Friday, October 15, 2004

Italian Woman is Fined for Veiling

Tonight, while browsing the New York Times webpage, I came across an article about an Italian woman who was fined for wearing a veil in public. While I know this is not the first country to create a fuss about veiling, Italy caught my attention due to my own knowledge and interest in the country.

The Italian woman was fined after she refused to remove her veil in a state building. She was given the fine under two older laws, one of which dated back to the Fascists in regards to a specific dress code, and another that was created during the time of the Red Brigade, which stated that masks were illegal. Members of the Red Brigade often used masks to conceal their identity. The official who imposed the fine stated that the woman's failure to remove her veil was a matter of security.

I believe this brings up three major issues, almost of all which stem from the notion of identity. First, the woman who was fined is Italian-born. She married a Tunisian about 10 years ago, and converted to Islam after that. For the officials in her town, her status as an Italian is not as important as her status as a follower of Islam. Without the veil, she would not be identified as an outsider at all. However, in this post 9/11 world, which is dominated by fear, now she is seen as a threat to security. Second, this brings up issues of immigration that may be observed throughout western Europe. For most of the last century, Italy was a country of emigration. The population that remained in Italy was homogeneous: Italian, white, Catholic, etc. Increasingly, Italy has been receiving immigrants from Albania and North Africa. During the time that I spent studying in Florence, I routinely saw lines in front of the police station of immigrants, waiting to be permitted to remain in the country. ( A side note: those of us who were American students waiting for permission were ushered in the back door of the very same police station with a much shorter line). Unfortunately, these immigrants are seen as trouble-makers and thieves, and I was told by more than one Italian to "watch out for the Albanians". As more immigrants enter the country with different beliefs and different skin colors, the Italian population will have to become more tolerant, or we are going to see many more instances of discrimination based on appearance. And finally, I have to ask what this incident has to do with gender. Obviously, only Muslim women veil. Men do not have similar religious markers in their attire. Is this an example of men exerting power over women by trying to control their attire? Why is this woman being denied her rights to self-expression, as well as the right to practice her religion? Why is this woman somehow more dangerous with her veil than without? The truth is, without the veil, the city officials would not have seen her as any different from themselves.


At 7:25 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

I was going to launch a fine rant about Saudi Arabia reinstating their law that prohibits women from voting, but thought better of it least they jack the price of crude even higher than it is.

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Erin said...

It's amazing how categories can color our entire perception. Since, she's veiled, her religious affiliation is now her master status, regardless of her other categories as you pointed out.

An aside, makes me think of Christian brides veiling on wedding days. I didn't veil myself, because I had read it was a tradition started to keep away the bride's evil spirit from corrupting anyone until she was safely married and under control.


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