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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid

Published on Nov 09, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Gates of Vienna

Is the Obama administration ready to consider banning the burqa in America - as France and Belgium have done?


I wasn't there, I can't be sure exactly what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the other day in Melbourne, Australia but the reportage sure had me sit up and take notice.

According to an Australian news article titled "The Burqa Ban Has Merit," Clinton said that "the belief that burqas should be banned in order to stop suicide bombers disguising themselves is a legitimate one," and she also described the status of women as 'one of the biggest pieces of unfinished business in this century.' and said their persecution was a common factor in repressed and impoverished nations." Secretary of State Clinton went on to say:

"I know that in Pakistan, many of the men who are conducting suicide bombing missions arrive covered in a burqa," and "If you're a Pakistani police officer, respectful of the women of your culture and that's being abused and misused by the suicide terrorists, that causes a real dilemma. So if you are looking at other countries that are understandably nervous about extremist activity, like France and other European countries, I think it's a close question."

Clinton seems to be straddling two fences. She is suggesting that security concerns may trump cultural or ethnic customs and that the burqa itself may be part of the way in which women are being "persecuted in repressed and impoverished nations." Although she specifically mentioned Pakistan she did not use the word Muslim.

Do her words represent a small and welcome departure from President Obama's position-that of a respectful dhimmi-vis-à-vis the Muslim world?

Clinton's words may represent a trial balloon, or they may be entirely spontaneous comments made in the course of a public conversation in Melbourne.

I have written many articles about whether the West should ban the burqa as France and Belgium have now done.

I have a more considered piece just out in the new issue of Middle East Quarterly which is not yet online. I do argue for such a ban, not only on the grounds of security, a case which Dr. Daniel Pipes has argued before, but also as a violation of a woman's human rights. Think about it: The face veil and the burqa (I am not talking about the headscarf) are sensory deprivation isolation chambers. They literally constitute a low-level form of torture which leads to both physical and mental illnesses. Imagine having no peripheral vision while you walk, imagine allowing no sunlight into your life for your entire life, imagine being at risk for dangerous falls. But also imagine the inevitable social isolation that such clothing, a "moveable prison" entails.

Most of all, please understand that many Arab and Muslim countries are banning or restricting the face veil and the burqa. They have security and anti-terrorist concerns of their own and they know full well that such clothing is not a religious requirement and that women have not always veiled their faces. From the 1980s onward, Turkish women have been prohibited from wearing face veils (and even headscarves) in parliament and in public buildings. Since 1981, women in Tunisia have been prohibited from wearing Islamic dress, including headscarves, in schools or government offices. In October 2009, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, perhaps the foremost formal spiritual authority in Sunni Islam and grand sheikh of al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's highest institution of religious learning, was reportedly "angered" when he toured a school in Cairo and saw a teenage girl wearing niqab. Asking the girl to remove her face veil, he said, "The niqab is a tradition; it has no connection with religion." He then instructed the girl never to wear the niqab again and issued a fatwa against its use in schools. And on July 18, 2010, Syria became the latest Muslim state to ban full face veils in some public places.

When will the West wake up and smell the bomb/the fear and abject subordination of Muslim women?

I am not talking about freeing the women in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. I am talking about banning this visual symbol of political Islam, fundamentalist misogyny, and jihad on our own soil, in our own country.


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