Arabs campaign for women to "Take off the Veil"

Organizer says "my hair is not a sex symbol"


A group of Arabic websites and blogs have launched an international campaign against the Muslim headscarf (hijab), arguing the move is a response to what they see as “intellectual terrorism” practiced by strict Islamic groups and individuals.

The campaign is called "Take Off The Veil”, and was launched March 8, 2008 to coincide with International Women's Day.

"My hair is not a sex symbol that I should be ashamed of, and my body is not a stage for men's fantasies. I am a noble human being with my hair and body," Dr. Elham Manea, one of the campaign’s leaders, wrote on the participating websites.

Manea, a professor of Yemeni descent and who works in Switzerland, said she believes the headscarf was never part of Islam and chose International Women's Day for the campaign as she views the headscarf as a symbol of women's oppression and to warn women deceived by Islamists into putting "this rag on their heads."

"We aim to communicate the idea to as many people as possible, and we don't do that by violence and intimidation like Islamists," Manea said.

"Religious coercion"

Manea does not see the headscarf as a freedom of choice, but rather as "religious coercion" and believes that staying silent about the issue means allowing extremist ideas to infiltrate society.

Manea's letter stresses that calling upon girls to take off the headscarf does not mean inciting them to perversion or immorality, but rather encouraging them to use their brains.

"Women's headscarf is a political issue and an ideology Islamists use to garner support and reach power," she said.

Manea added that Islamists influence women by citing three reasons: that by covering her body she will protect men from sinning, will be establishing a righteous society, and that it is a religious obligation.

The campaign posted a picture of a woman taking off her headscarf and part of her clothes while saying that this is the outfit she chose for herself. This picture will be distributed in the Cairo subway as a response to the headscarf leaflets showered on women commuters on daily basis.

The campaign also posted a picture of Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris -- who criticized the spread of Iranian-style headscarf in Egypt -- and a traffic sign that says "No Entry for the Veiled" as well as a banner that says "Support Denmark, defend freedom."

Counter campaign

Organizers of "Take off the Veil" campaign told AlArabiya.net that move was a counter-campaign to the initiative by the Digital Resistance Movement (hamasna) which calls for women to wear the headscarf and targets famous women, like Lebanese singer Haifa Wahbi and the wife of Egypt’s goalie Essam Al-Hadhari.

Hamasna, an online movement launched by a group of Islamist activists, launched their own "International Headscarf Day" campaign on February 28, 2008 and started it by calling upon Wahbi to wear "more decent clothes."

The website posted a picture of Turkish president Abullah Gül's wife and praised the fact that she is the first veiled woman to enter the Turkish presidential palace since the secular republic was founded in 1923.

The group also called upon Hadhari’s wife to put her headscarf back on after she appeared headscarf-less for the first time with her husband in Switzerland.

The websites that launched the counter-campaign viewed the attack on Hadari's wife as "intellectual terrorism" and interference in people's personal affairs. The campaign called for every girl and woman to take off her headscarf to respond to "fundamentalists that want to muzzle women and deprive them of their personal and social rights."

The "Take off the Veil" campaign involves about 30 Tunisian, Arab, and Coptic secular websites which all posted a picture of the late Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba taking off a woman's headscarf.

Head of Hamasna Mohamed al-Sayed told AlArabiya.net that the website will counter the "Take Off The Headscarf" campaign with religious evidence proving the headscarf was an Islamic obligation.

"We don't force anyone to do anything. This is personal freedom. We only offer advise," al-Sayed concluded.

Pictures of Egypt's opposition Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and its current Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef were also posted with critical comments, in addition to pictures of other Islamic preachers accused of promoting fundamentalist thoughts.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid.)