Wednesday 5 May 2010

Across Europe racism is becoming the law for Muslim women

A woman in Italy has become the first to be fined for covering her face. Known only as Amel, she was fined £430 under laws that ban covering your face in public places, after she was spotted by police in the Post Office.

The laws were originally brought in during the 70s to prevent political activists from hiding their faces. However, the mayor of the town of Novara, where Amel lives, now is using the law as a pretext to attack Muslim women.

Mayor Massimo Giordano is a member of the Northern League party, which takes a far right position on immigrants. Leader Umberto Bossi once called for boats containing immigrants from Africa (who he called “bingo bongos”) to be shelled, while another mayor from the party said “we should dress them up like hares and bang-bang-bang”. Party members have also been convicted of incitement to racial hatred for their part in trying to expel an encampment of Roma people.

Giordano has made sure the Italian laws, which have never been fully enforced before, are now being used against Muslim women. He’s said he wants Italian law to be amended so that it specifically outlaws wearing Muslim veils. He said:

“I signed the new regulations for reasons of security but also so that people who came to live in our city are aware and respect our traditions. The people of Novara do not want to see people walking around in the city wearing a burka. This is the only way to stop behaviour that makes the already difficult process of integration even harder.”

Meanwhile, Giordano’s ambitions have almost already been fulfilled in Belgium, where the lower house just voted through a plan for a complete ban on veils and headscarves. This is despite the fact that parties representing Belgium’s different regions have been at each other’s throats, leading to the recent collapse of the government. However, MPs put their differences aside to give near unanimous cross-party support to racist measure. Hopefully however, the political crisis will mean it is months before the Senate can meet to give the law approval.

Several Belgian towns already have similar local laws. Another knobhead Mayor, Jan Creemers, of the Belgian town of Maaseik, said: “It became a problem in our town because we had about 50 women who walked around like that, which really annoyed many other residents. They kept coming to me to ask me to do something about it. I spoke to a couple of these ladies to ask them very simply not to wear this kind of clothing. But one in particular refused point-blank so eventually the police opened legal proceedings against her.”

And in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy, facing declining popularity, has decided pushing for a ban on veils is a good way of shoring up his right wing support, and is determined to try and push one through over the summer. The response of the opposition “Socialists” (the French equivalent of New Labour) has been to present their own bill, which would ban veils in public buildings such as hospitals or banks.

However, the most radical proposal has come from a German member of the European Parliament, who has called for Europe wide ban on veils. Silvana Koch-Mehrin, and MEP for the right wing Free Democrats (who are part of Angela Merkel’s coalition government) used an editorial in in Germany’s Bild newspaper (the German equivalent of The Sun) to make the extreme demand.

What all this shows is that after almost 10 years of the demonisation of Muslims, anti-Muslim racism has become mainstream for European governments. Many claim that the bans are aimed to protect women’s rights, but the comments by those who are enforcing these laws shows their real motivation: using the veil as a way to attack Muslim people. The fact is that racist politics across Europe finds it hard to come to terms with the fact that Muslims are Europeans too, and should be allowed to dress however they wish.

The idea that white politicians should be the ones to “save” Muslim women from oppression is itself racist. It also will make it more difficult for Muslim women who want to stand up for women’s rights within their own communities, if all Muslims feel they are subject to racist attack from outside. What women wear is not and should never be a matter for politicians to decide. It should be for women themselves to decide.


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