Anti Muslim Attacks

Report finds 80 percent of anti-Muslim attacks in France are against women

A few days ago, Germany’s highest court finally struck down a state law that had banned women from wearing headscarves in classrooms. But the decision, a victory after more than a decade of legal and public debate, is sadly an isolated sign of optimism within an increasingly bleak picture of Western countries marginalizing Muslim women for the way they dress. 

Earlier this month, France’s women’s minister expressed support for a university-wide headscarf ban, arguing: “I’m not sure the headscarf is part of higher education.” (The fact that she is the country’s secretary for women’s rights is particularly awkward.) Her comments came as former president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed banning female students from wearing headscarves at all French universities. In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pushed to criminalize the face-covering this month, asking the House: “Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice…[that] frankly, is rooted in a culture that is anti-women?” A poll released over the weekend suggests that 70 percent of Canadians support his sentiments.

Germany’s ruling striking down such bans proves what many of us already know: that criminalizing the way women dress is unconstitutional and violates the rights of women to freedom of expression and religion. But recent studies highlight even more violent effects of this marginalization. A report published last month by Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, reveals that 80 percent of the “rising” anti-Muslim acts which occur in France are carried out against women. Eighty percent.

If that’s not enough to make you sick, Newsweek notes:

[T]he term ‘acts’ covers a huge range of hostile actions…which include: Spitting, general abuse, pulling and tearing at the niqab and the hijab, plus dog feces being thrown at women, as well as bottles from passing cars and people shouting things like ‘Muslim whore’ ‘Muslim bitch’ or ‘Muzzie’.

While Islamophobic attacks in France have increased dramatically since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, violence against Muslim women is not new nor particular to France. Data shared by The Guardian last year also suggested that Muslim women in the UK face more hate crimes than their male counterparts: four out of five victims attacked in the street were women wearing an Islamic covering. Both reports demonstrate that Muslim women are targeted for their visibility. As Fiyaz Mughal of the think tank Faith Matters explains to Newsweek, “Visible women are the ones that are targeted at a street level. This means that women who wear the hijab are the ones that are sometimes targeted for abuse and those who wear the niqab suffer more anti-Muslim hate incidents and more aggressive assaults.” Both reports also show that perpetrators are overwhelmingly young, white men.

I would be curious to see if anyone has compiled data on the gender imbalance of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States, but I’m guessing that trends here would be no different. In a piece here last month, I pointed to the Chapel Hill shootings as an example of gender-based violence against Muslim women (and criticized white feminists for ignoring such violence when perpetrated by white men). Newsweek quotes Texas A&M Professor Sahar Aziz similarly condemning the deafening silence about these increased attacks from French feminists who had celebrated the 2011 ban on full face veils.

While a ban on Muslim head coverings is nowhere near the same thing as anti-Muslim attacks, both are rooted in a similar hostility. Clearly, we need to have a meaningful discussion around Islamophobia and gender-based violence. Perhaps a place to start might be recognizing the role played by the policing of Muslim women’s wardrobes.

Header Image: Vox

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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