For such a widely established Religion, does the world have a firm understanding of what it represents? Stephen Hinds-Day discusses…
The divisible line between changes of a positive nature and those of a negative one can become indistinguishable at times.
This is especially true in governmental decisions – when implemented changes, intended to be positive, inflict collateral damage that eludes justification. As Karl Marx once said: “Reason has always existed, but not always in reasonable form.”
On 7th March, Switzerland narrowly passed a referendum that prohibited the wearing of face coverings in public. Whilst this obviously excluded PPE face masks, it served to illegalise the wearing of anything that veils one’s face; inadvertently including Islamic religious garments, such as the niqab and burqa, where such compliance is essentially impossible.
The referendum in itself, which passed at a very close ratio of 51/49, made no explicit reference to the country’s Muslim population of around 450,000, and in fact the Swiss parliament actually opposed the banning; calling it a “fringe phenomenon”. But this legislative change did not actually stem from the government. Its roots are traced back to a national-conservative right wing political party. It is one which prides itself upon the representation of the Swiss people; making their prejudicial incentive all the more alarming.
The SVP (Swiss People’s Party), was actively circulating propaganda akin to Islamophobia, prior to the referendum. Images of a woman in a black burqa; branded by a bold white slogan that read “Extremismus Stoppen” (translating to “Stop Extremism”) circulated around country. Stood in front of a red background (evidently completing the dual colours of the national flag, white & red) was this intrusive and overwhelming black figure attempting to consume the frame. Visible only by the aggressively furrowed expression of her eyes, this presence triggered feelings of anger and danger. But in reality this was just a woman wearing a Niqab. A woman wearing a religious garment intended to solidify and strengthen her religious connection.
These campaign posters promulgated stereotypical and prejudicial perspectives of Muslims, using them as a method of persuasion; which arguably proved successful considering the outcome. But malice and discrimination embody no role in the formation of positive change, in any circumstances.
Reasonable doubt has cast itself upon the reassuring words of the Swiss government that insist this change was implemented to protect the fundamental rights of women. Belief in the contrary continues to be shared, with various communities viewing it as “a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority”, says the country’s Central Council of Muslims.
What this referendum may represent, on some larger scale, is a reaffirmation of a cultural synonym that has permeated western civilisation since 9/11. Islam and terrorism, and the indivisibility of the two. However, it is also equally stereotypical to attribute Islamophobia to every nation who introduces a change such as this.
Switzerland is most definitely not the first country to integrate the “burqa ban” into their legal system. The veil of Islam has cast its shadow in around 18 different countries so far including: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Netherlands, and France.
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By Stephen Hinds Day: Culture Columnist.
Reason has always existed, but not always in reasonable form.
National security represents one of two major components in the fruition of this legislation. These concerns are predominantly expressed from countries who have experienced the catastrophic impact of terrorism, such as Sri Lanka in 2019, when 279 people were killed in a suicide bombing.
The fabric of history is unfortunately stained from the innumerable tragedies of terrorism, and the international climate of 21st century utters mere whispers of change for the future. But have we allowed fear to alienate our perspective of Islam? Is its association with radicalism inseparable and inescapable?
The second major component refers to the increasingly prevalent perception that Islam is inherently oppressive to the women whom are brought up inside its religious sphere.
Worldwide and widespread attitudes, amongst both Muslim and non-Muslim communities, view some of Islam’s religious principles on modesty to be oppressive and in breach of women’s rights. Countries such as France and Netherlands both label Islamic values of women as contradictory to their national principles of freedom and female equality.
However, from the perspective of Islam itself, its teachings do not emphasise nor represent oppressive ideologies of female modesty. The Hadiths, for example, seen in Islamic religious texts such as the Bukhari, Tirmidhi and Nabawi, classify a woman’s beauty as something precious to be preserved, as well as respected by all and protected by herself – in servitude of that preservation.
The veiled garments worn by Muslim women, at least for most, are not in submission of these religious teachings, but in appreciation of and resonance with them. So, to instate legislation that restricts them of the fundamental human right to express this religious belief stands in direct contradiction of a nation’s intention to grant them freedom from oppression. It’s merely replacing one weight with another.
“The belief that Islam is inherently oppressive towards women has often been coupled with the expressed desire to rescue the Muslim woman, even if against her will.”, says Susan Carland, author of ‘Fight Hislam: Women, Faith and Sexism’.
National security and women’s rights represent the two pillars from which the “burka ban” continues to stand upon. Whilst both reasons have their validity, both unfortunately perpetuate misunderstanding and misinformation about Islam and its religious principles.
In the empty space of misunderstanding grows discontent and opposition, and it is through this cultural segregation that Islamophobia continues to exist. While anti-Muslim sentiments “do not characterise western countries…” says GALLUP, “they exist in substantial enough numbers to draw both attention and concern”. Is the solution, then, to facilitate the unification of east and west? As opposed to the extradition of one from the other?
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