Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Banning the Veil in 1950

Everything old is new again. The French government has adopted a bill to ban Muslims from wearing veils; the bill could become law this fall. Belgium introduced its own such bill for consideration only a few weeks ago.

Sixty years ago, Yugoslavia banned the veil. The communist regime at the time pursued the ban "with the goal of ending the centuries old symbol of inferiority and cultural backwardness of Muslim women" (historian Robert Donia, as quoted on page 15 of this European Stability Initiative Power Point). Those words are not a far cry from French President Nicolas Sarkozy's defense of the ban as quoted in Reuters: "Sarkozy said France was 'an old nation united around a certain idea of personal dignity, particularly women's dignity, and of life together. It's the fruit of centuries of efforts.'"

In another quote that resonates today, Donia also said of the 1950 ban: "the campaign encountered staunch resistance, especially among women outside of Sarajevo and among Muslim men."

In the fall of 1950 the ban was enacted. Around the same time, other curbs were imposed on various segments of Muslim society.

...the suppression of the shariat courts in 1946, the ban on the wearing of the veil in 1950, closure of the mektebs (elementary schools where children learned about the Koran), the closure of all the tekkes (dervish lodges) in 1952, and the ban on the dervish orders...the Muslim cultural and educational societies were shut down by the communists, as was the Islamic printing house in Sarajevo.
--Thinking About Yugoslavia, by Sabrina P. Ramet, describing observations made by historian Noel Malcolm

In light of this, one could understand why historically-astute members of today's European Muslim community might live in fear that a ban on veils and burqas may hint at further restrictions down the line. It's a "slippery slope" argument, but it does have recent historical precedent.

Was Yugoslavia's veil ban a success? I don't know; I suppose that depends on who you ask. But my entertaining Culture Smart Guide to Bosnia & Herzegovina suggests that a more progressive and better-integrated Muslim society emerged afterward in Yugoslavia.

The great question, I suppose, is whether or not such change qualifies as real societal improvement if that change is dependent upon the forced suppression of certain cultural values.

1 comment:

  1. The Nazis & their puppet Croat state did not ban the veil when they were in occupation.