HASSAN: The burka and niqab are giving Islam a bad name

Hassan has a point:

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s comments on Muslim dress caused a tsunami last year, and the ripples are still being felt. He asked why Muslim women should wear a burka or niqab, which makes them look like “letterboxes”.

It certainly wasn’t prudent for a prime minister to poke fun at Muslim women, and some alleged his analogy caused a spike in anti-Muslim sentiment. In his defense, Johnson did support a Muslim woman’s right to wear whatever she chooses, but his implied question remains a pertinent one: Why choose such a garment when all it ever does is give Islam a bad name?

Predictably, the “letterbox” jibe drew out Muslim activists. They defended the niqab as a personal choice or as something that makes women feel secure. Yet, no matter how they try to defend it, such Muslim garb is cumbersome, patriarchal and even dangerous, and it limits opportunities for women in otherwise free and open societies.

An article by Sarah Baxter on this issue in The Times of London this week caught my eye. It was entitled I am no snowflake, but the niqab scares me. To Baxter, if the niqab symbolizes anything it is the unsettling reminder that women in much of the world are still repressed, and the past century’s progress in women’s emancipation in developed countries may be “just a blip in history”.

Baxter’s disdain and fear are justified. Why create a walking barrier between the wearer and the confidently unmasked rest of the world? Concealment is what the niqab does best; its very reason for being is to conceal that female allure. But can’t it also conceal a whole lot more, even weapons?

The faithful offer endless justifications, apart from the standard one about looking unsexy: to “attain closeness” with Allah, to make a political statement, and to ensure Islam’s precepts are being fully observed. Advocates here in Canada have even offered the specious argument that, far from being patriarchal, donning the niqab is a feminist choice for a woman. Perhaps they are implying that in this #MeToo era, swaddling medieval clothing will keep them safe!

Retreating behind a mask is an odd action to call feminist. The most extreme Muslim garment, the burka, reflects ultra-conservative interpretations by men. It is valued by cruel misogynists like the Taliban as a convenient means of repressing women. The moderately less restrictive niqab serves to marginalize women in Saudi Arabia. All of this garb is nothing but an endorsement of the chauvinism and patriarchy that defined seventh-century Arabia.

And it has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, covering the hair and face is a practice uncritically inherited from the patriarchal cultures that preceded Islam. Women who don the niqab should take a closer look at the requirements of their faith. The recommendation is merely to dress modestly. The language of the Quran is vague and always followed by a reassurance of forgiveness if its injunctions on the matter cannot be met.

In fact, the main principle behind Islam’s modest attire is not to draw attention to women. But the political statement women make by wearing the niqab has the opposite effect. If they care about the reputation of the faith they profess to love, they should consider how the burka and niqab, as recognized symbols of separation and oppression, continue to give Islam a bad name.

Source: HASSAN: The burka and niqab are giving Islam a bad name

Dutch lower house approves limited ban on burqas, niqabs

Somewhat more restrictive than Quebec’s Bill 62 given that it also covers public transport:

Lawmakers in the lower house of the Dutch parliament on Tuesday approved a limited ban on “face-covering clothing” including Islamic veils and robes such as the burqa and niqab.

The legislation, approved by a large majority in the 150-seat lower house, must now be approved by the upper house of parliament before it can be signed into law.

In a text message to The Associated Press, anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders called the limited ban, “a step in the right direction” and said he will push for a full burqa ban if his Freedom Party wins elections in March.

Studies suggest that only a few hundred women in the Netherlands wear niqabs or full-face burqas, but successive governments have attempted to ban the garments, following the example of European countries such as France and Belgium.

The Dutch proposal, described by the government as “religion-neutral,” does not go as far as the complete bans in those countries. It applies on public transport and in education institutions, health institutions such as hospitals, and government buildings.

In a debate last week that paved the way for Tuesday’s swift vote, Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk acknowledged that debate about the burqa had played a major role in the ban. But Plasterk, who is from the centre-left Labor Party, said that in a free country like the Netherlands people should be allowed to appear in public with their faces covered, if they want to, but that in government buildings, schools and hospitals people need to be able to look each other in the face.

The maximum fine for breaching the ban, which also covers ski masks and full-face helmets, is just over 400 euros ($425).

Source: Dutch lower house approves limited ban on burqas, niqabs – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI: Woman wearing burka denied service in Edmonton shop because of ‘no-mask policy’

Will be interesting to see whether a complaint is filed and if so, how will it be handled:

The owner of a north Edmonton shoe repair store says the reason he refused to serve a woman wearing a burka was motivated by safety, not religious or cultural reasons.

“We have a no-mask policy in the store and I certainly cannot discuss any race, religion, politics on the (sales) floor,” said Ryan Vale, owner of Edmonton Shoe Repair in Northgate Centre mall.

The response comes in the wake of accusations from 19-year-old Sarii Ghalab who claimed Vale told her he could not serve her because it goes against his ethical beliefs.

“He blatantly told her not to touch anything in his store and that he will not offer her any service,” Ghalab’s sister wrote in a Reddit post while searching for online advice.

A burka is a traditional dress worn by some Muslim women that covers everything except the eyes.

Ghalab later told CBC News that she tried to deliver flowers to Vale along with a letter explaining the reasons she wears the burka. But she said he simply ushered her out of the store.

Vale said that isn’t the case.

“I certainly did not bring up the issue of race,” said Vale, pointing out a hand-written sign on his counter saying “Please, for security reasons no facial coverings Thank you” as well as another printout saying “For security reasons NO MASKED CUSTOMERS ALLOWED” with a silhouette of a head wearing a balaclava.

“That’s the way it’s always been. I know lots of businesses adhere to that business — strictly a no-mask, veiled mask, policy in the store; for white people, black people, dogs, anything. Please show who you are for safety,” Vale said.

Ghalab said she isn’t looking for retribution (though her sister posted she would file a human rights complaint) and the incident details remain he-said-she-said.

Source: Woman wearing burka denied service in Edmonton shop because of ‘no-mask policy’

Australia’s Parliament House Lifts Face Veil Ban – NYTimes.com

Update on earlier story and follow-up to PM Abbott’s expression that ban was wrong:

The announcement was made a few hours before the end of the final sitting day of Parliaments last two-week session and had no practical effect.

Hours before Parliament was to resume on Monday, the Department of Parliamentary Services, or DPS, said in a statement that people wearing face coverings would again be allowed in all public areas of Parliament House.

It said face coverings would have to be removed temporarily at the security check point at the front door so that staff could “identify any person who may have been banned from entering Parliament House or who may be known, or discovered, to be a security risk.”

“Procedures are still in place to ensure that DPS security manage these procedures in a sensitive and appropriate manner,” the statement said without elaborating.

The ban on face veils in the public galleries had been widely condemned as a segregation of Muslim women and a potential breach of federal anti-discrimination law.

Australia’s Parliament House Lifts Face Veil Ban – NYTimes.com.