One is alarmed to see how Islamophobes have begun to dominate secular forces in `civilized’ western democracies. During the 2008 American presidential election `several Republican politicians including Donald Trump asserted that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim’.
When British Prime Minister Teresa May `criticized Trump for re-posting material from the far-right Britain First. Trump retorted ` it would be better if she dealt with the “destructive radical Islamic terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom” rather than focusing on him’.
In Denmark, emergence of two new far-right parties in the country `Hard Line’ (‘Stram Kurs’) and `The New Right’ (`Nye Borgerlige’) may threaten re-election of ruling centre-right alliance by June 17 deadline. The `Hard Line’, founded in 2017, held ceremonies to desecrate Holy Qur’an (burn it or hurling into air) at public meetings. It demands deporting Muslims back to their country of origin. Danish courts set Islamaphobes free with a slap on wrist. `Hardliner’ founder Rasmus Paludan is roaming free despite a 14-day conditional jail- sentence for racism toward a spokeswoman for the Black Lives Matter movement. Paludan, a software engineer, developed the ‘Paludan-game’, popular in Danish schoolyards. The game requires `Christian players to catch the Muslims and Jews, put them in cages and insult them’.
In Germany, there had been around 71 attacks on mosques and 908 crimes against German Muslims (ranging from verbal to physical attacks and murder attempts), besides 1,413 attacks on refugees. Similar attacks took place in other European Union states and Britain. EU and other states shrug off existence of Islomophobia. As such, Islamophobe have a heyday carrying out discrimination against the Muslims in various forms (race, religion, workplace, etc.). On March 14, 2017, the European Court of Justice (EJC) passed two ineffectual judgments to rule on non-discrimination at work on religious grounds.
Headscarf versus Turban
In Europe, France spearheads abhorrence to voile, scarf, burka, niqab (call it by any name). The Sikhs’ turban (or the Jews’ kippah also) has quasi-religious significance. The Sikhs’ religion calls upon them to comply with five Ks in their everyday life. The Five K’s include kesh (uncut hair), kanga (small comb made of wood tucked in kesh), karpan (sword or dagger), kara (metallic bracelet), and kachhera or kachha (underwear). Kesh symbolises holiness. Men adorn kesh with a turban or dastaar/pugree, while women may use the dastaar or a stole. Karpan, kept by men and women, is wrapped around the torso with a strap called gatra. It reflects readiness to protect the weak and fight against injustice.
Kara represents strength and integrity of the man or woman. Kachhera, a cotton boxer worn by men and women, symbolizes self-control and chastity and prohibits adultery. These articles are worn at all times by the puritan sikhs, but a heretic sect, narankari, may not grow kesh. You come across Sikhs everywhere. Nowhere they are object of derisions because of their turbans. During his meeting with Manmohan Singh, the then French president Li Pen assured the Indian premier that there was no ban on Sikhs’ turbans in his country (Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, July 16, 2009, Indo-Asian News Service). His attitude marked a contrast to his consistently hostile stand on voile.
The French leaders of various political shades keep lashing out at burka for political expediency as “a sign of subjugation and submission that deprives women of their identity and hinder their social participation”.
They consider it a “cultural tool of male oppression”. France appointed a 58-member presidential Stasi commission for burka probe, but no commission for turban (or kippah) probe.
John R. Brown points out that “French public figures seemed to blame the headscarves for a surprising range of France’s problems, including anti-Semitism, Islamic fundamentalism, growing ghettoisation in the poor suburbs, and the breakdown of order in the classroom” (Why the French don’t like headscarves, 2007, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, p.1).
He observed that legislation against headscarves was portrayed as support to “women battling for freedom in Afghanistan, schoolteachers trying to teach history in Lyon, and all those who wished to reinforce the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity”. The voile was considered a “symbol of mounting Islamism and decaying social life” (p. 1, ibid.).
Brown denudes political motives of the Stasi commission. He reminds that ‘the Commission was forced to work quickly so that a law could be passed before the spring regional elections. In a sense, the timetable was set by the haunting fear that La Pen’s Far Right could repeat its April 2002 victories.
In such a short period of time, banning the voile was the only way to show that the politicians of the “sensible centre were responding to France’s new enemies” (pp. 242-243 ibid.). Brown reminds: “The Stasi Commission had proposed banning political signs as well and many observers commented that Nike symbols had no place at school, either”. But, follow-up action is awaited, ad infinitum.
The ban on burka is ostensibly meant to integrate Muslim women in French society. But, it would, in practice, further isolate Muslim women. Unfortunately, the French media and public figures harbour negative perceptions about Muslim community.
These perceptions manifest themselves, in early 2004, in a ban on headscarves, euphemistically called “clothing that reflected religious affiliations of pupils in schools”.
The law did not attract Muslim girls into greater social cohesion. Instead, it forced them to stay away from schools, the hidden purpose of the piece of legislation. The law was ostensibly based on recommendation of the presidential Stasi commission. But, this commission itself was formed under stimuli from the anti-Muslim media and politicians.
The media, through its reportages and cartoons, portrayed headscarves as “great danger to the French society and its tradition of secularism”. Legislation against the voile is likely to further corner Muslim women, particularly Pakistani immigrants. The anti-Muslim perceptions show themselves in diverse ways.
Why dress codes anachronistic?
The European legislation on the dress code is likely to be counterproductive as was the past legislation in the Muslim and non-Muslim world. The European legislation on the dress code is likely to be counterproductive as was the past legislation in the Muslim and non-Muslim world. The Fourth Council of the Lateran of 1215 ruled that Jews and Muslims must be distinguishable by their dress (Latin ‘habitus’). Pope Paul IV ordered in 1555 that in the Papal States it must be a yellow, peaked hat, and from 1567 for 20 years it was compulsory in Lithuania.
In 850, Caliph al Mutawakkil ordered Christians and Jews to wear a sash called ‘zunnah’ and a distinctive kind of shawl or headscarf called ‘taylasin’ (the Christians had already been required to wear the sash).
In the 11th century, Fatimid Caliph al Hakim ordered Christians to put on half-metre wooden crosses and Jews to wear wooden calves around their necks. In the late 12th century, Almohad ruler Abu Yusuf ordered the Jews of the Maghreb to wear dark blue garments with long sleeves and saddle-like caps. His grandson Abdallah al Adil made a concession after appeals from the Jews, relaxing the required clothing to yellow garments and turbans.
In the 16th century, Jews of the Maghreb could only wear sandals made of rushes and black turbans or caps with an extra red piece of cloth. Ottoman sultans continued to regulate the clothing of their non-Muslim subjects.
In 1577, Murad III issued an edict forbidding Jews and Christians from wearing dresses, turbans, and sandals. In 1580, he changed his mind, restricting the previous prohibition to turbans and requiring ‘dhimmis’ to wear black shoes; Jews and Christians also had to wear red and black hats, respectively.
Observing in 1730 that some Muslims took to the habit of wearing caps similar to those of the Jews, Mahmud I ordered the hanging of the perpetrators. Mustafa III personally helped to enforce his decrees regarding clothes.
In 1758, he was walking incognito in Istanbul and ordered the beheading of a Jew and an Armenian seen dressed in forbidden attire.
The last Ottoman decree affirming the distinctive clothing for ‘dhimmis’ (non-Muslims tax payers) was issued in 1837 by Mahmud II. Discriminatory clothing was not enforced in those Ottoman provinces where Christians were in the majority, such as Greece and the Balkans.
Obviously, the European ban on Muslim scarves or burkas is a tit-for-tat for Muslim rulers’ behaviour in their heyday. That’s why it does not encompass non-Muslim/Jewish kippahs or turbans also. Interestingly, wearing a scarf or a kippah is a custom with common meaning: recognition that there is someone ‘above’ human beings who watches their every act. For instance, most theists wear cover their heads with a piece of cloth, or wear a cap during prayers.
History tells that religious hatred brought about downfall of flourishing empires. Wearing a distinctive religious dress is historically reflection of rulers’ tolerance. Early followers of Christianity, in its infancy, were so frightened that they could not tell fellow Christians that they have embraced Christianity. Fearful of persecution, they indicated through eyeball movement that they too are Christians. They then walked along, with their mouths shut, to a safe place, sat on ground, and drew a cross with their fingers on ground, to show their conversion. Voracious readers may go through Braudel’s Civilisations. The Jews took refuge at Massada (a Mediterranean island) to escape being exterminated by them. The Romans followed them through. Jews were left with no choice but to commit suicide-`bombing’. Have Jews and Christians been eliminated from face of earth? Genghis Khan was indifferent to what religion his subjects followed. If he had been a fanatic, the world would have followed only one religion, pantheism, his religion?
Muslim rulers also failed to enforce a discriminatory dress code during their heyday. Nowadays, they themselves live like `a poisoned rat stinking in a hole’ (Rohingya in Myanmar, cow-lynched India Palestine `State’, Europe, USA) Currently, there is no antipathy to Jews’ kippah (or the Sikhs’ turbans) like Muslim veils. The Muslims also, like the Jews, need legislative protection to live in peace like other communities. Current tide of Islomophobia caricatures veneer of religious tolerance in the West.