Who would have thought the “Love Guv” would have found himself moderating a feminist debate about the veil? Life sure is strange sometimes. The other night on Eliot Spitzer’s CNN program, Hebah Ahmed, a blogger for Muslim Matters who wears a veil, debated Mona Eltahawy, a Muslim commentator who does not wear a veil, about the “burqa ban” in France that went into effect on Monday. Mona Eltahawy argued that a “burqa ban” — which fines women who wear a burqa or niqab in public and threatens fines and prison time the people who force veils on women — should be extended worldwide. In Mona’s view:
“I detest the face veil. I say this as a Muslim woman. I think it represents an ideology that does not believe in Muslim women’s rights to do anything but choose to cover her face. I believe the niqab dangerously equates piety with the disappearance of Muslim women.”
Heba argued that a niqab veil “is yet another example of men telling women how to dress, how to live their lives.” She continued:
“To take it to a government level and try to legislate the way that a woman dresses is not just wrong but against women’s rights but it violates the whole basis that democracy and democratic countries are based on.”
Heba Ahmed wanted viewers to know she is an educated woman — she holds a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering — and she happily complies with security-based requirements to remove the veil from her face in places like airports, banks and courts. She also made it clear that she chooses to wear her niqab and no one is forcing her to do so.
To be fair, Mona Eltahawy did make an excellent point that within Islam, some view veiled women as the pinnacle of piety, which makes life more difficult for non-veiled women like herself. There are aspects of many organized religions that are misogynist and it is clear why she’s a hardliner against anything that smacks of controlling women. But mostly I found Mona Eltahawy’s arguments wrongheaded and restrictive (albeit well-intentioned) as she tried to impose her beliefs on Heba Ahmed and other Muslim women because she believes she knows what’s best for them.
It’s exactly the problem with the mainstream feminist movement today: women shrieking at other women “You’re doing it wrong!” As long as no one is being forced or violently threatened — as in Afghanistan under the Taliban — why can’t we leave to each her own?