Slightly edited version was first published in english daily Islamabad Dateline [20th April, 2011]
Great poets were a product of their times. I am sure had Shakespeare been alive today, he might have considered rephrasing his famous ‘to be or not to be’ to ‘to veil or not to veil; that is the question’
I recall when I went to Swat to deliver relief aide to IDP’s right after military action had come to its successful end in August 2009 I came across a barber shop. The glass window said: Hajamat karana mana hai [hair-cut is banned]. I got a chance to talk to the owner of the shop and he said when Taliban had taken over his neighborhood the first announcement made via radio was to force women to wear niqab and men not to dare cut their beards and hair. Such has been the case wherever Islamist militants took over. We called it extremism.
Personally, I remember being really agitated when ‘elders’ advised me to keep a certain hair-cut and not to wear shorts in public. The temperature was too much and I believed it to be a personal choice. Leaving religion aside, restricting the right to wear as you want infringes on personal freedom of conscience and thought.
Two months before my visit to Swat in June 2009, French president Sarkozy called the entire parliament, national assembly and senate to announce one of his grand ideas. He is known for his antiques to be honest, but this time what he had to say did not help the already polarized world we live in. He said: There is no place for the burka within the French Republic.
After much debate and hype – the law has finally been enacted in France. Some say now the Taliban and France have one thing in common; they both force women to dress a certain way. Not to mention the French Republic is now compared to Iran and Saudi Arabia.
For Sarkozy and his government, the veil is dangerous and illegal. For certain Muslim communities, the veil is essential. Political commentators consider it ‘veiled’ agenda of the French ruling government. Women wearing veil over their faces would be asked to uncover their faces. If they refuse to co-operate, they can be fined €150.
Activists both pro and anti-niqab ban law devised new ways to make their voices heard. Activism saw its new form when video two women wearing the niqab with mini-shorts and high heels, wandering in the streets of Paris came on Youtube. The video went viral.
These anti-ban activists called themselves Niqabitch(es). I had been in touch with them since last year and got hold of them again regarding the ban.
Both of the women are in their early twenties, and one of them is a Muslim. Though, none was really affected by the law but they still felt the need to voice out their concern, in a rather unusual way.
To wear a simple burqa would have been too easy, too simple. So we asked ourselves: how would the authorities react to women who were wearing a burqa and a pair of hotpants?- they say on why they chose to protest in such a manner.
Fearing an onslaught from Muslims they had already cleared their position on the matter: We didn’t intend to attack or insult the feelings of orthodox Muslims – to each their own. Rather, we wanted to challenge the elected officials of the Republic who supported the passing of a law that’s believed to be largely unconstitutional. And finally, isn’t it better to have a laugh while making a statement?
Sarkozy might be playing his cards for the next elections. But it might back fire on and he can lose 6 million Muslim voters — and many more from those who despise the law.
Across Europe there is a new wave of anti-Islamic sentiment, from the banning of minarets in Switzerland to the niqab ban in France. The move might have been more political than religious but it surely serves to add a chapter in a local conspiracy theorists notebook.
Niqabitch(es) were kind enough to answer a few questions of mine.
I asked them, now that that burqa ban law has been enacted, do you have any plans to take your innovative activism further?
NB: We are happy that the word was spread and if we maybe raised awareness on the situation in France; but for now we haven’t planned anything in particular ! We said what we had to say in our own way and if we find more relevant things to do, who knows !
SAAZ: Did you receive any threats from radical Muslims, against the name you use, etc?
NB: We did get death threats from all kinds of radical people, not only muslims. Those who do not want to see people mingle. Sometimes it was very surprising, for example hardcore feminists attacked us for wearing hot pants and shaving our legs, or islamophobes who think we are promoting the Chariah.
As for the name, we explained that “bitch” was not an insulting word to us, we call each other like that, it’s the new way to say “sister” But indeed, some people got offended. We can’t make everyone happy ! Like the song on the video says, ‘If you don’t like it, then hey : Fuck you.’
SAAZ: Do you think this law would backfire on Sarkozy? Was it ‘veiled’ agenda for next elections?
NB: We are not political analysts, but from what we can see : It is easy to use hatred in politics, and to target immigrant populations in times of economic crisis, and Sarkozy understood that very well. Problem is, most of the 5 million musilms in France are french citizens. WTF !
SAAZ: How do you feel about France, now having laws that ask women to dress in a certain way, is being compared to Iran and Saudi Arabia?
NQ: There’s no uniform yet, but it is not the role of a democratic government to tell citizens how they should dress. In a small italian town they want to forbid miniskirts. Today they’re forbidding niqabs, but what if tomorrow they suddenly realize that they don’t like hoodies or skirts anymore ? Seriously this is getting ridiculous.