Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lifting the veil off the veil

The French police ticketed a woman for driving with her veil on (news). France is also on a mission to ban the burqa, citing it is not in touch with changed circumstances and sees it as a subjugation of women. Those who oppose such ban believe it is just jingoistic behavior aimed at limiting Muslims and immigrants practicing their religion.

The Islamic veil or burqa is not a religious practice endorsed by the Prophet, nor explicitly mentioned in the Quran - only says that men and women shall dress modestly in public. It is a cultural practice that existed even before Islam, and was used by women from all religions in the Arab, Persian and India regions. In fact, the President of India, Pratibha Patil drew a lot of flak when she mentioned the burqa was to protect women from Mughal invaders.

The veil protected women from exposure to outside men, so they would quickly lose interest, and not draw unwanted attention. It was necessary in the absence of a proper police force, legal system and unscruplous kings and chieftains who would make any attractive woman a concubine in their harem.

Even today, it protects girls and women from such evil. The Delhi police has started a Anti-stalking cell so they can respond quickly to women who call on being stalked, following it's success with a similar Anti-SMS cell. The Supreme Court , Government of India, Law Commission and Human Rights organizations are trying to determine if existing laws are sufficient to deal with acid attacks on girls, or if a separate law is needed. There is also debate on whether rape should entice the death penalty or life sentence is sufficient. All of these are reactive, AFTER the crime has happened, and the tough laws and exemplary punishments are based on a hope that future crimes will not happen. That depends however, on how boys and men will react to stimulus such as attractive women, at the same time stay educated on how the law allows them to react! Just as increasing use of death penalty has not reduced homicides, implementing tough laws may not reduce crimes against women. The veil however, is proactive and prevents a crime BEFORE it ever gets this far. As long as it is not forced, it is an acceptable practice, safe and effective preventive system to help girls from all kinds of unwanted attention. Seriously, there is really no ostensible reason to force a woman must show her face to anyone except her husband.

That said, it is also important to use the veil in the preventive context above, and not take rigid positions as a religious practice. The veil came about when there was no need for identification such as driver's license, passport, as most women were in a limited geography and mobility. That is no longer true today, so those who wear the veil should cooperate with identifying themselves as the need arises, so long as the crime prevention objectives of the veil are reasonably met.

The French police and legal system may be smart in responding quickly to preventing a crime, but nevertheless cannot claim to be fool proof. The French and the world are better off letting the women decide what they want to do. If they want to implement a law that addresses forcing a woman to wear a veil, that can be supported as being in touch with ensuring freedom.

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