An Argument With Too Much Left Out

It’s odd to discover that sometimes readers know more about what I’m doing than I do. I’d actually forgotten that I’d commented on the hijab-headscarf-veil issue all the way back in October, but Socialism in an Age of Waiting reminded me.

The issue of Muslim girls wearing, or not wearing, hijab in state schools in France has given rise to extensive comment and debate all over the blogosphere. We’d cite as the most interesting discussions so far the posts, and the comments, at Butterflies and Wheels, where Ophelia Benson has been blogging about it, on and off, since October and at Harry’s Place, where the debate was taken up in December partly in response to the news that “a government-appointed commission on secularism [had] recommended drafting a new law banning all conspicuous religious symbols from French state schools”.

Why so I have. What a terrible memory I have to be sure. I wonder what else I’ve been blogging about that I’ve forgotten. Monetary policy? Weaving? The Crimean War?

Then SiaW link to another discussion of the hijab issue, saying it cuts through the knot – which I find odd, since the post in question leaves so much out. There is this question, for example:

There are fashions that annoy the hell out of me, but by what possible logic are headscarves more offensive than, say, big hair? Is there any way in which headscarves are more oppressive to women than mini-skirts?

Yes of course there is. What an absurd question. There is no equivalent of the Taliban or the religious police of Iran forcing women to wear mini-skirts by beating the shit out of them if they don’t. There is no real, literal, physical, violent, bone-breaking coercion of women to wear short skirts. There is that kind of coercion of women to wear the hijab or the chador or the burqa. The problem with the hijab is not that it’s ‘offensive.’ (That’s a sub-topic I want to go into some day – another branch of the translation problem – the way people hear ‘offensive’ when offense is not the issue at all and no one said it was. Odd, that.) Or that it’s ‘annoying.’ Read or talk to some women who have lived through a transition from not having to wear the nasty things to being forced to by violent packs of men. Talking about annoyance and offense just trivializes the issue, but it’s not damn well trivial.

And the rest of the post is along the same lines. It ignores far too much to be useful, it seems to me. I agree that there are problems with the ban; that it may be counter-productive, that it violates the freedom of some people, that in a sense it discriminates against Muslims. But there are also problems with the absence of the ban, as I said last month. A discussion that just blithely ignores those is a bit beside the point, I think.

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