This is but one part of a growing Islamophobic trend which has seen Muslim minorities become even more marginalised and demonised in Western Europe than they were previously. Though this demand originated on the far right it is now increasingly taken up by the mainstream bourgeois parties culminating in the recent decision of the French Parliament to make wearing the veil a criminal offence. In France what is equally shameful is the failure of most of the French left to oppose it in any meaningful way, members of the Green, Socialist and Communist parties having abstained on this law in the French Parliament.
The demand to ban the veil is created around a myth. One that proclaims that the so called progressive and democratic values of western society must be upheld against the misogynistic, backwards and feudal nature of the Islamic faith. One aspect of this myth is that the ‘modern and democratic’ Israel must be supported against the ‘backward and totalitarian’ Arab regimes of the Middle East. In other words this is a white racist myth that serves as a rationale for Western Imperialist domination.
It is certainly true that Muslim fundamentalist regimes such as the Wahhabi rulers of Saudi Arabia have been the most misogynistic to exist in modern times. It is equally true though that the Saudi Arabian regime has had the active support of the Western imperialist powers since its formation after World War I and could never have survived without that support.
Those on the left who may be tempted to join in the Islamophobic chorus and support the banning of the veil would do well to reflect on the fact holders of extreme misogynistic positions are also very much alive and kicking in Western Europe today. Whilst the French parliament was debating whether or not to ban the veil the Vatican came out with a proclamation declaring the ordination of women priests to be a crime on a par with the sexual abuse of children! We should focus on the Vatican and other reactionary forces in our own midst who have consistently opposed every advance of women’s rights.
Our position is clear; we support the right of Muslim women or indeed any woman who freely chooses to do so to wear the veil. We may well disagree with their decision but forced liberation by banning the veil is no liberation at all.
The move to ban the veil has no more to do with women’s rights than a proposal to ban halal and kosher slaughter has to do with animal rights. They are both examples of bigots seeking to discriminate against ethnic/cultural minorities, and finding a progressive-sounding slogan to disguise the racist content of their proposals. It is hightly problematic that some people on the left fall for this sleight of hand.
There is a long history of socialists grappling with the best way of fighting religious ideas. All experience so far points to the idea that it is pointless to *agitate* or legislate against religion and religious symbols. Instead the most effective approach is to work with people on demands that reflect their immediate interests, to build unity, develop their self-confidence and class-consciousness, and in that way to reduce the impact of religious ideas.
In a time of economic recession the Muslim communities can and have become a convenient scapegoat for diverting attention away from the ongoing capitalist crisis and who is responsible for that crisis. This is why in France and elsewhere in Europe the mainstream bourgeois right is increasingly going over to the overtly Islamophobic positions of the far right. The demand to ban the veil is but one aspect of the political right’s Islamophobia, it has absolutely no progressive content whatsoever.