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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid

Published on Oct 18, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for NewsRealBlog

The Burqa - Modern Views in the Arab World, Islamist Views in Europe


Should the West ban the face veil and the burqa?

Wouldn't it be religiously intolerant, racist, even "Islamophobic" to do so?

Let's hear from some Arabs and Muslims on the subject.

Quite simply, many Arabs and Muslims oppose the Islamic veil.

In October of 2009, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, perhaps the foremost spiritual authority in Sunni Islam and grand sheikh of Al-Azhar University, was reportedly angered when he toured a school in Cairo and saw a teenage girl wearing a face veil. He asked her to remove it. He told her that "niqab is a tradition, it has no connection with religion." He subsequently issued a fatwa against its use in schools.

Every Arab, Muslim, and ex-Muslim feminist and dissident with whom I have worked, and who grew up in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, has criticized the face veil (niqab) as well as the burqa (the full face and body bag). Some have called for state bans; others have implored women not to voluntarily surrender the rights for which their own grandmothers and mothers once fought, rights which they won. Some Muslim feminists wear hijab (the headscarf); some do not.

Earlier this month, on October 7, 2010, Rashid al-Marar, a high ranking member of parliament in the UAE, backed France in its ban on the burqa.

Wearing the niqab shocks the majority of citizens, and every time one comes across people wearing the niqab, it is additional votes for extremists. The burqa has nothing to do with Islam, it predates Islam. Wearing the burqa is not a religious practice.

As Zeyno Baran has shown, the western media continues to disappear the true face of moderate, secular, and dissident Muslims. Instead, it glorifies (and hires) the Islamists, calls them "moderates," and handily silences the true Islamic dissidents and moderates.

The burqa is the face of jihad; the disappearance of a woman's face is a public statement of normalized Islamic gender apartheid. It is not a religious requirement. It is not the best way to take a stand against Western racism.

Nevertheless, the West is torn, guilty, confused, enraged about the subject of the burqa. Recently, in a British report, Alveena Malik, an advisor to the former Labour government, suggested that "we in Britain need to take a different direction…and to accept the veil as a part of the modern British way of life."

The hopelessly politically correct Sweden and Norway have joined Britain; neither has even considered a ban on the burqa. Germany has been debating the issue, and a number of German municipalities have restricted the face veil in schools. Holland first began debating a burqa ban four years ago. A group of parliament members in Italy has drafted a bill proposing that burqas be banned for security reasons. Transgressors would be fined between 150 and 300 euros or, alternatively, mandated to do some kind of community service "aimed at encouraging integration."

As we know, France became the first country to ban the burqa. Only the European Union can now challenge the French law which imposes a fine of 150 euros ($190) and/or a citizenship course as punishment for wearing a face-covering veil. Forcing a woman to wear a niqab or a burqa will be punishable by a year in prison or a 15,000 euro ($19,000) fine.

We also know that Al-Qaeda has been threatening a terrorist action in France. Initially, Al-Qaeda of North Africa threatened a terrorist attack for daring to ban the burqa. Today, Al-Qaeda is threatening a Mumbai-like attack somewhere in Europe, most likely in France.

People have come to blows over the issue. Right now, a woman is actually on trial in Paris. A French woman, Anne Fontette, currently stands accused of ripping off the full face veil of an Emirati tourist and of biting, punching, and scratching her when she put it back on. If convicted, Fontette faces a possible two-month suspended prison sentence and a 750 euro fine. Fontette denied committing any acts of violence, but she has told the media that she felt for a long time that she was "going to crack one day" because she hated seeing women wearing the veil in the "birthplace of human rights." She told reporters that she had once taught languages in Morocco and Saudi Arabia: "I have seen how in those countries women are treated … walking three meters behind their husbands."

I wasn't there, I don't know what happened between these two women, but perhaps Fontette was saying, "not in my name, not in my country."

I have a major public policy piece on whether the West should ban the burqa coming out in the next issue of Middle East Quarterly. Please read it and share your views with me.


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