Saturday, March 25, 2006

Common Sense Prevails in the House of Lords

I Could Scream: Examining the plight of women under Islam
Long term readers of Gates of Vienna will remember our first “I Could Scream” post. It originally appeared under the aegis of The Belmont Club’s second incarnation, a platform which permitted Wretchard to have a number of separate blogs residing there, linked from his main page. However, due to technical problems with that venue, Wretchard returned to Blogger (as in “home is where when you have to go there, they have to let you in”)…and “I Could Scream” came over to live here at Gates. A somewhat diminished existence, considering that it once dwelled on Mount Olympus there at Belmont; nonetheless it remains a high point to have been invited to visit.

There hasn’t been a “Scream” post in awhile. People are much more aware of the abject conditions under which many women caught in fundamentalist Islamic countries must endure. Sometimes it seems almost obscene to describe their suffering. And, as one commenter said, it made his stomach knot up to see the Scream header and wonder if he could make it through the story. Sometimes I felt that way myself even writing it.

Shabina BegumThe original post, the one which inspired the title, still exists. You can find it archived here. The name for these posts was part of a quote by the young British Muslim girl who had won her legal fight against her school which had forbidden her to wear the full hijab tent to school. When asked how she felt about her court victory the girl replied: “ I could scream with happiness.” It was the first three words which made my eyes widen. I thought at the time — and still do — that what she was revealing in her words was much deeper than what she actually said. This girl was screaming all right, but it was not happiness which drove her.

Quick summary: this child wanted to wear hijab to a school which had carefully and through long consultation with parents worked out a school uniform for the girls that satisfied everyone. The school she attended, which was out of her cachement area, but which she and her older sister chose to attend starting in 2000, was overwhelmingly Muslim.

Denbigh High School has twenty-one ethnic groups and ten religious denominations. The students — boys and girls — range in age from eleven to sixteen. The governing body of the school is balanced to include a representation of the school community. Four of the six parent governors are Muslim, as is the head of school.

The school uniform/dress code offers some choices:

The head teacher believes that school uniform plays an integral part in securing high and improving standards, serving the needs of a diverse community, promoting a positive sense of communal identity and avoiding manifest disparities of wealth and style. The school offered three uniform options. One of these was the shalwar kameeze: a combination of the kameeze, a sleeveless smock-like dress with a square neckline, revealing the wearer’s collar and tie, with the shalwar, loose trousers, tapering at the ankles. A long-sleeved white shirt is worn beneath the kameeze and, save in hot weather, a uniform long-sleeved school jersey is worn on top. It has been worn by some Muslim, Hindu and Sikh female pupils.

In 1993 the school appointed a working party to re-examine its dress code. The governors consulted parents, students, staff and the Imams of the three local mosques. There was no objection to the shalwar kameeze, and no suggestion that it failed to satisfy Islamic requirements. The governors approved a garment specifically designed to ensure that it satisfied the requirement of modest dress for Muslim girls. Following the working party report the governors, in response to several requests, approved the wearing of head-scarves of a specified colour and quality.

The school went to some lengths to explain its dress code to prospective parents and pupils. This was first done in the October of the year before a pupil would enter, and again at an open evening in the July before admission. A letter written to parents reminded them of the school’s rules on dress.

So when Shabina Begum and her older sister began school in 2000, they both appeared in the permitted clothing. For two years, there was no problem. However, when school began in 2002, Shabina appeared at school attired in a jilbab and demanded to be allowed to be admitted to school wearing this rather than her uniform, which she no longer considered modest enough for a Muslim girl. She was then thirteen at time. Accompanying her was her older brother and another man. The Maths teacher who talked to them found the men “confrontational and threatening.” And said they began talking of human rights and legal proceedings. They told the teacher there would be no compromise on this issue. Nonetheless, this teacher, the assistant head, sent Shabina home to change into her uniform.

Shabina Begum and Shuweb RahmanA little background on this girl: she was born in 1988, of Pakistani parents. She was four when her father died, leaving behind a wife who did not speak English and three school-aged children (there may be more; these are the only ones who have been mentioned in numerous news stories). Shabina appears to be the youngest child, having a sister several years ahead of her and a brother, Shuweb Rahman, five years her senior. This man may be the key player in this drama; without him pushing from behind, Shabina probably would have continued in school uneventfully. His influence no doubt increased after their mother’s death of cancer in 2004. How long prior to this she was unable to attend to her children is uncertain.

One unanswered question is whether Shabina, last name Begum, is the half sister of her brother Shuweb, last name Rahman. The older sister, several years ahead of Shabina in school, was left unmolested to wear her uniform in peace. Shabina, however, was to live her adolescence in the spotlight.

The school expended much effort to have Shabina return to school. Not only did they call the home repeatedly, asking to speak to her guardian ( a male who answered the phone said Shabina had already seen her solicitor. And this was only September).

She was offered a place at several schools which permitted the hijab to be worn. She was repeatedly asked to return to her Denbigh as long as she would wear the school uniform. School work was sent home to her, sometimes returned, sometimes not.

It appears, though, that what Shabina wanted was a court battle and to that end she was successful. By October, her solicitors wrote the school contending that Shabina had been suspended from school because of her religious beliefs. They based their contention on Human Rights laws the UK had passed in 1998. There were numerous attempts by the school and the various educational bureaucracies to find another placement for Shabina, but to no avail. She wanted to stay in school with her friends.

In early 2004, Shabina began legal proceedings against the head teacher and the governors of Denbigh High, claiming they interfered with her right to “manifest her religion in practice and observance.” The first court dismissed her case, but the appeals court disagreed, declaring that her rights had been infringed.

And that was where we first met Shabina Begum, outside of court, wearing her jilbab and a big smile, claiming a happiness so extreme that she felt inclined to scream. You can find the original story from The Guardian here. Notice the byline: Dilpazier Aslam. Mr. Aslam is a reporter for the Guardian. He is also an active member of the radical Islamic terrorist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Here’s what Tech Central Station found:

Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seeks to reimpose the Caliphate by the sword or, in today’s world, the bomb, is a radical Islamic splinter group banned in most countries but legal in Tony Blair’s Britain.

Even more interesting, Shuweb Rahman, Shabina’s brother, is also an active member. So this is a girl being led by an organization which wants to destroy Britain’s constitutional government and replace it with an Islamic theocracy.

Fortunately, on the third legal round — this time the House of Lords — found that Shabina Begum had not been denied the right to practice her religion. They found for the school, whose main concern was to promote cohesion among the students and to prevent pressure on young girls to submit to a draconian dress code.

Shabina is now threatening to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg. However, the ruling from the House of Lords is precise. Shabina has the right to freedom of religion, but she does not have the right to manifest that freedom in a way that disrupts the common order.

Fundamentally, this is a power play by a treacherous group of terrorists who have been using a young girl — an orphan, at that — for their own political ends. As one commenter noted:

What total tripe. This ludicrous and lamentable case had nothing to do with “modesty”. I don’t believe she wore the jilbab to “regain control of her body” any more than I could hope to wear a smarter suit and thereby regain control of my own.

This case wasn’t even about religion, or conscience, or the dictates of faith. At least it wasn’t primarily about those things. It was about power. It was about who really runs the schools in this country, and about how far militant Islam could go in bullying the poor, cowed, gelatinous and mentally spongiform apparatus of the British state.

I concur.

You may be interested to see al-Reuters’ headline for the new ruling:

Girl loses right to wear Muslim clothing in school

Between the Guardian and al-Reuters, not to mention Hizb ut-Tahrir (a group banned in most countries but still legal in Britain), the United Kingdom is going to be hard-pressed to avoid being the first of the European branch of the Caliphate.

All information regarding the ruling by the House of Lords can be found in Judgment in Full.


Nilk said...

Hizb are not banned in Australia, either. They've got their own and are quite active I believe.

Jerri Lynn Ward, J.D. said...

I have very bad vibes about the nature of the relationship between the girl and her "brother".

felix said...

Finally some sanity in the UK. BTW, is the complainant really able to appeal this to the EU.?

erico said...


I hesitate to open my mouth because it's a complex issue, and at the risk of moral equivalence, coming from someone standing way outside the life of the average british muslim family, I note in your 'i could scream' posts about Shabina an unspoken assumption that this young lady in particular is a tool or victim of Islam and or male oppressors. It would be interesting to me to delve into the larger issue of interdependence, love from family, outside influences, on the one hand, and voluntary action, self understanding, identity, moral action, on the other. Who among us is free to step totally outside our culture and our relationships to make decisions?

While it may be possible to detect the larger strategy of hizb ut-tahrir in the dress code case, I resist calling shabina an unwitting or unwilling victim in this case, or stooping to ascribe 'false consciousness' to this young lady, though I like that you picked up on what may be a freudian slip of the tongue. My reticence is in removing from her the capacity for voluntary action, and therefore moral action, human action. It degrades her. She may very well hold deep convictions about the practice of her religion, and unless shown to be under duress must be assumed capable of making moral or immoral decisions. The question is about how much outside influence is involved, and how oppressive the culture is in which she lives, and defining terms. (I admit relative ignorance of the life of a muslim girl/woman, other than some of your posts).

I am reminded of Mariam Farhat, mother to three sons she encouraged to fight jihad and who then performed suicide bombings. According to CNS news she was recently "elected as a Hamas legislator to the Palestinian parliament in January." By virtue of being a woman, is Farhat just a victim of men, or is she not a victimizer of her own sons.

Depending upon the circumstances, which we don't seem to know fully in this case, I try to be watchful for the oppression of women and still hold them accountable for their own actions. The alternative is to believe that were it not for the oppression from men, women would make the world a wonderful, peaceful place. Policies that flow from this assumption are by and large harmful, imo.

Could you give me some more information on the dress she wanted to wear? What does it mean for a woman to wear it?

This is not to criticize your effort, or ascribe to you the simplistic demonization of men. The fate of the man/woman relationship is the fate of us all.

Dymphna said...


I will admit some bias here: I usually prefer the company of men. Not always, but in the long run I find them more faithful friends...though that's very broad. I also know some wonderful women that I try to emulate, but they are a minority.

The dress she wanted to wear is the biljab. It covers the body from head to foot, showing only hands and face. You can google images of it.

This whole mess was about political power, as many British commenters pointed out -- one called it "tripe." A good summation. The fact that the Guardian reporter who interviewed her is a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir is outrageous bias.

You're right on one thing. This is quite complex. However, I distrust the situation because of this child's vulnerability:

1. Her father died when she was four and she was left the youngest child with a mother who did not speak English.
2. For several years she was content to go along with the school uniform, just like her sister did.
3. She did not seek out the principal or a teacher to talk to about this. She simply showed up the first day of school (in her 3rd year as a student there) in her biljab, accompanied by her brother and another man and they immediately started talking litigation when the teacher told her to go home and put on her uniform. The teacher said he found the men "threatening."
4. Read the whole Lords of Law transcript in the link. The House of Lords went over every single thing the school system tried with this girl, attempting to get her back into school.Dozens of people were involved in trying to place this child in school. They even found several schools which would allow her to dress that way. She wouldn't take them.
5. Her mother died when she was 15, leaving her at the mercy of her brother. And I say "at the mercy" deliberately. Follow that link to the Hizb-ut-Tahrir above. These are people who want to bring Britain to its knees. Most countries have outlawed this group. If Britain had, none of this whole expensive mess would have happened.
5. What orphaned young adolescent could resist that kind of publicity? It's much more fun than real life. I mean how cool is it to be cozy with the Prime Minister's wife as she defends your liberty in court? Notice, though -- now that she's a celebrity, she's busy studying for her A levels.
6. I predict that she may well move into an independence her brother has not bargained for. Kids grow up. If push comes to shove she may either be hurt or have an "accidnt" or run away. She's famous enough now to do the last and be taken in immediately. Which would mean another round of media frenzy.

doolz thanks for being such a long-time reader! That would have been back when "Scream" was on Belmont Club.

suebob & texas violinist your suspicions are not without merit. It isn't a case where I could wonder out loud, but I do fear for her, especially since he is her half-brother. Those situations are always fraught. I've seen it in families when I did social work. Blended families are at risk for this, and Pakistani treatment of women is infamous.

felix welcome to the world of the EU. She can go to Strasbourg and present her case. Again, the House of Lords made many references to the EU Human Rights group's rulings as precedence for their own decision. Their decision ws based on her right to manifest her religion as long as it did not interfere with others. Which the jilbab at that school would have.

mobile mineral The Prime Minister's wife was her counsel only in the first round. Someone else took over after that. And yes, her principal is Bengali Muslim, but lived in several Muslim countries in addition. Her work on that school has been outstanding and she is both liked and respected for bringing up the academic level of the kids. Not easy given the incredible diversity in the school. She knew that letting Shabina wear her tent to school would start a fierce one-upmanship battle among the girls for who was the holiest. A wise woman. And yes, the brother is Hizb also.

Papa Ray said...

Here is another woman's story:

The Islamic Republic of Iran has yet again slated Fatemeh Haghighat-Pajooh for execution.