“The level of hypocrisy in this debate beggars belief – while we criticize countries who force women to put clothes on, we can force them to take them off for the sake of ‘liberation.’ ” — Intissar Kherigi
Belgium is looking to be the first European country to ban the niqab — a traditional head scarf-veil combo worn by Muslim women that covers the entire face except for the eyes. Lawmakers say the niqab hides the identity of women and creates a barrier between them and society.
Parliamentary member Daniel Bacquelaine introduced the bill. He says such a garment isn’t acceptable in a “tolerant society.”
“We cannot allow someone to claim the right to look at others without being seen,” Bacquelaine said. “It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and enclose an individual.”
The move toward banning traditional Muslim veils and headscarves is a trend spreading across Europe. In 2004, France cited the principle of “secularism” as reason to outlaw headscarves in its schools.
The argument that such laws are necessary is a weak one. The argument that such laws promote “secularism” and “tolerance” is downright ridiculous. How can a law promote tolerance by being intolerant of individuals’ beliefs and choices?
Forcing Muslim women to remove the niqab is like forcing orthodox Jewish men to shave their beards. Both are worn because of deep, religious convictions.
To be sure, some Muslim women have no choice and are forced to cover themselves. As a feminist woman, I could not be more opposed to the wearing of garments such as the hijab, niqab and burka. To me, they are symbols of religious and patriarchal oppression. But my convictions do not give me the right to force Muslim women, or men, to forsake theirs.
As researcher for Human Rights Watch Judith Sunderland points out, the debate about whether or not to ban the niqab is really one about individual liberty:
“It’s really fundamentally about the proper role of the state in matters relating to religion and personal autonomy.”