Saturday, May 1, 2010

The European Veil Debate – is it the Prelude to Eliminationist Politics?

Belgium is all set to become the first European nation to ban the Burqa (the face-covering veil that is worn by some Muslim women). The move will affect an estimated 650,000 Muslims in Belgium – 6 per cent of the population. Belgium’s lower house of parliament banned burqa-type Islamic dress in public. But the measure may face a challenge in the Senate where Christian Democrats and Liberals questioned the phrasing of the law, which says no one can appear in public “with the face fully covered or partly covered so as to render unrecognizable.”
Belgium, like many northern European countries, has a cold climate with daily temperature minimums of 7 °C (44.6 °F) and maximums of 14 °C (57.2 °F), based on the averages for the years 2000 to 2006. The average temperature is lowest in January at 3 °C (37.4 °F) and highest in July at 18 °C (64.4 °F). It does not take a genius to see the hypocrisy in the bill. During the winter season most Belgians end up using some forms of headscarves and face-masks (similar to ski-masks) to fight the cold, blistery winds blowing from the North Sea to render them unrecognizable. The text of the new law does not specifically mention Burqas but makes it illegal for anyone to wear clothing ‘that covers all or most of the face’ in any public place. And yet, the law doubtlessly will racially profile Muslim women for wearing burqa and niquab (face-covering). Under the proposals, Muslim women could face a week in prison or a fine for wearing a veil in public.
The Belgian move against Burqa comes as debates continue over banning the Burqa in France, Switzerland and Italy. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is the European lead dog leading this crusade. As I have shown elsewhere, while most European leaders are racists by nature, very few are as hostile to Islam and Muslims as Sarkozy has been. As the grandson of an opportunist Jew from Salonika (in today’s Greece and the old Ottoman empire) -- the homeland of many Donmehs (that lived there since the time of Sabbatai Zevi, a 17th-century Jewish kabbalist who falsely claimed to be the Messiah), the Young Turk movement and the Free Masons that brought down the fall of the Ottoman empire -- and a Free Mason himself, Sarkozy’s hostility to anything Islamic is simply unbelievable. It is rabidly eliminationist and extraordinary.
Sarkozy is also very close to Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. It goes without saying that Sarkozy’s enthusiasm to punish Iran and deny her the legitimate right to develop nuclear energy is rooted in his bigotry and Zionist heritage; he is doing the pitching for his eliminationist friend Netanyahu and the rogue state of Israel. In a May 10, 2007 issue of the Jewish Journal, Raanan Eliaz wrote something that escaped most people’s attention but given the fact that both Sarkozy and Netanyahu are the leaders in their respective countries, it is important that we revisit it. Raanan Eliaz, a former director at the Israeli National Security Council and the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. wrote, “Although Sarkozy’s family roots will not bring France closer to Israel, the president’s personal Israeli friends may. As interior minister, Sarkozy shared much common policy ground with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two started to develop a close friendship not long ago, and it is easy to observe similarities not only in their ideology and politics but also in their public image. If Netanyahu returns to Israel’s chief position, it will be interesting to see whether their personal dynamic will lead to a fresh start for Israel and France and a more constructive European role in the region.”
It is not difficult to connect now the dots in Sarkozy’s crusade against Muslims in France, in particular, and Islam and Iran, in general.
The essence of Sarkozy’s new paradigm, if we are to switch Jewish author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s (the author of the book – Worse than War) terms from the German scene to today’s France is ‘eliminationist anti-Muslim’. We see a good parallel in Goldhagen’s depiction of German anti-Semitism with today’s anti-Muslim campaign by Sarkozy and his European ilk. At one extreme of this new spectrum is the French and European perception that Muslims are vaguely different. At the other extreme is the perception that Muslims are distinctly violent who, if not stopped now, will one day impose their ‘shariah’ on the French or European society. Between these poles is the perception that Muslims are more or less flawed. As we know from history, moving from one end of the spectrum to the other, the complementary German desire to eliminate an unappealing feature of the Jews rapidly yielded to the desire to eliminate Jews altogether. “The eliminationist mind-set”, Goldhagen proclaims, “tended towards an exterminationist one.” (HWE, p. 71) Through their speeches and acts today’s Sarkozy and other European leaders - closet and open bigots - have unmasked their own evil mindset.
President Sarkozy has said more than once that the face-covering veil is not welcome in France, and that he wants a law restricting it. In January, a French parliamentary committee issued a much-anticipated, 200-page report recommending that women be banned from wearing the full-face veil in public office buildings, schools, hospitals and while using mass transit. The full-face veil is viewed by many in France as a sign of extremism and a threat to gender equality and secularism.
Sarkozy began the debate in June 2009 when he said that the full-face veil was “not welcome” in France, currently home to more than 5 million Muslims, the largest such population in Europe. At present, fewer than 2,000 Muslim women wear the full-face veil in France, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Lawmaker André Gerin, the president of the 32-person, multi-party parliamentary panel, has called the full-face veil in France “the visible part of the iceberg” and warned that “behind the iceberg is a black tide of fundamentalism.”
Last week, a school in Spain - Instituto Camilo José Cela at the Madrid locality Pozuelo de Alarcón -- banned headscarves for Muslim girls. The school board’s bigoted decision is forcing the 16-year old Najwa Malha to not attend class while wearing headscarf. Like many places in Europe these days, the regional government (Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid) is held by a right-wing Fascist party – the Popular Party. As expected, when the student’s parents appealed against the school decision, it upheld the school decision. Interestingly, the national government, held by the left-wing Socialist Party (PSOE), has a dubious position. While the Minister of Education has stated that the right to religious freedom and the right to an education should prevail over the prohibition to use the headscarf, he, like many hypocritical Christians, differentiates between the presence of a Christian (Catholic) Cross in a class-room as a collective symbol and the headscarf as a personal symbol. Obviously, to closet bigots like him, too afraid to appear xenophobic on the religious ground, headscarf worn by a Muslim girl is symbolic of women’s oppression and not of her religious freedom. Not surprisingly, Christian female students in the catholic convents are not prohibited from wearing headscarves.
A vast majority of Muslim women consider hijab (headscarf) a religious obligation, mandated by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. A small section within this group consider wearing niqab and burqa as necessary, bringing them closer to their faith, much like old practices in many countries from India to Byzantium. Consider France, the home to more than five million Muslim residents, the most of any Western European country. Fewer than 2,000 are said to wear full-body veils or burqa there. It is silly to believe that they pose obvious threat to the French identity or security. It is ludicrous to say that when a Catholic nun uses headscarf it is progressive and kosher, however, when a Muslim girl or woman wears the same headscarf it is oppressive and/or symptomatic of her fundamentalist leanings. It is worth adding here that many of those wearing niqab and burqa in Europe are white reverts to Islam. It is folly to suggest that they were quiet, suppressed women.

Lest we forget it is Europe which at one time preached the wisdom of religious tolerance against bigotry. But hypocrisy has always been Europe’s trademark; thus, more often than not it has failed to live by its own standards. In many European countries, liberty and freedom are often misconstrued as licentiousness that allows unwed girls and women to give birth outside of marriage. No wonder in places like Iceland and France more than half the population is born out of wedlock.

Many European politicians seem willfully blind to the violation of individual liberties. They are looking for cheap ways to sidetrack public anger over high unemployment. It is hard to produce jobs and far too easy to fan anti-Muslim prejudices. These bigots have turned the hijab and burqa/niqab debates into menacing “national debate” on European identity. No political gain can justify hate-mongering, much less eliminationist trends so visible these days in Europe. Unfortunately, their bigotry is paying dividends, much like it did in the periods leading to the eliminationist pogroms and holocaust. Muslim-bashing has been an intoxicating vote-getter for far-right politicians in Europe, the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

However, probably not everything stemming the resurgent eliminationist mindset and tide in France, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Holland, Italy and other European states is lost. Following the fall of Premier Yves Leterme’s government April 22, Belgium faces early elections that may delay the passage of the anti-burqa ban. France’s top administrative body has advised the government that any total ban on face-covering Islamic veils could be unconstitutional as well as against the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. “It appears to the State Council that a general and absolute ban on the full veil as such can have no incontestable judicial basis,” it said.
The State Council, which is required to give an opinion before any major piece of legislation, added that rules requiring faces to be uncovered in public places such as schools, hospitals and law courts could be justified for security reasons to combat fraud and to meet the needs of some public services. That is, according to the State Council, a ban could be justified in some public places. Prime Minster Francois Fillon had asked the council for a legal opinion before drawing up a law on the subject. However, Jean Leonetti, the deputy parliamentary leader of Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party, said a ban “needs to be complete or else it is misunderstood”.
It is easy to see that a woman’s human rights are violated when a government requires her to wrap her body and face in an all-concealing veil, as the Taliban used to do when it ran Afghanistan. It should be just as easy to see the violation when a Belgian parliament recommends, as it did this week, or a French parliamentary panel recommended few weeks earlier, barring women who wear such veils — the burqa and the niqab — from using in public places, including schools, hospitals and public transportation. It is worth recalling that Muslim head scarves have been banned from public school classrooms in France since 2004.

Women must be free to make these decisions for themselves without any imposition from governments or enforcement agencies like the police. As I have noted some years ago, an overwhelming majority donning hijab, niqab and burqa does it on its freewill and is not forced to put up. A simple interview of these women and girls is enough to dispel the claims made by Sarkozy and other closet bigots and secular fundamentalists.

Instead of condemning the parliamentary panel’s recommendation, President Nicolas Sarkozy seems determined to outdo it. The Taliban would be pleased with Belgian Parliament’s decision and French parliamentary panel’s recommendation. The rest of the world should declare its utter disgust to Europe’s intolerance and eliminationist trends.

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