, God’s Warriors and Misunderstood Tolerance, about the situation in Germany with regards to Islam. An Amazon review describes the book as follows (and is highly recommended reading for those with German language skills). Many thanks to JLH for the translation:
Can there be tolerance toward religious-fanatic fundamentalists who are distinguished by their own intolerance? The unanimous attitude of the authors of this book is: There must not be, but there is this “false tolerance.” First and foremost, we in Western democracies, and especially in Germany, have closed our eyes for much too long to the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. “Now, after a quarter century of unchecked Islamic agitation,” writes Alice Schwarzer in her opening essay, “there is no longer any denying it: These Islamic crusaders are the fascists of the 21st century — but they are presumptively more dangerous, because they have been globally organized for a very long time.” Speaking of the “gateway Balkans,” she says that Islamic mercenaries” have penetrated to the heart of Europe, with the support of the West.”
Schwarzer has critically tracked the danger of radicalized Islamism and has been severely chided and even defamed as a “racist” because of her publications. After September 11, 2001, she will surely not be judged so harshly. To be sure, not everyone will approve of the title of this collection. Not without justice has the term God’s Warrior become the obscenity of the year 2001. So the term, frequently repeated by Alice Schwarzer in her essays, is not a good choice. And there will also be a division of opinion on whether, as Schwarzer maintains at one point, the former president of the DFG [German Research Society], Wolfgang Frühwald, is a Christian fundamentalist. Nonetheless: Even if you don’t agree with everything in it, this book is definitely worth reading and thinking about. And you should learn from it.
Below is an article by Alice Schwarzer from FAZ which was published on July 22. Thanks once again to JLH for translating it:
The Veil of the Fundamentalists
by Alice Schwarzer
The Muslim full-body covering is not only deeply contemptuous of humanity; it also signifies the total victory of politicized Islam. Burka, niqab and chador should therefore be banned, demands Alice Schwarzer.
When the French parliament decided on the eve of July 14, to ban wearing of the burka in public,
he socialists, communists and greens — except for 20 dissenters — abstained. In the head-covering debate, the political front seems to run the same in all European countries: leftists lean toward tolerance, conservatives and rightists toward a ban. And the people?
Eighty-two percent of the French were in favor of the burka ban. And a majority of the six million Muslims in France also favor it. This corresponds to the mood in the population of Western countries.
As in Belgium, the French law must still pass the senate. Then, in future, a woman who appears fully covered in public will have to reckon with a €150 fine and a course in citizenship training. Men who “force” their wives into a burka are subject to a year in jail and fines up €30,000. This is pure theory, of course. A woman who is so submissive that she will disappear into the black hole of a full body covering will hardly be rebellious enough to turn in her husband for compelling her to wear a burka.
When the burka debate began in France in 2009, initiated by a communist mayor, the burka-tolerators at first maintained that there were only 165 burka wearers in the whole country, so a burka ban was irrelevant. Meanwhile, the number in official statistics has grown to 2,000. What makes this noteworthy is that every third fully covered woman is a convert. As a rule, their husbands owe their French citizenship to the marriage.
On the Subject
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So it is in the case of the Algerian, Lies Habbadj, whose fully covered wife, Anne, touched off the burka debate. A policeman had slapped a fine on her for driving in the niqab, which leaves only a small slit free for the eyes. Her husband is an active member of the missionary sect Tabligh, which believes in the literal text [of the Koran]. A butcher in Nantes, he had been watched for some time by the secret service, because he had for years spent weeks at a time in Pakistan.
An Islamist Acting Tactically
Moreover, Habbadj has three other wives, whom he married not according to French but Islamic law. Apparently well-trained, when he was about to be charged with polygamy, he coolly went public, declaring that the many French men who had lovers would also have to be charged with polygamy. Lies Habbadj is no naïve believer, but an Islamist who acts tactically. He was aware of the punishment for which his wife was liable, and was intent on provocation of the lawful state.
Just like the German-Afghan, Fereshta Ludin, who pressed for the right of teachers to wear a hijab for eight years and made it to the highest court. Or the so-called “head-covering affair” that occupied France in 1989. Then, politically active fathers and uncles provocatively sent three young girls with head coverings to a lay school, and thereby set off a year-long debate in which the entire Left more or less spoke up for the hijab.
The Question of Free Will
The philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, wife of the former Socialist minister of justice, was one of the few voices from the Left who argued against the head covering in school, which was finally banned nineteen years later. She spoke of “a shrouded mind.” Now also, Badinter raised her voice again and wrote an open letter to hijab wearers: “Are we so contemptible and impure in your eyes that you refuse all contact, all connection with us, down to even a little smile?” she asked, and went on: “The truth is, you are using democratic liberties to abrogate liberty. That is a slap in the face to all your oppressed sisters, who are under threat of death for these freedoms you despise.”
In fact, it is difficult to understand how women can voluntarily put on a covering into which women are forced with threats of death in theocracies and in all countries where Islamists hold power. In these countries, women have no choice. Even inside the Islamic-dominated community in Europe, it is not always easy for Muslim women.
Religious Justification is Irrelevant
What about the converts who have grown up in countries in which their predecessors fought so hard for equality — from the right to vote to the right to be seen in public? Their motives seem to be fear of freedom and responsibility, as well as female masochism — a consequence of prolonged and very real oppression and humiliation of females.
The subjective motives of girls and women who “voluntarily” wear a head scarf or a full-body covering in democracies are, however, only one level, and besides, manifold and shifting — these women have the inner and outward freedom to change their minds. The second level — the objective significance of the covering — is unmistakable: hijab and chador were relics of the rural, unenlightened population, until Khomeini invoked the theocracy. Since then, the head covering has been the emblem of political Islam and the full-body cover is its total victory.
Most students of Islam appear to agree that neither the Islamic head scarf, covering the hair completely, nor the full-body covering are religiously founded. To be honest, I find this question to be irrelevant to our debate. It cannot be that we recognize as reality in a constitutional democracy texts that were written centuries or even millennia ago — especially when they transgress against the most basic of human rights.
Misanthropic — for Men as well
It is up to us to speak naturally with the hijab-wearing Muslim women in our countries and not confront them with prohibitions. To be sure, this head-covering, which is a political and not a religious symbol, does not belong in kindergartens, schools, and public service. Besides, it would be an enormous relief for many Muslim girls from orthodox or fundamentalist families if, at least in school, the head-scarf did not stigmatize them as “other,” impede their freedom to move and separate them from the boys like creatures from another world. With the school as a “free space,” we would give the girls a chance at a day of truly free choice.
The full-body covering, however, has no place in a democracy. It deprives the female human being of any individuality and severely restricts her freedom to move. The burka and the niqab are disdainful of humanity. Not only toward the women trapped in their clothing prisons, but also toward the men of whom it is suspected that, upon the sight or a hair or a glimpse of flesh, they would throw themselves like an animal on any woman.
A Pragmatic, Unsentimental Relationship to Integration
In recent month, reports in almost all German media on the French burka debate have been condescending and derisive. Do the French have no other problems? We, at least, do not have this problem! was the tone. Allegedly, there are no women here wearing the niqab or the burka. Pardon me — I am astonished. For a long time, now, every time I walk through the Cologne inner city, I have seen at least two or three fully covered women, usually accompanied by casually dressed men in jeans. How long are we going to ignore such a slave-girl scene?
When in the fall of 2008 France adopted a head-covering ban for teachers and students, the Al-Qaeda leader About Moussab Abdoul Wadoud threatened: “We will take revenge on France in the name of our daughters and sisters. Today it is the chador, tomorrow it will be the niqab.” Wadoud and his holy warriors seem to be ready for serious action.
President Sarkozy, however, was not to be intimidated. Son of a Hungarian immigrant and a Greek Jew, growing up with Jewish grandparents who had fled the Nazis, he has his own “immigration background” and a very pragmatic, unsentimental relationship to integration. “We are an old nation, unanimous in a particular idea of the worth of the human being, especially the worth of the woman,” Sarkozy declared. “The full veil that hides the face damages our fundamental, republican values.”
Sarkozy’s Muslim secretary of state, Fadela Amara, said that the burka was “a visible expression of fundamentalism in our land.” Franco-Senegalese Rama Yada, also a Muslim and a member of the cabinet, called it “degrading to human beings and pure scorn.”
Leftist human rights organizations see it quite differently. Human Rights Watch warned against “stigmatizing” burka wearers through a ban. Amnesty International said a burka ban would damage “women’s basic rights.” Socialist leader, Martine Aubry, expressed the concern that the isolation of burka wearers would become even more pronounced. As if it were even possible to increase the isolation of a woman under a burka.
Should We Just Stay Out of It?
This paternalism from the Left is not new. It is striking that all over Europe the Left is leaving the battle against Islamization to the Conservatives/Rightists. With the result that the Right functions in part as a populist movement and misuses its mandate. And the Left? With a false tolerance, it not only relativizes painfully won Western values like the rule of law and gender equality, but ignores the justified fears of the population. Above all, it leaves the majority of Muslim women in the lurch; they are the first victims of fundamentalist agitators.
The reasons for this apparent “xenophilia” — which is just the flip side of xenophobia — seem to be several. They range from indifference and bad conscience to a very basic dfferentialism of these sons and daughters of Michel Foucault and Claude Lévi-Strauss. For it was these circles that celebrated the Islamist offensive as the “revolution of the people.” Foucault was perhaps the first and most passionate supporter of the Iranian theocracy. And the Liberals and Conservatives? Then as now, happily doing business with the Islamists. No one is talking about the human rights of all women.
When, beginning in the late 1970s, the feminists criticized genital mutilation, they were advised to butt out. In the meantime, there has been a change of attitude toward this gruesome genital mutilation. Must we allow the social appropriateness of the burka to be accepted for another twenty or thirty years — until it is too late? Must we stay out of it again, while before our eyes women are being despoiled of their most basic human rights and made invisible? Are we still unwilling to comprehend that this is not about questions of faith, but about targeted political provocations, which, thanks to our false tolerance, could overstep the bounds of the constitutional state?
Symbolic Politics is Also Politics
I was asked recently at a public meeting: “Should we forbid the burka?” What a question! Of course we should! With whatever hair-splitting, formal juridical formulations are necessary. There are limits to “religious freedom.” Christian fundamentalists, for instance, use it to justify not sending their children to our schools. Since Pope John Paul II, moreover, it has been possible to note a closing of ranks between conservatives and fundamentalists of both religions. They both have their eyes on their privileges and on the self-determination of women. That is a dangerous strategy for the Christians as well. Because, finally, they would get the short end of the stick.
Clever folks argue that a burka ban is just symbolic politics and does not solve the problem of infiltration by scripture-believing stone-age Islamism. That is true. But symbolic politics is also politics. And a ban would be a first step and a visible sign — not just for the invisible women. It is not by chance that the French parliament passed the burka ban on the eve of July 14th, the anniversary of the French Revolution. On the national holiday in France, there is no work, only celebration. Over 200 years ago, this French Revolution proclaimed “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood” for all human beings. And we women added “Sisterhood,” or more precisely “Siblinghood.” We do not want to regress.