By Phyllis Chesler, www.PajamasMedia.com

Finally, at the midnight hour, some European governments have begun to fight back—not against the Islamification of Europe but against inhumane, even barbaric political practices in the name of religion that violate Western standards of universal human rights.

Thus, first France, but now Italy have called for a ban on the burqa. Italy’s Northern League proposal “aims at amending a 1975 law, introduced amid concern over domestic terrorism, which bans anyone wearing anything which makes their identification impossible.” The Northern League also has the backing of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party. The League’s Roberto Cota said: “We are not racist and we have nothing against Muslims but the law must be equal for everyone.”

When France’s President Sarkozy first called for a similar ban, a self-identified branch of al-Qaeda in Northern Africa threatened to attack France over this.

Predictably, center-left opposition MPs criticized the Italian proposal and said it was

“unconstitutional because it infringes on religious freedom and justifying it because of law and order is totally out of place.”

Not so fast.

Verily, we live in an age of miracles; thus, none other than Sheik Mohammed Tantawi, the leading religious figure of Al-Azhar, was, just the other day, “reportedly angered” when he toured a school in Cairo and saw a girl wearing “ niqab,” which means that her face was masked or possibly that she was wearing a full head, face, and body covering.

“Sheik Tantawi, regarded by many as Egypt’s Imam and Sunni Islam’s foremost spiritual authority, asked the teenage girl to remove her veil saying: “The niqab is a tradition, it has no connection with religion.” The imam instructed the girl, a pupil at a secondary school in Cairo’s Madinet Nasr suburb, never to wear the niqab again and promised to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, against its use in schools. The ruling will not affect use of the hijab, the Islamic headscarf worn by most Muslim women in Egypt.

Following the imam’s lead, Egypt’s minister of higher education is to ban female undergraduates from wearing the niqab at the country’s public universities, Cairo’s Al-Masri Al-Yom newspaper reported.

Again, don’t rejoice too soon.

Even the very influential Sheik Tantawi has his fundamentalist detractors who have excoriated him for supporting France’s ban on hijab in public schools and for shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres. And, clearly, the Egyptian government is unhappy about the gathering forces of Islamic fundamentalism that consistently manipulate women and women’s clothing as symbolic political statements. Some have even called for more severe Islamic clothing for women in which only one eye (Algerian style) can show. The Egyptian government understands that it is at risk vis-à-vis Islamic fundamentalists.

Now, some European politicians understand this too.

Follow the burqa. Where it goes, you will probably find normalized wife-battering, serious child abuse, including honor killings too—as well as polygamy, and a pathological hatred of Jews, Israelis, Hindus, Americans, and all other

“infidels.” There you may also find terrorist cells or supporters of terrorism. From this point of view—ban the burqa, and it may lead to an exodus of terrorists back to their fundamentalist-friendly home countries. But there is another point of view that interests me more, namely, the human rights/woman’s rights argument as grounds to ban the burqa. I have made that argument in these pages. I have found support from Muslim feminists, first at an international conference in Rome, and now in a new book on the subject.

I have been reading the most elegant and excellent book on the subject of the Islamic veil written by Marnia Lazreg. Questioning the Veil. Open Letters to Muslim Women is carefully reasoned and beautifully written. Lazreg is an Algerian Muslim feminist academic and her mother once wore the veil. She is respectful of Muslim women’s own feelings and of their religious desires. She argues that the veil (face, head, and full body covering) is not commanded in the Koran; that it is harmful to women’s physical and mental health; and that it is mainly a political statement about fundamentalism and misogyny. She has little patience for feminist academics who themselves are not forced to veil and who “play” at imagining or de-constructing the veil as “liberating” or as a statement of “resistance.” Of course, she is also on record as having objected to the “manner in which Muslim women have been portrayed in books as well as the media,” namely, in ways that focus on them only as oppressed victims.

In her last letter, Lazreg implores Muslim women to stop wearing the veil. “It is a symbol of inequality…it undermines faith… it objectifies women for (reasons of) political propaganda just like advertising in Western society does: one by covering, and the other by exposing women’s’ bodies.” Lazreg also views the veil as harming Muslim women’s employment because “hijab symbolically inserts her into a virtual domestic space” and affects how she is viewed and treated at work. She re-defines “modesty” as related to behavior and character rather than to appearance and opposes “the straitjacketing of a woman’s body. Removing or refusing to veil does not mean that a Muslim woman has succumbed to the West. She writes:

“Not wearing the veil is not a victory of the ‘West,’ it is women’s victory over a custom that inflects their thinking about themselves as human beings. Wearing the veil is not a strike against anti-Muslim prejudice…As long as states mandate or prohibit veiling, as long as political movements advocate for it, as long as organized networks with books, lectures, DVDs, and course packets promote it far and wide, a woman can never be sure she takes up the veil freedly…Ultimately, there is no compelling justification for veiling, not even faith…No one is entitled to turn the veil into a political flag.”

There’s more, much more, and I encourage you all to read this fine book.

The Muslim Canadian Congress just recently urged that the burqa be banned in Canada. Given Sheik Tantawi’s statement and the fact that the burqa is also forbidden at Mecca, the Congress argues that it should be forbidden in Canada too.


One thought on “Is The Burqa a Religious or Political Statement?

  • Burqa, niqab ect are not innocent garbs but strong political statements; imposition of one’s cultural mores on receiving (host) societies. Ethnic Community Elites, leftists academics and so called community religious leaders are using women to impose their variety of ‘religion’ first on their folks and then impress upon the unenlightened, uninformed ‘foreigners’ (immigrant receiving societies) to accept their version of religion and religious dress as the standard practice which incidentally it is not in their own countries from where they come.
    Shame it is to see state-sponsored TVs like TVO offering programs like ‘Little Mosque on the Prairies’ and “Hard Rock Medical” with hijabi women (often pink people) are willing to don ‘exotic’ libas, shedding regulation dresses of a profesion). We want to be inclusive it is argued but that is a weak arguemnt or misplaced philosophy when we are removing Christian symbols from all over this country’s public places like hospitals and academic institutions. Islamization vs ‘de-Christianization’ (whatever that means; no standtard definition, except that crosses and crucifixes must be removed).
    Religious dress, costume and habits should be discouraged or at least not encouraged(even banned as in France or in Quebec), not in the private sphere, but in public arena in a secular society.
    Profession of religion in public places and offices is not religious freedom. the real freedom of religion is conscience or Belief; freedom to practice one’s religion in private but not to profess in publicly funded institutions.
    Dress and language are importatnt cultural indicators. Newly develiping multikutli societies are in danger of becoming new INDIAs, in the next 100 years or so, where religious diversity often results in conflicts.

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