Unveiling Moderation

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I have been curiously following op-ed articles from Kuwaiti and Spanish newspaper journals to get a greater understanding of the debate on the wearing of the veil in Europe. My time abroad in the Middle East has led me to believe more in "live and let live" than to strict credence of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" but render to Ceasar...

Nonetheless, what is quite apparent to me is that the debate has been extremely narrow, and each side seems to be ratcheting up their narrow-mindedness. European male, pale and stale political members seem to have a superficial obsession with the appearance of Muslim women immigrants...fixated on clothing rather than amplifying the political debate on how immigrant women can be offered better public services for employment, education and opportunities for intergenerational mobility of their children.

Secondly, the lack of presence of Muslim women in the debate itself, be it in consultation in these political dialogues or through interviews in the media and press, has been starkly absent.

The pre-ocupation with the millimeter-thick veil as the centerpoint of the entire debate on women's rights in the Muslim-migrant community symbolically demonstrates that although the lake might be wide, its actually quite shallow.

Lastly, lets not forget that this grabbing of the hijaab issue is a calculated move on the behalf of the wider anti-immigrant xenophobic agenda of many conservative parties in Europe. On the other hand, the aforementioned parties' opponents (often male, pale and stale themselves, but on the liberal end) often approach the topic naively, clouded by feelings of colonial guilt and an overall identity crisis on the dimensions of how to reconcile women's rights with the right to freedom of religion.

However, when 26-year old Mamel Marmouri became the first woman in Italy to be fined for wearing a burqa in public, my sympathies were truly tested-as soon as her husband opened his mouth. Her golden nugget of a sppouse, Ben Salah Braim, 36, was quoted as saying:

"I just don't know where we are going to get 500 euros to pay the fine. We thought as she was going to the mosque she was OK to wear the burka. We knew about the law and I know that (the law) is not against my religion but now Amel will have to stay indoors. I can't have other men looking at her. If the law says she can't wear one then she will have to stay inside night and day. There is nothing I can do".

These statements make things difficult for those of us more moderate on the issue about whether or not a woman can wear a burka or veil. Lots of politicians in Arab countries are piggybacking on the minaret and burka debates to denounce Europe for personal gain.

Libyan leader Qaddafi declared a jihad against Switzerland, a country that has irked him ever since his son was arrested for abusing a maid. The op-ed articles I heard from many Gulf newspapers were ludicrous and only served to fit the baffoonish, belligerent stereotype that the conservative political movement on immigration in Europe would like to set as the norm. Notions of Islam conquering Europe like an unstoppable wave (the topic of one op-ed in Kuwait, seriously). And I strongly believe that many countries, such as Saudi Arabia and even Kuwait, need to seriously examine how they treat DIVERSITY OF RELIGION in their own borders before they go ranting on the rights of others abroad.

I don't identify with either movement. So where is the space for those of us who would like to examine the question with understanding, tolerance and moderation among these two caricatures on the spectrum of political discourse? I was happy to read yesterday in an op-ed article from Al-Watan Daily a stance that I viewed more balanced, coming from Dr. Shamlan Yousef AlـEissa. I am putting the link to it here, but copying it below as well.

At an opportune time when civilized nations are seeking to spread the concept of peace and peaceful coexistence with each other, we find some of our own MPs are indulging in projecting a negative image in their dealings with each other. The Ummah Tenets Party''s Secretary General MP Mohammed Hayef had earlier announced a move concerning the stance of the GCC, Arab and Islamic parliaments in initiating action against France. One of the initiatives called for not signing any agreements with France simply because that country went ahead with its ban on the veil. The honorable MP has forgotten an important issue which is that the French measures were taken and applied to enable French citizens to enjoy their religious freedom which the Arabs cannot even dream of guaranteeing in their own countries of origin.

MPs belonging to the political Islamic school of thought know very well that it is better for a man to be a Muslim living in Paris, London and Washington than to be a Christian living in Kuwait, Riyadh or Sudan. Kuwaiti MPs always seem to be the last of the lot where speaking about religious or personal freedoms is concerned. MP Khalid AlـSultan, slammed the French position over wearing veils, and considered it as a downright restriction of personal freedoms while his comrades in Parliament enacted a law in 1980 that bans granting the Kuwaiti citizenship for our fellow Christians. Isn''t such a law a stain on the face of Kuwaiti democracy?

French measures have been initiated for several national and security reasons, mainly involving religion in the daily lives of citizens. France is generally a secular nation which rejects any kind of religious insignia in its schools and official institutions, and this resolution is applied to one and all ـ not just Muslims. The decision was taken purely for security reasons that are in no way related to religion.

Islam in France and other Western countries including the United States spreads rapidly due to the migration of Muslims to these countries in huge numbers. If Muslims, at any given point of time, harbored this feeling that they would be persecuted and unable to practice their religion freely in those counties, why would they leave their countries of origin to live in those countries in the first place?

Frankly, the interference of MPs in the internal issues of France and defending wearing the niqab is not surprising to us at all. It is not surprising despite the fact that niqab has nothing to do with religion as it is a dress code that has spread among the Muslim communities in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula and has even moved further to some Arab countries. The Grand Sheikh of AlـAzhar has banned wearing the niqab in AlـAzhar universities while the Egyptian education minister banned it in universities after which Tunisia also followed suit. It is only natural then, that our representatives are required to take action against some of our own Arab countries before going a step further and boycotting France.

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