Your 'Liberation,' My Oppression: European Violation of Muslim Women's Human Rights

Author:Afnan Akram
Position:SMU Dedman School of Law
Pages:427-472
SUMMARY

The freedom of religion and the right to individual autonomy are cornerstones of any democratic society. However, many countries violate these values under the guise of human dignity, equal rights, and cultural integration. I argue that these violations began with the face-veil ban in France and expanded to other countries, including Belgium and Austria. Through surveys and personal experience, I ... (see full summary)

 
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e Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law
ISSN: 2338-7602; E-ISSN: 2338-770X
http://www.ijil.org
© 2018 e Institute for Migrant Rights Press
Your “liBEration,” MY opprEssion
EuropEan Violations of MusliM WoMEns HuMan
rigHts
Afnan Akram
SMU Dedman School of Law
E-mail: aakram@mail.smu.edu
e freedom of religion and the right to individual autonomy are cornerstones of
any democratic society. However, many countries violate these values under the
guise of human dignity, equal rights, and cultural integration. I argue that these
violations began with the face-veil ban in France and expanded to other coun-
tries, including Belgium and Austria. rough surveys and personal experience,
I maintain that these bans have a disproportionate impact on Muslim women
who choose to cover their faces as a part of their religious beliefs and personal
identity. is essay introduces the importance of the veil in Islam, discusses how
the face-veil bans facially violate several Articles of the European Convention on
Human Rights, the issues with the European Court of Human Rights’ reasoning
for upholding the bans, the bans’ consequences on Muslim women who live in
countries which have implemented them, and future complications that may
arise from the holdings of case law on these bans.
Keywords: Islam, Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, Law and
Religion, Regionalism, Freedom of Comparative Law.
V Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law 427-472 (July 2018)
428
Akram
e ultimate decision [of the hijab] must be that of the individual.
Western opinions on the hijab or burqas are rather irrelevant. We
don’t get to decide for Muslim women what does and does not
oppress them, no matter how highly we think of ourselves.
Roxane Gay
I. INTRODUCTION
Some of the most essential values embodied in the Western world are
the freedom of religion and the right to individual autonomy. Unfor-
tunately, many so-called modern countries still lag far behind with re-
ligiously restrictive and ethnically selective policies, one of which are
the blanket “burqa bans.” In countries such as France, Belgium, and
Austria, these rights are restricted forselect individuals, leaving one
wondering whether these rights extend only to certain people and be-
liefs. While the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has largely
prohibited discriminatory behavior through various Articles dedicated
to the protection of each individual’s private life and religious freedom,
the burqa ban still exists. ese bans prevent people from covering their
faces in public for any reason, with exceptions provided specically for
occupational, health, sports, or artistic or traditional festivals. is has
a disproportionate impact on veiling Muslim women.
e burqa bans prohibit these women from practicing a central
tenet of their faith, one that is essential to their spirituality, a part of
their core identity, and most importantly, entirely unrelated to their
interactions with anyone else. In depriving only certain women of
the right to practice their faith in public based on fallacious beliefs of
oppression, gender inequality, and assimilation, countries with burqa
bans cut veiling Muslim women from the fabric of society. ese
bans send a clear-cut Islamophobic message to Muslim communities,
announcing that they are unwelcome unless they accommodate their
beliefs to the socially accepted customs of today’s society.
I have personally experienced the impact of the bans on Muslim
women around the world. rough the help of surveys, I have compiled
evidence which disproves the essential theories on which the burqa bans
429
Your Liberation, My Oppression: European Violation of Muslim Womens Human Righs
Akram
are based. In upholding these facially neutral but disproportionately
discriminatory laws, the European Court of Human Rights has shown
Europe’s blatant disregard to the Western oppression of veiling Muslim
women. is paper presents evidence which discusses the importance
of the veil to Islamic culture, the ECHRs Articles which are violated by
the burqa bans, the burqa ban legislations and the case law surrounding
them, and the detrimental impact these bans have had and may have
on Muslim women in the future.
II. RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE OF THE
VEIL
e commandment for Muslim women to cover themselves comes from
the Quran, the Islamic sacred text. In the Quran, God commands, “O
Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the be-
lievers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments.1
In another chapter, God orders,
And tell the believing women to restrict their vision and guard
their private parts and not expose their adornment except that
which [necessarily] appears thereof, and to wrap [a portion
of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their
adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their [father-
in-laws], their sons, their brothers, [their nephews], their
women . . .2
us, Muslim women were and are instructed to cover themselves
in a modest fashion in front of men to whom they are not closely related.
ere are three main types of clothing worn by Muslim women. e
rst, and the most common, is the hijab, which covers the hair, neck,
and entire body, exposing only the face, hands, and feet. en there is
the niqab, which is similar to the hijab, except that it also covers the face,
leaving only the eyes visible. Lastly, there is the burqa, which covers the
entire body, including the eyes; it includes a mesh panel across the eyes,
1. Quran 33:59.
2. Id. at 24:31.

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