Sunday, August 1, 2010

Western countries that ban the veil are "kaffir"?

I recently wrote a post noting that statutory bans on the full-face veil are acceptable to Muslim clerics, and therefore should be acceptable to Western legislatures.

In response, I received a long, convoluted and generally unpersuasive comment in support of veiling women, signed by "Iftikhar ahmad" (a not uncommon name) and directing readers to:

Interestingly, the pro veil comment dismissed nations adopting bans of the full-face and full-body veil ("niqab") as follows: "Those Western European countries who have banned Niqab are Kaffir."

Kaffir? I remembered that word as a racial slur from the struggle against South African apartheid.
The word kaffir, sometimes spelled kaffer or kafir, is an offensive term for a black person, most common in South Africa and other African countries. Generally considered a racial or ethnic slur in modern usage, it was previously a neutral term for black southern African people.

The original meaning of the word is 'heathen', 'unbeliever' or 'infidel', from the Arabic 'kafir' and is still being used with this meaning by Muslims. The Arabic term Kafir (arab كافر) is, however, also applied to simply anyone who is not a Christian, Jew or Muslim (People of the book) or does not believe in the Abrahamic "One God". Portuguese explorers used the term generally to describe tribes they encountered in southern Africa, probably having misunderstood its etymology from Muslim traders along the coast. European colonists subsequently continued its use. Although it was in wide use between the 16th and 19th centuries, and not generally seen as an offensive term, as racial tensions increased in 20th century South Africa and the surrounding countries, it became a term of abuse.

The word was used in English, Dutch and, later, Afrikaans, from the 16th century to the early 20th century as a general term for several different peoples of southern Africa. In Portuguese the equivalent cafre was used.

In South Africa today, the term is used both as an insult, and by some, as a common word for a black person. In any case, the term is regarded by most as derogatory (in the same way as "nigger" in other countries). Use of the word has been actionable in South African courts since at least 1976 under the offense of crimen injuria: "the unlawful, intentional and serious violation of the dignity of another".

Calling supporters of bans on full-face and full-body veils "kaffir" is no different than using the n-word to describe your political opponents.

That's the mind set of those defending full-face and full-body veils for women.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...