Why Were Women’s Bodies Policed By Hijab After The New Zealand Terror Attack?

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s Response To Hijab Being Used As A Symbol Of Solidarity In The Aftermath Of The New Zealand Terrorist Attack. 

More than a week on from the horrific far right and white supremacist attack on New Zealand, we at the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain are still grieving for those who were lost, or had their lives destroyed. As we have already said, the majority of our members and volunteers are from Muslim families and communities, so the people killed or critically injured at the 2 mosques that were attacked could have been our loved ones.

We have largely been very impressed by the response to the attacks led by Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. Where other politicians have used similar events to create division, she has shown great leadership in bringing people together and showing love to those affected and the wider Muslim community. We strongly welcome the New Zealand government’s decision to ban assault weapons, set up a financial fund to help support victims and bereaved families and pay for the funerals of those who were lost. We also welcome Ms Arden’s decision not to name the terrorist and give him the notoriety he was seeking. Largely, she has proven herself a strong leader who has set an example for other politicians around the world.

However, we are very disappointed to see that during the official remembrance service for the fallen dead, the New Zealand women attending were expected to cover their heads with a hijab as a mark of “honour”, “respect” and “solidarity” towards the victims and Muslim community. We believe this is the worst kind of emotional blackmail. In performing this ceremony this way, a woman who refuses to partake in the religious practices of veiling is immediately defined as someone who has no respect, solidarity or honour. This sort of pressure surely violates the right to freedom of and freedom from religion. The women of New Zealand are stricken by grief, why should their bodies be policed?

As well as creating unfair religious pressure on the wider community of New Zealand, the decision to ask women to veil to honour the victims has massively alienated unveiled women from within the Muslim community. Not all Muslim women wear hijabs, including ones who are devout believers, infact many actively resist the practise. Similarly as ex-Muslim women who choose not to be covered, we also fight for the right to be free of hijab. Unfortunately, women from Muslim majority societies and communities who do not veil are often harassed, pressured or shamed for not veiling. Accusations of “disrespect” are commonly aimed at unveiled women. Our worry if that if it was our loved ones killed in the terrorist attacks, we would be accused of disrespect as we mourned. What’s more, this also feels like part of a wider move by Islamists to errase unveiled women from Muslim majority countries and communities, in the eyes of the wider world. Its working. To many, we simply don’t exist.

What makes this all the more disappointing is that Ms Arden is an apostate of Mormonism, a very high control religion which is very difficult to leave. She has spoken publicly about her experiences and has helped to shine a light on the issue of apostasy and religious descent as a civil right. We believe if we could speak to her, she would understand our point of view, but sadly the cultural damage has already been done.

Whatever happens next the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain will continue to resist all forms of extremism including the white supremacist far right movement and Islamism. We will also continue to mourn the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attacks on our own terms, whilst fighting for our own autonomy.