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If Muslim Women's Clothing Makes Them Consenting Slaves, who are Their Slave Masters?

06/04/2016 11:01 | Updated 06 April 2016

French Women's Rights Minister Laurence Rossignol likened the dresscode of Muslim women to slavery, this week. She was closely followed by founding partner of Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Berge, who claimed that the fashion world should not get their hands dirty, by colluding in this enslavement.

So as Muslim women in Europe are catapulted into the lime light again, to stand now in the shadow of one of the greatest acts of oppression upon mankind - slavery - there is just one question that springs to mind. If extended Lycra swimsuits and flowing gowns are a means to make Muslim women sub-human, then who is it that is enforcing this wardrobe-related slavery?

If this was a multiple-choice quiz-night question, then the answer to this could probably range from a camouflaged Muslamic monster puppeteer in the sky who has attached his strings to burkas and burkinis; to hackers in Islamist cyber world who send micro chips to all Muslim clothing suppliers to sew into every garment. Neither, I have to say, as possible slave masters are that difficult to believe. Wholly possible when it comes to Muslims, of course.

But it's not quiz night - and being a Muslim woman myself, I thought I should get my dish cloth out yet again and try to wipe down the murky mist left on the window I look out of. Frankly I'm a bit fed up of it all, but then I forgot being enslaved I don't actually have a mind or feelings to feel fed up about anything, do I?

So the slave master? Overwhelming option one, must be the Muslim man. The Muslim man who has duck-taped these garments onto his wife/sister/daughter/mother's bodies so that they remember who is boss. These women must wear them as a reminder that when they exit the house once every few years, they belong to this obsessive controller in the same way he owns his car, shoes and vacuum cleaner.

But in this country in particular, this answer doesn't tally with reality. Firstly, if Muslim men were the unanimous slave masters, then the sharp increase in the adornment of Islamic clothing must be directly correlated to the increase in slave master Muslim men. But studies such as the one conducted by multi-faith group Faith Matters in 2011, showed that the average convert to Islam in the UK was a 27 year old woman. So for these scores of convert women to Islam, there was no Muslim man in the background to do the enslaving in the first place.

For the many other adherent Muslim women born from South Asian first-generation immigrants in this country, the Islamic sense of hijab was virtually alien in family life. A light, see-through cloth tossed on a part of the hair, or no hair covering at all, was the norm for that generation. In fact in many cases, many of these young women had to struggle against families who did not see the hijab as a norm in the family or community.

However, one may look at somewhere like Saudi Arabia where women are undeniably subjugated and robbed of basic rights. They are treated like objects that are covered up as possessions outside of the home, and exploited inside it. However, this level of misogyny of women is not about the Islamic dress code, but is derived from the society and culture of the country itself. Just like societies and cultures across the world have problems with regards to the exploitation of women from sex trafficking, epidemic rape, and prostitution. The Islamic dress code in such cases has been exploited as a measure to fulfil the needs of men from a particularly abusive national culture - just as high heels may be enforced upon an exploited sex worker, to fulfil the need of a trafficker.

So if the slave master is not Muslim men, the only other option as an answer is the religion of Islam itself. But there is something fundamentally bizarre and inconsistent about this condemnation. Because religion is a belief that shapes the way we live our lives, like every other core belief whether founded by a belief in God or not.

Some believe there is a God that shapes the way they dress, from turbans for Sikh men to head coverings for Christian nuns. Some dress - whether they believe in a God or not - according to the dictates of fashion, as Mr Berge will be familiar. Others believe that their choice in attire, is a means of self-expression itself. Every human being dresses according to a belief about their lives, and French society due to its founding values, is supposed to be the first to acknowledge this fact, bizarrely.

But in stark contradiction, it boils down to this in France today - if Berge tells you how to dress, then this is liberation; but if Islam tells you how to dress, then this is enslavement. If someone adorns their body with tattoos or piercings that could arguably be cited as harmful as they cause pain - this is liberation. But dressing with a metre more of fabric on your body, because it's in the name of Islam, is not.

Islam is as much the slave master as every other religion, belief or fashion fad. Muslim women take an active decision to dress in this particular way, according to their values. And in reality, this is a process every other woman in society engages in. However for individuals like Berge, (perhaps because he is so used to dictating women's dresscodes), it is the creeping Islamophobia that has legitimised his view, which against any other group of women would be deemed wholly misogynistic.

So I have a final plea to such individuals - if we, Muslim women, decide to continue with our self-inflicted slavery, would you at least please let us be? As the only individuals trying to tug the chains on our supposed shackled necks it seems, has been you.

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