Debating the veil in the Morning Star

Over at the Shiraz Socialist blog Jim Denham of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, a pseudo-left sect whose Islamophobia is usually matched only by its Stalinophobia, applauds a letter in yesterday’s Morning Star from one Betty Tebbs on the issue of the veil.

Denham hasn’t actually read the letter Tebbs is replying to, but this staunch defender of Enlightenment values finds that unnecessary. Tebbs is, after all, a white former trade union activist, so according to Denham she’s entitled to adopt an attitude of cultural arrogance towards a minority ethno-religious community. As far as the original letter is concerned, Denham observes: “I think we can all guess roughly what it said (and that it came from patronising, middle-class scum)”.

For the benefit of readers who might actually like to examine the evidence before they reach a political conclusion, we reproduce the exchange from the Morning Star letters column.

Defending my attack on veil
Letter in Morning Star, 15 November 2006

THE 10 women who signed a letter enlightening me (M Star October 24) have, like many more, lost the plot again.

The point that I was making was that wearing Muslim dress is a symbol showing their unequal status. Linking me to Le Pen in their letter is disgusting. They do this not knowing what I have done throughout my life in the trade union movement, politically and in the women’s movement.

I would be surprised if they had ever worked on the shop floor fighting for women’s rights, both in job opportunity and pay and against male prejudice.

It was my generation which marched and fought politically for a woman’s right to choose. We fought both the Establishment and the church, we did not accommodate them.

It was also we who saw the need for refuges for battered women and spent many hours raising money to buy property and run the homes, picking up women, sometimes with children, at hospitals and on the streets at all hours and helping them with their needs, schools for the children, doctors, sympathetic solicitors and social services.

I mention this because, knowing that Pakistan has admitted to 4,000 honour killings annually, I cannot be convinced, now that this practice has happened here, that all Muslim women wear their dress voluntarily rather than through family pressure and fear.

It would be interesting to know if feminist women have provided any help, maybe refuges, for Muslim women in such a situation.

I would like to see Muslim women in work where their dress would not be a safety hazard and to have the pleasure of engaging in sport activities.

Women have the right in this country to look men in the face without fear and as equals and this should be encouraged.

If Muslim dress is not sexist, what is it for?


Women’s right to choose
Letter in Morning Star, 24 October 2006

Betty Tebbs (M Star October 13) claims feminist credentials in citing her opposition to choice over the wearing of the veil and her support for the French government, which has banned the niqab and hijab in public institutions.

What is the actual situation in France? In the name of integration and secularism, millions of Arab and Muslim people are excluded from the mainstream of French society and condemned to an institutionalised second-class life.

Result – six million people voted for Le Pen as a presidential candidate while the impoverished suburbs erupt in riots last year.

Betty Tebbs’s argument actually turns the argument behind decades of women’s struggles to decide over what happens to our bodies – including what we wear – on its head.

Any one of us may not individually agree with particular forms of dress, but, if we start to blame women’s dress choices for social problems in society and ban particular forms of dress, where do we stop?

The real problems are poverty, racism and sexism. Let’s focus on outlawing them. At this crucial time, feminists should reaffirm that it is a women’s right to choose.

HANNAH TWEDDELL, Bradford University Students Union women’s officer
CAT SMITH, Lancaster University Students Union women’s officer
FINN MACKAY, London Feminist Network
ALIYYAH BALSON, NUS women’s committee
REBECCA SAWBRIDGE, Kent Students Union student officer
TAKHSIN BEGUM, NUS Black LGBT women’s representative
SARAH CARTIN, Bradford Unite Against Fascism
ATTIA HUSSAIN, Managing Diversity project manager
RUQAYYAH COLLECTOR, NUS black students officer
SHARIFA LOGAN, City of Wolverhampton College ethnic minority officer

Women’s equality ignored in this debate
Letter in Morning Star, 13 October 2006

IT WAS with mounting anger that I read the editorial (M Star October 7), which condemned Jack Straw for his views on Islamic women and the veil.

The essential element that was not discussed is women’s equality. All religions have oppressed women, but, in Islam, it is very obvious – hence male attendance at the mosque and women expressing their religion in their dress.

Many women say that it is their choice, but, of course, having been born into the Muslim faith, they have been conditioned, just as the views of the Catholic church conditions its followers against women’s abortion rights.

Like many other women who have fought all our adult lives for women’s equality, I find it offensive to see women displaying their inequality in their dress.

Is the Morning Star saying that we cannot voice our opinions on an issue that we have spent so much time trying to achieve progress.

No wonder we still have a long way to go.

I can understand Jack Straw wanting to see the reaction of his constituents to what he is saying, just as a lecturer friend in Birmingham, who has Muslim women in her class wearing the veil, would like to know who she is teaching and if they understand her lecture.

It would be better if the editorial had been used to educate women on their inequality and stop this nonsense. I think that the French government has got it right.