Sexuality Beyond the Veil 

Sexuality Beyond the Veil

By Hwaa Irfan

“One runs her own company, another is a housewife and a third, a divorcee, raises her children by herself. Like nearly 2,000 other Muslim women who freely wear face-covering veils anywhere in France, their lives will soon change and they are worried”, writes Elaine Ganley for Associated Press. However, this doe not change the French obssesion that all women must appear, and behave as written in the constitution of their minds. Elaine Ganley wrote the above in her piece entitled: “Women Protest as French Cabinet Gets Veil Ban Bill” once again at a time of the year (spring) that seems to appeal to their mind-set to renew their annual campaign against women who look like Muslims. Discourse seems to surpass them, as equally their inability to learn from what is new in life as they entrench themselves further in the deceit that ae fighting for rights, let alone human rights. Against their own constitution, they enforce on women their perception of what a woman should be. Instead of the liberty they seek, they inflict a kind of oppression that verges on totalitarianism, disguised in their wanton notion of what it means to be free, yet one would not find that form of enslavement on Muslim soil for non-Muslim women. In fact on Muslim soil, it gets pretty difficult at times to differentiate between Muslim and non-Muslim women with the direction that fashion seems to be taking today. Bright and colorful, with every shape of the body exposed, far too many Muslim women have been taken the bait towards a form of self enslavement/addiction of their bodies as solely objects of pleasure.

In April 2008, there was a flurry of media activity around former sex queen of French cinema Brigitte Bardot, who was found guilty of a thought crime against Muslims. For the fifth time, Bardot was charged of inciting racial hatred. An animal rights activist and an icon of French feminism, Bardot is known for her views on immigration.

Not long after, in May 2008, we found French feminists making a public meal of a Muslim whose annulment of the marriage took place because the bride was not a virgin. The bride willingly accepted the annulment by the French court in Ille, as she admitted she had misled her husband.

How a personal issue reached the ears of French feminists gives a cause for concern, but what happened between the couple on the wedding night should have remained so.

    “The sexuality of women in France is a private and free matter,” said Elisabeth Badinter, a pioneer of women’s legal rights, to Times Online.

But, this privacy has been denied by the debate fueled by feminists and those who share a common interest.

Let’s say that the common interest are Muslims; the reaction from government officials and feminists has only served to spread what they already believe: All Muslim women are oppressed. But this reaction may also serve to consolidate agendas that are not necessarily political into the French public life.

These people are unconcerned that the bride exercised her French right to have premarital relations. They are not concerned about the fact that the bride chose to deceive her groom.

French lawyer Xavier Labbee, who legally represented the bride, argued that the annulment was about the bride’s deception. After all, she did deceive the man she married. Or is that a feminist’s right to bequeath to all women, even those who would prefer to lead their lives without deception?

The argument that this divorce will make women run to hospitals for hymen-replacement surgery has only been made true by those who have made the annulment come to the public debate against Muslims.
However, there is one other aspect: The debate can serve to use Muslim women as a means to raise the issue that pertains to sexual liberty or promiscuity, depending on which side of the fence one stands.

If one lived in Europe in calmer times, one would be privy to how Muslims and non-Muslims interacted and conducted themselves in public arenas. There was mutual respect in general.

For some men, to “conquer” women is an act of manhood, and those men feel challenged if a woman’s “availability” is in question. That availability may simply be a matter of flirtation. Then, there are non-Muslim women who have chosen to make themselves available, even if it is simply through the manner in which they dress. These women tend to feel “challenged” by the women who are veiled.

There are, of course, many who do not fall into this category, but who is going to cry “Foul!” the loudest? That common understanding between non-Muslim men and women is echoed in the French society.

Isn’t it more likely that the undeclared issue behind virginity is one that serves as a symbol, a symbol of sexual oppression that has been designated to the Muslim veil by French secular society?

In her paper “Symptomatic Politics: The Banning of Islamic Head Scarves in French Public Schools,” Joan W. Scott argued:

    “When French critics of the veil (feminists included) find the veiling of women’s bodies an affront to equality, I don’t think it’s equality with men that they really mean, nor are individual political rights at issue. Rather, removal of the veil, they think, will make Muslim women the equals of French women, free to experience what is taken to be the superior French way of conducting gendered relationships”.

Perhaps the most stunning contradiction was the alliance of so many French feminists, who, in the name of the emancipation of Muslim girls, rushed to support a law that offered the status quo in France (women as the object of male desire!) as a universal model of women’s liberation. Entirely forgotten in the glorification of the freedom of French sexual relations was the critique of these same feminists, who for years have decried the objectification of women and the overemphasis on their sexual attractiveness.

In Islam, sexuality is a private matter — a matter that guards against an increased promiscuity within society that leads to noncommittal marriages, dysfunctional families, and children who find difficulty in forming balanced relationships. Is it a Freudian slip when French president Sarkozy said at the Cabinet meeting:

    “Citizenship should be experienced with an uncovered face”

“Experienced” indeed but to what extent is onyl reflective int he level of sexual violence prevalent on a daily basis in countries that advocate this “experience”. When children become a part of the equation, it has gone far beyond being just a “problem”, but has become a reflection of the socio-pathological malaise in which we now frame our lives.

The personal remains personal, but Islam acknowledges the point at which the personal becomes public. Those who have not lived in the West cannot appreciate how much sexuality is an important part of the public identity. It is an identity that is all about desire — a desire that sometimes goes unfulfilled as it struggles to find its way back to its original purpose.

Bremner, Charles. “Outrage as French Judge Annuls Muslim Marriage Over Bride’s Virginity Lie.” Times Online. 31 May 2008. Accessed 1 June 2008.

Ganley, E. “Women Protest as French Cabinet Gets Veil Ban Bill”.

Murphy, Francois. “Brigitte Bardot on Trial for Muslim Slur.” Reuters. 15 Apr. 2008. Accessed 1 June 2008.

Scott, Joan W. “Symptomatic Politics: The Banning of Islamic Head Scarves in French Public Schools.”French Politics, Culture & Society. 23.3 (2005), 106–127.

The original was written in 2008.

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