The Niqab Debate, 1: Beyond the Veil

Over the next few days, we will run various articles that debate the arguments for and against the niqab legislation that is underway in European countries. Niqab, or full face and body covering introduces a conundrum in Western societies, and we suspect this issue will not be limited to only the Western societies in the near future. While religious considerations must be respected in secular democracies, there come instances when the religious argument runs afoul of the society safety and welfare of its members. We must remember that the argument is between extreme interpretations of religion that runs against the law of the land. There have been reports of Jehovah’s Witness members refusing modern medical treatment. The Western Governments took clear stand against the fact that extremely sick people were not treated in the name of religion. Canada has seen observant Sikhs demanding their religious and symbolic right to carry ceremonial sword, yet the state stood against this extreme interpretation of Sikh tenets.

Does the Niqab symbolize extreme Islamic values, or is it a cultural issue. Does it keep women sequestered in urban ghettos in societies that encourage women to participate? Do women that don burqa day in and out suffer from serious medical conditions due to the absence of Vitamin D? Is a sight of completely faceless person covered from head to toe a security concern for the hundreds of people walking in the same enclosed space with that same person? Niqab is indeed a complicated yet fascinating issue as an increasingly secular world seeks to accommodate free practice of religion in its diverse and multi-religious societies. 

(Editors- PTH)

Beyond the Veil

Monday, April 5th, 2010

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

– American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald

By Fitzgerald’s standards, the wave of anti-veil rhetoric sweeping across Europe has probably catapulted the continent’s politicians into the intellectual equivalent of the Andromeda galaxy.

Consider the following quote from a liberal Belgian MP following a vote that could put that country on track to be the first in Europe to ban the burqa and niqab: “It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and enclose an individual. Wearing the burqa in public is not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society.” The vote was unanimous, from the Greens to the far right.

When politicians see no contradiction in curbing religious expression by evoking liberalism and tolerance, well, something’s up.

Belgium is not alone. Eight of Germany’s 16 states contain restrictions on wearing the hijab. Throughout that country women in burqa or chador are forbidden to drive motor vehicles. A 2004 French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools bans all clothing which constitutes an ostensible religious symbol from government-operated schools (including Jews and Christians). The Netherlands took steps to implement a burqa and headscarf ban, but no action has been taken despite overwhelming public support.

Many of the countries that have implemented bans or are considering doing so have attempted, often to hilariously contradictory effect, to rationalize their actions. The laws are being passed for the women’s own good. Women who wear the headscarf, niqab or burqa are being forced to do so by troglodyte male relatives, so the state must swoop in to save them from this demeaning second class citizen status. To paraphrase Orwell, slavery does not equal freedom.

All this blather is utter nonsense. There have been no statistics published that demonstrate that women who cover are being forced to do so by their families. Is it possible and indeed likely that some girls and women who wear the niqab and burqa would prefer to assimilate to Western society and go about uncovered? Can it be that many women and girls are being forced by their relatives, both male and female, to adhere to tradition? Of course. But there is no evidence to suggest that every covered women has chosen to adhere to this form of dress as a result of coercion.

The truth is very simple, as truth usually is. The Europeans have grown increasingly worried about the inability of some Muslim immigrant communities to assimilate. The Mohammed cartoon riots and the murder of Theo van Gogh underscored the fear and loathing building in Europe. Covered women simply become the most obvious symbol of a group perceived as being intolerant and parochial. Liberate them and their narrow-minded relatives will learn by example.

That and women in Niqab and burqas make Westerners uncomfortable, plain and simple. It is a form of religious dress closely associated with societies known for beheadings, stoning, child marriages and other atrocities.

The storm over veils, burqas and other coverings is a sham, a fig leaf used by craven European politicians to pander to their voters while avoiding the heavy lifting necessary to ensure that Muslim women living in the West are afforded actual rights. The governments of those countries would go a long way if they dropped the obsessive focus on headgear and instead allocated resources to helping women in immigrant communities understand their legal rights, including directing them to women’s shelters to escape domestic violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation — as well as enforcing harsh penalties on the perpetrators. On these issues Europe’s politicians have been less than enthusiastic to act.

Finally, if European governments want to ban the burqa and hijab they can do so for security reasons. No society would consider it acceptable to allow its citizens to walk around in balaclavas or Klan hoods or any other article of clothing that hides the identity of the wearer.

Maybe that can be the new slogan: In a public place, you must show your face.

Comments are closed.