ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Burqa Battles

The Left needs to reclaim its space in the battle for secularism and against fundamentalism.

In the past few years, the burqa or full body and face cover for women, has become the focus of much frenzied political and international posturing and sparring. The latest in this series of political spectacles has been the decision of the French legislature in July to ban the full facial veil in a vote. While the French government and legislators argued that this was to protect Muslim women from pressures within their community as well as to uphold the principles of secularism as defined in the French constitution, opponents and critics have pointed to the underlying vein of racism and the inability to understand other cultures as informing such decisions.

There is no doubt that this particular ban on the burqa, and much of the recent “debate” on this topic, can only be understood in the context of the ideological-political shifts consequent to the 2001 terror attacks in the United States. It was only after this that Muslim fundamentalism came to be seen as an enemy of the west and of democracy and secularism, whereas for almost half a century before that, it had usually been an ally of western powers against their common enemy of communism. Not only was Muslim fundamentalism often armed by the western powers to defeat anti-imperialist movements and states (Afghanistan being only the most egregious example), considerable intellectual and political encouragement was given to conservative and orthodox forces to defend their culture and religion. The western world’s implacable stand against Muslim fundamentalism then is a very recent phenomenon. The larger concern must be that this opposition to Islamic fundamentalism also shows a disdain for all things Islam, a kind of “Islamophobia”.

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