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Jewish World Review
July 7, 2009 / 15 Tamuz 5769
Could the U.S. Ban the Burqa, Too?
The French Republic is not blessed or burdened with a First
Amendment. So when President Nicolas Sarkozy recently suggested that France
ban the wearing of the burqa in all public places, the Chamber of Deputies
took it up.
Unlike the headscarf, which covers a woman's hair but leaves her
face visible, the burqa is a head-to-toe covering that makes walking
draperies of women. Some, like the chador worn in Afghanistan, feature a
mesh covering for the face. The Saudi version usually sports a slit for the
eyes. Here's an online catalogue's description of one: "Khimar and niqab set
made of an all season, buttery soft georgette. Reaches to approximately knee
level (depending upon your height) and provides full coverage. Arm openings
about half-way down the khimar are a convenient feature with this style.
Edges are embellished with matching satin trim. Imported from Saudi Arabia.
Available in your choice of Navy Blue, Brown, or Saudi Black." Yes "Saudi
black." In a country where summertime temperatures often reach 120
Fahrenheit, the geniuses designed a garment for women that is stifling and
In London, which has come to resemble Algiers more than New
York, these walking shadows are everywhere. Even in summer, some women who
wear the "Saudi black" burqa also wear black gloves and sunglasses over
their facemasks. One would no more strike up a conversation with such a
specter than with Darth Vader.
You needn't approve of the slatternly attire so often found on
Western women to stoutly and angrily resist the encroachment of the burqa
and everything it represents into Western life. Let's be clear. It took
guts for Sarkozy to say what did. He called the burqa "a sign of subjugation
… of debasement." Al-Qaida, reliably enough, issued a fulminating
statement: "We will not tolerate such provocations and injustices, and we
will take our revenge from France … by every means and wherever we can
Muslims agree that the faith requires "modest" dress on the part
of women. Beyond that, things get disputatious. Some argue that the face
must be veiled. Others deny it. Both cite Quranic authority. But there is no
doubt that the vast majority of the world's Muslim women do not wear these
personality-obliterating shrouds. The burqa's revival in some parts of the
Muslim world (Iran, Egypt, Morocco, even Lebanon) is more of a political
than a religious expression. Some women insist that they freely choose to
swaddle themselves. But in many Muslim nations women are subjected to a
variety of coercions, both cultural and political, to erase themselves in
public. Also, there must be thousands of Muslim women who, by moving to
Western Europe, thought they could shed the oppression of their home
countries. Instead, they have found cringing European "multiculturalists"
eager to excuse every Third World depredation from wife beating to
polygamy to the burqa as a sign of their broadmindedness.
Europeans are not the only ones cringing. In his Cairo address,
President Obama engaged in his by now famous false equivalence: "Among some
Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the
rejection of somebody else's faith … Likewise, it is important for Western
countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they
see fit for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should
wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence
Since the president's speech predated Sarkozy's comments on the
burqa, Obama must have been referring to France's 2004 decision to ban the
headscarf (along with crucifixes and yarmulkes) in public offices and
schools. Let's see, in Saudi Arabia it is illegal to build a church (to say
nothing of a synagogue) or to carry a Christian Bible on your person. In
most Muslim majority nations, alcohol is prohibited to everyone, not just to
practicing Muslims. And little girls are subjected to genital mutilation and
other forms of torture and abuse on a widespread basis. Well, President
Obama explains, both sides need improvement.
The French approach would be constitutionally complicated in
America. But as C.C. Colton observed, "The law allows what honor forbids."
For all men and women who consider themselves enlightened, fighting off the
burqa should be a matter of honor.
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© 2006, Creators Syndicate