In the beginning of this article I will refer to some incident that happened recently in Europe.

In France, the Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France (the collective group against islamophia in France) has drawn attention to several Islamophobic assaults on veiled women, most recently “A 29-year old Muslim woman was attacked in the open street in Basel (Switzerland) by an unidentified woman with blows to the back of the neck and insulting remarks about her dress. The victim was wearing black and an Islamic veil”. there is another more tragic occurrence: in July 2009 in Dresden (Germany), Marwa el-Sherbini, an Egyptian (who was 3 months pregnant at the hearing time), wearing a veil, was verbally attacked in a kindergarten by an unemployed man from Russia, called a “terrorist” and “Islamist slut”, then, at the hearing to appeal the culprit’s conviction, was stabbed 18 times in the sight of her three year old son, this crime has actually received little media exposure.

In another review of episodes collected by observers who work on reporting various forms of racism and discrimination in various European countries, there are cases involving Muslim women, in Austria for example, repeatedly insulted in the streets, or women wearing a headscarf thrown out of taxis, busses or the metro due to their assumed responsibility for terrorist attacks. There are also cases involving Muslim girls beaten up, spat on and whose veil was removed while they walked through small and large European cities

These are examples of thousands similar attacks that Muslim women are facing in street, school or work.

Nowadays the discrimination against Muslim women took a further dangerous dimension. Muslim women today are victims of further humiliation and psychological disturbances by being made the subject of political discussion, centre of debate and a matter of new laws and legislations in Europe.  In these debates many voices are heard, even of those who have never met a Muslim woman in their lives, and it is very clear that the missing voices are Muslim women themselves. Even when European societies are now facing countless social and economic problems, which require rapid response, there are still more debates and laws about the dress code of Muslim women. Unfortunately, the case of full veil has been used to hide the most important challenges such as unemployment, social injustice, discrimination, environmental protection and many more.

Why Women & Historical Background :

As cultural and religious differences have once again become a symbol of radical ‘otherness’ that cannot be assimilated. Muslim women in the west who choose to wear what they believe to be religiously sanctioned dress, are the most visible symbol of Islam, and hence become a focal point for the negative sentiments about Islam.
so their appearance contributes instantly to providing them with a specific label – as “Muslims” precisely – and because by appearing in public places (such as markets, shops, schools, etc.) far more frequently than men, they interact more with others.

I think in this regard I have to refer to a very important fact. The fact that this propaganda and dilemma about Muslim women did not happen suddenly it is simply accumulation of an inherited vision about Islam in general and Muslim women in particular.
The study of Muslim women indeed and Islam in general has suffered from methodological problems not found in other areas.  Until recently, the predominant methodological approach to study Muslim women is through orientalists and neo- orientalists .
In Europe the vision of the orient lives on in a couple of ways:
At the level of imagery: modern technology like TV, Cinema, Photography, Cartoon etc.
The inherited vision of the exotic, dangerous, exciting, violent, timeless, magical, backward, and scary place.
And although the veil as an exotic beauty has mostly been replaced with the veil as oppressive.
The Muslim women was always a barrier to the European carrying through to completion the project promoted by the orient and the need for the west to civilize it. Colonial discourse also introduced ideas about oriental inferiority and the focus on women’s status as the benchmark for progress into the colonizer’s discourse. The veil was for that a symbolised oppression and backwardness that need to be in the way of modernization.   This images are clearly portrayed in orientalist books and travel letters.

That the veil can still stand as a metaphor for the entire Muslim world. Newspapers frequently use the image of a veiled woman to evoke terrorism or fundamentalism. The women position is still used as the benchmark of the progress of an entire nation with the western model representing the peak. Here is Peterson reporting on the status of women in the Gulf States in 1989:
(the tendency toward neo-conservatism among many women is clearly displayed in the return to the hijab (veil) or traditional confining dress. This return to traditionalism occasionally produces an ironic effect, as when a liberal minister in the Kuwaiti government was introduced to a prospective female employee in his ministry and reached out to shake hands- she refused to touch him. The consequences of neo conservatism, however, are far more serious. The emergence of a modern role for women alongside men in the developing countries of Gulf Council is in danger of being terminated prematurely. Women would not be the only ones to suffer in such a situation; the entire development of the states would be victimized as well.    Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil by Katherine Bullock Pg: 31
The entire development of the Gulf States is threatened by women covered and not shaking hands???
If personal Islamic practices are considered to be a danger in the Islamic countries then we are not expecting non-Muslims to accept them in Europe.
I think unless this mentality is changed and the stereotyped image of Muslim women is rehabilitated, the fear and perjuries against Muslim will continue.

The Danger of Islamophobia:
As women became victims of prejudices that arise from strangeness and Scared by the unwanted spotlight put on them, these women tend to exclude themselves from social activities, and refrain from participating in their communities. The negative stereotypes also delay veiled women’s productivity in the work place and affect their performance very badly, limiting their professional careers which will not be effecting Muslim women only, it will reflect on the society and the new European generation. Therefore, it is not the outfit that actually blocks women’s professional lives or social inclusion but it is the “misperception” of the outfits.
The mass hysteria that has gripped the case of veil and lately the full veil reinforces once again the feeling of stigmatization of the Muslim community in Europe. In addition to series of polygamy and female circumcision, the case of the veil appears timely as a new opportunity to demonstrate the supposed incompatibility of all Muslims with modernity while, far from exclusive to Islam, these issues concern only a tiny part of Muslims.
More importantly, this analysis is mistaken justification for of special legislations. Besides ignoring fundamental freedoms, these legislations are useless and dangerous. The example of the full veil is in this connection explicit many questions: what is the need to discuss the religious legitimacy of the “Niqab”? Why to pass mere security legislation that is targeting a specific category in the society, while the general security law is already exists? This attitude is not only unnecessary but it is also harmful and dangerous and might lead to a generation with hatred emotions, hopelessness, distrust and despair   .

The Truth:

The truth is that there is a great deal of diversity among Muslims. There are various schools of thought, and values, beliefs and practices did not develop in a fixed and single direction. Taking into account the culture and  traditions of Muslim communities, as well as the understanding Muslims have of Islam and the emphasis placed on religious practices, there exists a plurality which is a celebrated principle in democratic societies.
Today, Muslim women are leading and participating in the peaceful freedom revolution in the Middle East
These revolutions destroyed European-widespread fantasies and stereotypes about Muslim women, their submission, and their imprisonment within imposed rigid of gender roles.

In front of the world’s eyes, young men and women together led these movements, and gave a new hope for the change to Arab people who had almost given up.
Everyone could easily observe the presence of women, their involvement in these movements, and on the social network. Young and old women were going out in public to protest and condemn repression, organize demonstrations, express freely and resist alongside men, to require the respect of people’s will.
In Europe, European Muslim women wearing veil are participating in all life fields… They are doctors, engineers, lowers, police women, teachers, professors, party leaders, mothers and daughters
There Veil could not stop them from reaching their dreams, but now the new laws are forcing Muslim women who are wearing veil from going to school in France and women who are wearing full veils to even walk in the street and many more are coming .

This has actually exceeded every limit and will not lead to any success. It will only put widen the gap between European citizen, encourages racism and racist acts and exclusion.
Therefore, AGAIN, it is not the outfit that actually blocks women’s professional lives or social inclusion but it is the “misperception” of the outfits

* The Veil: is the head scarf that covers the hair and neck
** The full Veil: is the cover of hair, neck and face and only shows eyes
Hiba Aburwein
June 2011