Fear and loathing in the Rebel City
How happy the Muslim women of Ireland must be, to learn that Joe O’Callaghan is here to save them from themselves!
Yes, Joe O’Callaghan (who you may never have heard of before now) has flagged that he intends to introduce a motion for debate at Cork’s City Hall next month. He’s a Fine Gael councillor and former Lord Mayor, don’t you know?
The proposed motion? That burqas should be banned by the local authority.
In this holy month of Ramadan, apparently O’Callaghan is “leading a call” – although from what I can tell, he’s the only one making it. He thinks that it’s “high time” Ireland copies dangerous and politically motivated laws from France and Belgium. The affront to women, according to him, is in “having to be covered head to toe” – and “in this day and age”! Oh, and he mentions something about “security issues”, about which he fails to elaborate.
As O’Callaghan intends to follow the examples of France and Belgium, he will no doubt be entirely happy to unburden Muslim women from the yoke of oppression by criminalising them. Its genius is in the law’s simplicity, presumably.
Oh, and just to show that he’s not targeting women from minority communities, O’Callaghan also wants to ban “hoodies”. In light of the recent riots in the UK, you see. Except when it’s raining.
I wonder whether Joe O’Callaghan has actually asked any women for their views before imposing his upon them.
Thankfully, the National Women’s Council of Ireland has. Let’s hear from the mná na hÉireann, shall we?
I was born Muslim, in a Muslim country where there is no room for questioning the state’s decisions, a country that was sucked in a vortex of violence. They told us in school that salvation was wearing the veil – to that I shaved my head and whatever hair I still had my mum helped me die it bright red. I didn’t do it because I am against the veil, I did it because they imposed their madness on me and I was raised as an independent individual. I wasn’t ready for anyone to impose anything on teenage me. As a matter of fact, I never wondered why women had or chose to wear the veil. I just remember my grandmother’s large white silk Hayek, we hid under it pretending to be ghosts. I remember my aunties having to lift their Aadjar to eat their ice cream and it made us laugh.
For the last 11 years that I have been in Europe, I have always dreaded the famous question: “What’s your opinion on the veil”?
- Amel Yacef
When I walked into my mother’s house wearing the hijab for the first time, my family were shocked. I remember my mother saying, “Now you have really gone crazy!” I was lucky in a sense that my family were still willing to speak to me. Here was my opportunity to take the chance to talk to them about my new adopted faith and my new lifestyle. It was difficult but worth it.
I came to realize that being an Irish Muslim, it was my duty to make use of many opportunities to explain to the Irish people about Islam. I became aware of a lot of negativity towards Islam and Muslims, especially when I began to wear the hijab. I was told on several occasions by strangers on buses, in shopping malls and coffee shops to “go back to your own country”. I sometimes said to them “to where, to Coolock?” in my Dublin accent. On another occasion, I was egged and endured verbal abuse on a busy street of Dublin in broad daylight. It also dawned on me that even though I was Irish, as soon as I put on the hijab, I became a foreigner in my own country. I began to think on how hard it must be for my immigrant Muslim sisters and their families coming to Ireland.
- Lorraine O’Connor
I discovered that Irish people are very kind and friendly; they always have time to
smile and greet you in the morning. I made new friends who really helped me to know my way around Waterford as my English was not that good at first.
I wanted to get involved in community work to know Irish society better. I believe that some similarities are shared between Muslims and the Irish people like the importance of family, and some religious traditions such as giving to the poor.
From here the idea of forming a Muslim women’s group emerged, and to get the group started I contacted all of my friends for a meeting at my house. I explained to them that our aim would be to find ways to co-exist within Irish society but without losing our Islamic identity. Everyone was inspired by the idea and we named the group “Muslim Women Together”.
- Doaa Morsy
People ask Sarah why she does not wear the veil, the hijab. She explains that for her, wearing the veil is a question of choice. She has chosen not to wear it here in Ireland.
She explains that Irish girls are different from Arabic girls; she feels it is important for her to have Irish friends and in fact she has friends of many nationalities. She also explains however, that Arabic girls are also different from each other. She reflects that some of the differences depend on the reason why someone might have come to Ireland. For some, migration was a question of choice. For others, they do not have a choice and their options are different. Depending on your options, you have to make different choices.
Sarah wants to be a lawyer [when she finishes school]. She wants to help people; to help people in a similar position to herself.
“I was happy to move here to a new country and try out something new” says Zainab. “Since I came here I have to say that my experience has been mostly a positive one, people have been supportive of me, friendly and I have had no problem wearing a headscarf.” Zainab did not always wear a veil and discusses the views of her family on her decision to cover her head. “I was not brought up wearing the veil” says Zainab.
“My parents are Muslim but my mother does not cover her head. When I was studying in England I decided to start taking my religion more seriously. I phoned my mother and told her I had started covering. She wasn’t too happy and thought I had become an extremist. I tried not to make a big deal of it and told my parents very casually. It was still a big shock for them when they saw me at the airport. But since then, my mother has always given me my space, though if she had a choice I wouldn’t be covering”, she says.
- Zainab Alamgir
The family moved to Birmingham and then to Belfast. “We didn’t know about the troubles”, she says. “ The taxi driver wouldn’t come here from the airport. We didn’t know why. The rent was cheap here, we didn’t have any choice”.
Zeenat describes the racism which she has experienced in Belfast. “We lived here in the Village for a year” she says. “Once, my son and I were attacked on the street. We were stoned by nine year old boys. Some one from the women’s centre said we should report it to the police and that she would be our witness. They got off with a warning”. Zeenat is worried for her son. “My son is four and bringing him to the Park is always an issue” she says. “We are always told to go back home. When my son sees white boys on the street he says ‘these are bad boys Mommy’, he’s afraid of them but gets on fine with the boys in his school. It is very difficult to explain to him. The moment you leave the house you know you will meet someone who will have a problem with you”.
To sum up, in the words of Anastasia Crickley, chair of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA):
Quite clearly their social and economic circumstances affect women’s experiences of their own diverse realities and engagement of integration in Ireland; one size solutions and policies are clearly not adequate.
Social and economic circumstances also affect the nature and extent of discrimination and racism and the ways in which it is experienced. As the women point out, the right to express one’s identity with or without the veil is very important.
Women’s human rights cannot be denied because they are inconvenient. I am reminded also of the double burdens in the struggle for these rights. […]
These are complex issues not helped by the ways in which promotion of women’s human rights in minority communities can be confused with assimilation into the majority population. As [chair of the FRA] and over many years of work with migrants and minority women, I have never seen such strategies lead to realisation of women’s human rights. Women’s rights can and should be supported by all women.
Here’s a counter-motion for Cork City Council to consider: The day that Christian men can dictate how Muslim women can live their lives is the day that Muslim women can dictate how Christian men live their lives. Seems fair to me.