The State Department issued a report denouncing what it called "a spike in anti-Islamic sentiment in Europe and Asia." It said that "Muslims also faced new restrictions in 2012 in countries ranging from Belgium, which banned face-covering religious attire in classrooms, to India, where schools in Mangalore restricted headscarves."
The State Department report confuses religious persecution, which is to be condemned, with religions politicization, which is a matter of debate and includes strategies of which the U.S. government should not be a part.
If countries ban the right to pray, broadcast, and write about theology — any theology — this would be a strike against human rights. But Belgium and India do not ban religions per se. In fact, they are more tolerant regarding diverse religious practices than most of the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The Obama administration does not criticize European and Asian governments for deciding to ban prayer or theologically philosophical dissertations, but rather criticizes these countries for banning the hijab or niqab in public places.
The administration views the wearing of the hijab as a religious injunction against all Muslims. This is not the case, as senior theologians have decreed, including al Azhar, and the niqab is not a universal Muslim obligation, as one can see in 53 Muslim-majority countries. It is a matter of choice.
The organized groups calling for a systematic imposition of the niqab represent Islamist forces.
This U.S. position translates politically into an official endorsement by the Obama administration of the Islamist political agenda — under the camouflage of religious freedom.
The Obama administration, by levying charges of Islamophobia against countries that oppose the political agenda of an ideological and political faction comprising those known as Salafists and Khomeinists, has become a partner with these factions against secular, liberal, reformist movements which do not abide by the niqab rule.
It is one thing to defend religious freedom and quite another to defend an ideological agenda.
The niqab is part and parcel of an ideological agenda advanced by Islamists — not a tenet of religious expression observed by all Muslims.
If the Obama administration is worried about the Islamist agenda not yet met by European and Asian countries, it should claim so, but the administration cannot claim defense of a religious injunction against all Muslims if Muslims have not reached a consensus on the practices in question.
It has been noted over the past few years that U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East, the Arab world, and Muslim-majority countries has come increasingly under the influence of pressure groups, identified also as "lobbies," implementing the doctrinal and political agendas of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian Khomeinist regime.
The State Department has been made to believe that the Islamist agenda and the beliefs and values of all Muslims are one, which is grossly inaccurate.
The Obama administration should have learned from recent incidents as well as from past mistakes. First, it should have learned that popular majorities in the countries of the Arab Spring — particularly Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen — are not necessarily followers of Islamist principles.
There is strong opposition from a vast swath of civil society against the Islamist regimes produced by the Arab Spring.
The issue of the hijab and niqab is one of the many that divide Muslim-majority societies.
The brotherhood and the Iranian regime claim that the veil should be a matter of the female's uniform — not only in the region, but also for the women of Muslim communities in the West.
This is the reason their lobbies are attempting to portray the hijab and niqab as an obligation of all Muslim women — and thus a collective religious right above all other considerations in secular societies, including gender equality and public security matters.
Yet the veil, as simply an expression, cannot be imposed on all Muslims, nor can it be extrapolated to be understood as a fundamental religious right for all members of Muslim society.
We therefore recommend that the U.S. government and other governments around the world make a basic distinction. The rights of prayer and related practices that are universal to Muslim communities should be respected by Western and non-Muslim countries.
As a political, but not religious right, the hijab and niqab, should be subject to legal limitations. The United States should not side with one political faction against another in an ideological debate being played out in the Muslim world.
If Washington espouses the agenda of Islamists, it becomes part of the industry of Islamophobia — that is, to create fear about religious persecution in order to support the political agenda of authoritarian Islamist factions.
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy. He is an adviser to members of Congress. Read more reports from Walid Phares — Click Here Now.
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