Raymond Ibrahim writes for Middle East Forum and extensively covers the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Today he published an article about the hijab that I think should serve as a warning to Israel. Sure, unlike Egypt, Israel has a different government and social and political systems, not to mention a much better educated population and political traditions. And yet, some of the same religious coercion and influence that permeates their culture has reared its ugly head in Israel’s. Read this and see whether some of the lessons apply:
According to Nasser, the very first demand of the Brotherhood leader was for the hijab to return to Egypt, “for every woman walking in the street to wear a headscarf.”
The audience erupted in laughter at this, then, ludicrous demand; one person hollered “Let him wear it!” eliciting more laughter and applause.
Nasser continued by saying he told the Brotherhood leader that if they enforced the hijab, people would say Egypt had returned to the dark ages (to more laughter), adding that Egyptians should uphold such matters in the privacy of their own homes.
Half a century later and none of this is a laughing matter: the hijab, if not the full burqa, is commonplace in Egypt, even as the Muslim Brotherhoodâ€”who for decades were banned and imprisoned for trying to return Egypt to an Islamic dark ageâ€”are now poised to govern the nation, all under U.S. tutelage.
In other words, Sadat’s great mistakeâ€”which cost him his lifeâ€”is that he conferred a degree of legitimacy on the Muslim Brotherhood, thereby allowing them to worm their way into Egyptian society.
Such is the way of time: left unchecked, what was once ludicrous to suggestâ€”for instance, the Brotherhood’s 1953 request “for every woman walking in the street to wear a headscarf”â€”slowly and gradually becomes part of the culture.
Back in 1948 when Ben Gurion agreed to have the ultra-Orthodox evade military service and the Israeli government gave up control over aspects of civil law to the Rabbinate with its full governmental authority behind this religious body’s rulings, the Orthodox population, modern and ultra, was relatively small. It has since grown enormously and the powers and decisions made back in the late 1940s under entirely different circumstances continue to play out in entirely unintended ways.
That the Orthodox Jewish community has taken advantage of the rights availed to it should surprise no one, it is the nature of politics and communities to seek to maximize their opportunities. However, for too long, these groups have sought to influence the lives of Israelis and Jews who are not affiliated with stringent observance of Jewish law.
What these groups could not do through the Rabbinate to all Israelis and Jews, they did within their own communities with relative impunity. What we’re seeing today, which is increasing demands for people around them as well as within their own Orthodox communities to have women commit to rules that are discriminatory and affect their place in society, is the result of decades in which the Israeli government has turned a blind eye to obvious developments within those communities, including primarily the growing stringency in observance of certain Jewish laws. To remind everybody, it was only a couple of years ago that Israel’s ultra-Orthodox leadership appointed itself as the ultimate group able to decide on a person’s Jewishness by declaring veto power over conversion made not just by Conservative and Reform rabbis, but even by Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox rabbis, outside of Israel and even inside Israel.
The government did nothing.
It is time to make sure that this slow but definite encroachment on the rights and freedoms of women and those men who are not Orthodox inside Israel is put to a complete halt. Religion has no place in the government and protecting the freedom of religion is not the same as harming the freedom of others who do not subscribe to religious observance and its multiple interpretations.
If you’re a woman living in Israel, take every opportunity you have to take a stand against activities that may harm your freedoms. And run for office or encourage other women and men who understand the danger here to run for office. Then get them elected into the Knesset. This is critical and it has to be started now to have an effect on the next election.