why I oppose the wearing of the niqab in Western secular society

As I write this, the gunman from the train is being interrogated by the anti-terrorist brigade at DGSI headquarters located in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. (see previous post re terrorist attack thwarted on train from Amsterdam to Paris).

The profile of the assailant, as everyone knows by now, is a Moroccan man linked with a radical Islamist movement.  He lived in Spain and was known to frequent a Salafist mosque there.

Salafism is an ultra-conservative Sunni movement whose doctrine is to practice fundamentalist Islam.  The Salafi movement is synonymous with Wahhabism, a fanatical and extremist Saudi-sponsored version of Islam.

This morning I awoke with the following thoughts running through my head – what are the causes of Islamic extremism?  What’s the tipping point?  What turns a moderate Muslim, or a non-Muslim, into a terrorist?  Poverty?  Unemployment?  A sense of purposelessness?  Discrimination or displacement?  An absence of love, of recognition?  Or just plain zealotry?

Such individuals are easily seduced by Wahhabism.  Promoted by hate preachers in mosques or over the internet, this radical ideology is  financed by Saudi Arabia (and other ultra-conservative Gulf states like Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrein.)  Mosques all over America, Canada, the U.K., France and other Western nations are under Saudi-Wahhabi influence and I blame all of those (Western) governments for their laxism in tackling this ticking timebomb.

A by-product of this radical ultraconservative Sunni Islam is the wearing of the burka or niqab and only last week I had an exchange with Toronto blogger, Beth, about the subject of Muslim women in Canada wearing the niqab.  I’m opposed to it.  In fact, the only advantage I can see in wearing one is if you’re having a bad hair day, like, a really bad hair day. 

Canada isn’t Saudi Arabia.  Nor are any other Western countries and I wonder if liberal-minded Western citizens understand that what hides behind the “piece of fabric” called the niqab is not only a woman, but something much larger.  What hides behind the fabric is a pernicious influence of political repression, namely fundamentalism.  It’s this opacity, not to mention the distortion of Islamic texts, that I oppose.  The niqab is used as a tool to subjugate women.  The cultish wearing of the full face veil (in public) is also a barrier to communication, community relations and integration. 

these women don't look free to me

these women don’t look free to me

Here’s what I wrote last week (with some additions) in my exchange with Beth from Toronto –

As for the niqab-clad women…when Sarkozy passed the law in France banning the wearing of the niqab/burqa in public, my first reaction – as a Canadian – was one of dissent.  I saw it as an infringement of civil liberties.  People should be entirely FREE to wear what they want and no government should dictate the clothing habits of its citizens. After reflection, however, I changed my mind and I now agree with this French law. Why? Because covering one’s face and body under a tent corresponds NOT AT ALL to the values of modern women.  We didn’t march in the streets nor burn our bras only to turn the clock back a thousand years.  I’m all for diversity, but not one that confines me to a black shapeless suffocating prison.  I’m all for recognizing individuals as equals, but if I can’t see the face of the other individual, how can they be equal?

Opponents to the burqa ban argue that Western liberal democracies allow for freedom of speech, religion and expression. This is true, but what, then, are niqabi-women expressing?  That concealing their identity is a good or “empowering” thing?  That wearing the niqab is a religious obligation that brings them closer to their god?  The niqab has nothing to do with religion.  Nowhere is it mentioned in the Koran that a woman must wear this garment. This clothing requirement has been distorted by religious zealots.

The niqab is a tool of indoctrination used to control, subjugate and marginalize women.  I question why any Western secular society claiming to be enlightened allows this mediaeval misogynistic garb to be worn.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that not banning the niqab in Western secular societies is tantamount to not only colluding with this same misogynistic mindset, but legitimizing Islamist fundamentalism.  In this respect, Western governments are misguided in their attempts to promote an image of diversity, tolerance and multiculturalism.  Incidentally, what happened to the notion of melting pot whose definition is “a place where a variety of cultures and individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole.”  I don’t see these niqab-wearers melting.

In June 2009, President Sarkozy stated that full-face veils were “not welcome” in France.  He added that the ban on wearing them in public is to protect women from being forced to cover their faces and to uphold France’s secular values.

But all this is a symptom of a much larger problem which, as I mentioned above, is the funding of Western mosques by Saudi Arabia and the spreading of Wahhabism abroad.  And this brings us back to the bomber on the train from Amsterdam to Paris.

We need to be vigilant. And informed. That’s why I loved The Bishopsgate Institute in London (link below).  One of the posters on their corridor wall reads – The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

That’s my motto.  Have a good weekend.IMG_4704


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