Al-Qaida is threatening to retaliate in response to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's declaration in June that the burqa is unwelcome in his country and against French values. According to CNN, the terrorist organization has listed threats on extremist Islamic Web sites.
I have been asked to comment on this topic and will summarize my thoughts with the following points: Sarkozy's comment that the burqa "is not a religious sign; it is a sign of subjugation, of the submission of women," is absolutely correct when a Muslim woman wears it against her free will. Forcing women and girls to wear the Islamic dress is relatively common in many Muslim societies, which is clearly subjugation. On the other hand, when Muslim women freely choose to wear the burqa, it could be a sign of religiousness and piousness free of subjugation. The burqa is a sign of superiority over others, according to mainstream Islamic teaching and interpretations. It was meant to distinguish between “free” and moral Muslim women, who were allowed to wear it, from “slave” women who were considered “cheap” or less precious than the former, and therefore not allowed to wear it (see Tafseer Ibn Katheir for Quran 33:59). Salafi Islamists believe that women who do not wear the hijab (or "mutabarijat") will be in hell. This has facilitated in some Muslim societies a sense of hatred toward cultures that do not force women to cover themselves. In the last few decades this phenomenon has also resulted in the Islamization of many societies and exacerbated the problem of radical Islam in many parts of the world. For example, areas in Iraq where most Muslim women wear Islamic dress, such as Al-Anbar, have had individuals instigate much more violence in comparison to people from other areas where women are less covered, such as Kurdistan.
Furthermore, statistically speaking, incidents of Islamist-based terrorism in countries that prohibit Islamic dress, such as Tunisia, are much lower than in countries that allow or promote it (such as Algeria, Egypt, and Pakistan). This is probably because banning the hijab slows the spread of Islamism in the society. I support Sarkozy's proposal yet I would ban the burqa for security reasons rather than for religious ones. In fact, the ban could be on any face covering, as criminals can conceal their faces to avoid recognition while committing crimes. A security-based ban on face covering would be equally effective in preventing burqas in the streets of France and less confrontational with radical Islamic groups. Making concessions now to allow the burqa to be worn would not only be counterproductive, but also threaten the sovereignty and security of free nations. This is because radical Muslims will begin think that they can continue to use threatening means in order to influence other policies.
Decreasing the prevalence of the burqa and hijab can greatly weaken the Islamism phenomenon in the long run. However, it should be noted that laws banning such coverings are the least effective and the most confrontational approach. Supporting certain ideological and covert psychological approaches can be much more effective and ensure that countries trying to decrease the prevalence of the hijab and burqa face a minimal security risk.
On this note, the hijab phenomenon could actually be used against the Islamists. This article of clothing is a vital tool radicals have used to control women and Islamize societies.
Sending a strong message to al-Qaida that France may respond to terrorism on its soil by banning the hijab in public places (not just in schools) in addition to the ban on the burqa could deter many radicals from attacking France. This is because when these terrorists realize that their attacks can completely backfire and result in a complete ban on the hijab, thereby undermining their ultimate dream of Islamizing the country, they will think twice before launching an attack.
To see more columns by Dr. Tawfik Hamid, go to www.Tawfikhamid.com
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