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Saturday, February 27, 2021

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Face-veil proposal outrages some students


American Muslims are feeling the ripple from a new French law that prohibits women from wearing veils as part of their religious practice, leaving some to wonder what will come next. | Wikimedia Commons

A full black dress covered her entire body. From head to toe, nothing could be seen.

All that was visible of Reehab Ramadan were two eyes peering out from beneath her veil, telling her story.

“I have a neighbor who described me to her friend,” said Ramadan, a computer science senior. “She was saying how she could see my character and personality by just looking at my eyes. She could see it (despite) the cloth on my face.”

Ramadan, a Muslim student who wears the full face-veil or ‘niqab’ in Arabic, said the cloth defines her as a person.

“The niqab is a part of me,” Ramadan said, “If I had to take it off due to some legislation, they would be stripping me of my identity.”

Ramadan’s words came in response to the French government’s January proposal for a ban on the face-veil. Once drafted into law, the restriction applied to schools, hospitals, public transportation and government offices. The legislation said the face-veil was a challenge to French values of equality.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy showed support for the ban, claiming the face-veil was “not welcome in France.” His political party leader, Xavier Bertrand, said it is “simply a prison for women who wear it.”

The Student Feminist Organization at UH takes the opposite position. Amanda Williams, president of the organization, said the government should not enforce this ban.

“If it is oppression, why handle it with more oppression?” Williams said. “If (the women) need liberation, allow them to liberate themselves. It shouldn’t be imposed.”

Williams said the ban removes essential freedoms from women.

“A very powerful value of feminism is celebrating and exercising freedom of choice,” Williams said. “And by assuming that they don’t have those options available to them is insinuating that they aren’t responsible or intelligent enough to make their own opinions.”

Ramadan said the majority of people who wear the face-veil in Western societies do so by choice, not pressure.

“I was not forced to do it. I actually had to fight my father for two to three years to let me wear the face-veil,” Ramadan said. “I know countless sisters who want to wear the niqab, but their parents won’t allow them.”

Vice President of the UH feminist organization, Andrea Platt, said the ban is simply another way to undermine Islam.

“This ban is a thinly veiled xenophobic response to the growing population of Muslims in France,” Platt said. “It’s part of the agenda.

“Think about Catholic nuns. Are they not allowed to wear their religious garments? Nothing is said about that.”

Another face-veil wearing student, education junior Aideh Elasmar, agrees with Platt.

“When I heard about it, I thought it was so hypocritical,” Elasmar said. “I felt like they were using the dignity of women as a front to target the Islamic faith.”

Elasmar, who started wearing the face-veil only six months ago, fears that the U.S. will also consider a ban.

“Right now, the majority of American people believe in civil rights and freedom to choose, especially in mundane things as what to wear,” Elasmar said. “But there’s still that threat. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ So I definitely think that if it’s not corrected, it could possibly spread.”

The key to preventing this law from spreading, Elasmar said, is education.

“It’s simply a matter of educating, just speaking out,” she said. “(A) lady at the airport asked me about the face-veil, and I told her. (A) little kid who thought I looked like a ninja asked me, and I told him. Most people are just curious, and I welcome their curiosity.”

To facilitate the education, Elasmar and Ramadan, along with other face-veil wearing students, started a blog this semester at http://niqabiportal.wordpress.com. The blog features personal stories and anecdotes about their experiences with the face-veil.

“I can’t speak for every woman. But I can speak for myself, and I can speak for my friends, and we can speak for a large amount of people who have started it,” Elasmar said. “I can safely say, wearing the niqab has been an amazing journey.”

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