By Hajer Naili
Friday, December 2, 2011
A secular-Islamist confrontation overtakes a Tunisian campus and a month ago a woman wearing a full-face veil was banned at another university. Hajer Naili criticizes both sides of a social conflict constricting the hopes of the revolution.
The Tunisian revolution was meant to move the country forward, not backward. If we really want to see a democracy in Tunisia, people should sit at the same table and talk in order to reach a consensus. You cannot build a democracy by using violence to impose your views. A democracy should be based on the plurality of perspectives and ideas.
I believe it is up to people to leave their stereotypes aside and try to establish communication with women wearing niqabs.
A face veil is often said to obstruct communication. I once believed this myself, because I had no actual contact with women wearing niqabs. But since then I've had numerous interactions that changed my mind. This past Ramadan, as I was breaking the fast at a mosque in Manhattan, I had a conversation with an American face-veiled woman. She was well-educated, eloquent and persuasive. Seeing her face would have changed nothing about our discussion.
What really hinders the ability of face-veiled women to communicate are preconceived notions about the veil's inhibiting effects.
Most of the women I have met have made a free choice to wear the niqab. Contrary to what many Westerners might assume, they aren't forced. According to their interpretation of the Quran, no man except their relatives should see their face. They also feel closer to God by being totally covered.
As for the concern about security risks, campuses are full of women who can check these students' identities.
A permissive attitude towards the niqab might cause visions of such women filling up classrooms and dominating the atmosphere. But let's be realistic. The majority of Tunisians may be Muslim, but Tunisia is a secular state. It is not an Islamic state, so we don't need the single-sex classes called for by the Salafists. There are always private schools for families that don't like mixed classes.
Tunisian universities should let their doors be open to everyone.
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Hajer Naili is an editorial intern for Women's eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.
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