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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Feminism

Published on Feb 10, 2008 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

I Challenge Noah Feldman to a Debate about the Islamic Headscarf

Will the New York Times Sponsor It?


On Friday, February 8th, I wrote about Professor Noah Feldman's op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he viewed a long-standing Turkish ban on the wearing of headscarves in universities as a ban against religious "freedom." On Saturday, February 9th, I noted here that on the very next day, February 9th, the New York Times (page A4) featured an interview with a Turkish woman lawyer, Fatma Benli, titled: "Under a Scarf, a Turkish Lawyer Fighting to Wear It."

Why is the New York Times so invested in securing an Islamic religious right in Turkey?

Here's an idea: In a gesture towards even-handedness, perhaps The Paper of Record might consider agitating for the right of European Jews to wear headcoverings (kipot or yarmulkes) without risking being cursed, beaten, or knifed to death? Better yet: How about some even-handed agitation for the religious rights, not only of Muslims in Turkey, but of Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Ba'hai, to practice their religions openly in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia—without being arrested and stoned to death?

Today, yet again, the New York Times, (page A3) featured another article about the Islamic headscarf in Turkey. Granted, this time they quoted some Turks who oppose lifting the ban. These secularists point out that "a woman's right to resist being forced to wear head scarves by an increasingly conservative society–was under threat." (I made this point in my blog here on this subject and would welcome Noah Feldman's response to this point).

Further, today' s piece, written by Sabrina Tavernise, quotes a member of the TUrkish Parliament. "This decision will bring further pressure on women…it will ultimately bring us Hezbollah terror, Al Qaeda terror and fundamentalism." Finally, a former Turkish Justice Minister, Hikmet Sami Turk, says: "(Lifting the headscarf ban has) been presented as a liberty to cover the head, but in practice, it is going to evolve into a ban on uncovered hair."

Noah Feldman, our Paper of Record: I implore you to listen to such voices. They know something about the Islamic headscarf, namely, that it is an augur of coercion, punishment, and the further subordination of women. Taking a "neutral" position, quoting both sides of the issue, is ultimately tantamount to siding with coercion.

The Islamic headscarf is the not the same as the Jewish kippah or wig or headcovering although I agree that there are troubling signs among a handful of religious Jews in Jerusalem in which the women are being coerced into wearing burqas! and in which long, wide, heavy, dark, and completely unattractive clothing is being forced upon Jewish women in certain ultra-religious sects, both in America and Israel. I view this as an Islamification of Judaism and I fear it both among Jews and among our Muslim cousins.

Speaking of cousins: When Muslim girls refuse to marry their first cousins they are usually honor-murdered. Ditto, when they refuse to wear the veil. The information coming out of the UK about this sets the number of honor murders yearly at 17,000 world-wide. (5,000 was the long-time number suggested by the United Nations).

As I've written before: I believe that mosque and state, church and state, synagogue and state should be separate and that religious women should be allowed to practice modesty and to wear the sign and symbol of their religion at home, and at worship. On the job, in the streets, and in the classrooms are more problematic–not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with wearing a headscarf or a religious headcovering but because of the unique and specific nature of Islam. (Christians do not kill their own who convert to another religion. Jews do not kill their own who break certain commandments). Muslims do.

Islam is a political ideology, not a religion, and should be treated as such–at least until such time that the moderates, reformers, and peace-loving Muslims have silenced the aggressive terrorists and haters of freedom who now speak for them.


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