When the vertically-challenged president of France Nicholas Sarkozy made an attack against the clothing that some women choose to wear, it re-ignited the debate about the womans’ role in Islam and society. This debate was of course mostly one-sided, with the tabloids and broadsheets combined making various inflammatory statements through their columnists.
As a man, I do not feel that it is my place to present arguments as to how the Islamic dress actually emancipates women, or the particular details of what constitutes Islamic dress. This is for the sisters to present, as they are the ones who choose to do so every day, facing the jeers and suspicions of many of those in the western society, and for that I have tremendous respect. I am sure that many of us have heard stories of sisters being insulted and attacked just because of their clothing they wear, and in a few cases the brothers have responded but on the whole the muslim vanguard in western countries is a fairly impotent bunch, which makes the sisters all the more stronger in my view.
Instead, I wish to concentrate on Sarkozy’s claim that “The burkha is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.” He presumably has become enamoured with his public persona to such an extent that it has made him suffer amnesia about the actions of his own country in subjugating women and men in both its colonies and now with the “hidden French hand” in African affairs.
The French colonial experience was not a pleasant one, though of course colonisation for the colonised is never so, however there are often varying degrees of brutality. When France colonised Algeria in the early 1800s, they did so on a path of destruction. Alexis De Tocqueville gave this strategy to the colonising forces :-
“I personally believe that the laws of war enable us to ravage the country and that we must do so either by destroying the crops at harvest time or any time by making fast forays also known as raids the aim of which it to get hold of men or flocks. Whatever the case, we must say that all political freedoms should be suspended in Algeria.”
From these statements, which any Algerian who reads their history will tell you was followed to the letter, we can see that France revelled in its role of forcing subservience upon the population. To suspend freedoms of any kind is of course to debase and subjucate at the most extreme level. Of course, Sarkozy will claim that this was a long time ago ( though curiously the values of Liberté, égalité, fraternité as justification were then as now), there are more examples from recent history.
In Algeria, there was de-facto racial segregation in classrooms, with the Pieds-Noirs (French settlers ) being given access to the best education and employment. Algerian children in particular were prevented from attending school in rural areas.
In the 1950s, France found itself embroiled in a war of liberation by Algerian insurgents, the FLN. France (in a statement that will surely sound familiar ) denied that this guerrilla army was entitled to any rights as prisoners of war, and instead denounced the uprising as one of terrorism. The French forces collectively punished the Algerian population, and whether one was for or against the FLN in time no-one was safe from the excesses of the French forces. Rape, Murder and Torture were par for the course, men or women, young or old. One example from Verité Liberté states that :-
“first, the officer questions the prisoner in the "traditional" manner, hitting him with fist and kicking him. Then follows torture: hanging..., water torture..., electricity..., burning (using cigarettes, etc.)... Cases of prisoners who were driven insane were frequent... Between interrogation sessions, the suspects are imprisoned without food in cells, some of which wre small enough to impede lying down. We must point out that some of them were very young teenagers and others old men of 75, 80 years or more.”
With regards rape, the French army as protocol said that every female arrested must have their genitals inspected for evidence of sexual relations with relatives. This in effect legitimised sexual abuse and rape in the minds of the legionnaires and armed forces, and this command came directly from the French government themselves. A testimony by a former soldier in the book “Torture and the Twilight of empire” , states in one day he saw “one thirteen year old raped by three soldiers, a fifteen year old raped by seven, and a sergeant who had raped an eight year old.”
I apologise for these details, but it is essential that we understand that when france attacks women in Islam, it is in no position to do so. It is still rare to hear any Frenchman express regret over their actions in Algeria, and of course issues such as compensation are a non-issue as far as the French government is concerned.
And this is not to say that these matters are over with. Four French soldiers in 2005 were accused of rape by a child in the Ivory Coast, with similar events happening by French troops in Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Morocco and others. Examples include abuse of patients at a mental health facility, denying food and water to villagers for amusement, and many more atrocities.
It is perhaps then all the more bizarre that Sarkozy, diminutive though he may be, should make such grand statements as women who wear the burkha are debasing themselves. It is of course france that is doing the debasement of all those women in Africa and anywhere else which it tries to exert control.
In my own view, I believe that these women are subservient, to Allah(swt). If they believe that they should dress in the niqab, hijab or burkha, there is no doubt in my mind that they do so only with the intention to please Allah(swt). This is a direct challenge to the authority of the state that wishes all its citizens to rubber-stamp the murders, the rape, the theft of resources and the exploitation that characterises western foreign policy.
If Sarkozys’ concepts of freedom is to allow France to subjucate those weak and oppressed around the world, then I am pleased that we muslims are subservient to Allah(swt), al-humduillah. From a muslim perspective, he is as relevant as he is tall, and I would urge anyone to continue working for Islam, and to let the west know that muslims will not be intimidated.
Umar Abdullah, 26th June 2009