Burn your Burqas Part Three

October 27, 2009


Marnia Lazreg is a professor of sociology at the Graduate Center and Hunter College, City University of New York. Her books include The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question and Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Princeton). She has also written an elegant, well-researched book, Questioning the Veil. Open Letters to Muslim Women, in which she argues for doing away with the veil.
Ms Lazreg who is of Algerian origin wonders why so many Muslim women of all ages are increasingly turning to wearing the veil. Does this indicate a rise in piety, and is it a way of asserting Muslim pride? And does the veil really provide women freedom from sexual harassment? The book is written as series of letters to Muslim women but also to anybody interested in this important issue. She finds all the reasons advanced for keeping the veil inadequate, and in return gives reasons for not keeping it: the veil is not strictly demanded by Islam; it can only have an adverse psychological effect on the wearer and those around her; it has a totally negative impact on young girls; its re-emergence in modern times is not a spontaneous assertion of Muslim women's identity but a well-orchestrated campaign designed and imposed by Muslim men to control women's bodies.
Ms Lazreg has absolutely no patience with Western feminist intellectuals and academics who pretend that the veil is "liberatory" or even a statement of "resistance." Lazreg ends by imploring Muslim women to stop wearing the veil. "It is a symbol of inequality...it undermines faith... it objectifies women for (reasons of) political propaganda just like advertising in Western society does: one by covering, and the other by exposing womens's bodies." She continues, "Not wearing the veil is not a victory of the ‘West,' it is women's victory over a custom that infects their thinking about themselves as human beings. Wearing the veil is not a strike against anti-Muslim prejudice...As long as states mandate or prohibit veiling, as long as political movements advocate for it, as long as organized networks with books, lectures, DVDs, and course packets promote it far and wide, a woman can never be sure she takes up the veil freely...Ultimately, there is no compelling justification for veiling, not even faith...No one is entitled to turn the veil into a political flag."