Banning the burqa and niqab: Islamists pressure human rights organizations

As we know, France has banned the niqab (the face covering that reveals only the eyes) and also the burqa (“the sack”), if it also covers the face. Before we watch the video below, let’s review the meaning of these Muslim garments, which are often confused with each other.


One thing that sticks with me about this dress is an experience I had (and have recounted before) when I visited the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey.  There, as in all public universities in Turkey, the shayla, or headscarf, was banned, a more severe restriction than in France. I met with several groups of students, and many of the women were Muslim. When I asked them how they felt about the ban, they were uniformly in favor of it. When I asked why, their answers were also the same: if the shayla were approved headwear, and they didn’t wear one, other Muslim women who did would shame them for “not being good Muslims.” In other words, although wearing one would be technically optional, in reality it would be mandatory, as social pressure would lead to its universal adoption.

This is the point that Gita Sahgal and Maryam Namazie make below when they argue for banning of these garments (they are, after all, not really the entirety of a woman’s outfit but outerwear, beneath which Muslim women can have don kinds of Western fashion). Sahgal and Namazie claim that if optional, social pressure from both men and women, as well as from clerics, would take the concept of “optional dress” off the table.  This is the subject of one of Namazie and colleagues’ “Bread and Roses” broadcasts below, which is well worth watching. The link was sent by reader Hardy, who added this comment:

I recently watched an interesting discussion of the hijab hosted by Maryam Namazie, which gave probably the best justification for the burka ban in France I’ve yet seen. At around 8 mins [JAC: actually 7:55] there is an especially interesting interview with Gita Sahgal, who used to be the head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International, before being fired by that organisation for criticising its relationship with Islamists such as Moazzam Begg. She explains how Amnesty and numerous other human rights groups have effectively been captured by Islamism, to the extent that they simply refuse to investigate human rights abuses that might upset their new Islamist friends. In particular, this means that the victims of forced veiling can expect no support from Western human rights organisations. Given that nobody is policing forced veiling, and the rape culture that travels in its slipstream, Gita argues that banning the veil is completely justified.

Here’s the video. If you’re pressed for time, listen to the 20 minutes beginning at 7:55:

I was surprised to learn that Western human-rights groups have been cowed by some Muslims, some of whose representatives are also trying to get the UN to adopt a ban on criticizing religion (“blasphemy”) as part of the UN’s human-rights agenda.

When you say that this dress is a personal choice, and therefore shouldn’t be banned, ask yourself, “If it truly weren’t required, and there was no opprobrium attached to dressing however one wanted, including wearing skirts that show the legs or blouses that show the arms, would all women in countries like Saudi Arabia really continue to dress this way?”  I would argue “no,” because the uniformity of dress reflects not a universality of individual choice, but coercion by coreligionists. The minute those women get by themselves in a private home, they take off the burqas and show off their fancy clothing, which supposedly would drive Muslim men to distraction and rape if they ever saw it.


  1. Posted November 2, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink


    • rickflick
      Posted November 2, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink


  2. Mike Barnes
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Very well said. Autobiographies like The Imam’s Daughter by Hannah Shah also describe from the inside the ‘choice’ in matters of dress or makeup available to girls or young women in fundamentalist families: i.e. none.

  3. James C. Trager
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    What surprises me is that Muslim men do not sufficiently resent and speak out against being characterized as sex-crazed, weak-willed, and so lacking in self-control (and in their faith!) that they are helpless to avoid sinning upon seeing the arms, face, arms or feet of a woman.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps in a culture which has evolved toward serious misogyny, the men begin to enjoy the privilege of being in control. They perhaps begin to enjoy the swagger. Weak-willed is another way of saying ultra-masculine.

  4. Steven Obrebski
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Readers who know French should check out the
    following collection of burqua joke cartoons sup-plide by the magazine Charlie Hebdo.
    Burqalembours | Charlie Hebdo
    Translate this page Charlie Hebdo
    C’est la philosophie Luz dans le grand débat national sur la burqa. Les burqalembours sont réunis dans un petit recueil en forme de burqa dispo en librarie, …
    Anyone who pursues cartoons in Charlie Hebdo should know that it is well known for its bad taste but accepted, nevertheless, by many.I am not sure it would be legal to post some of the cartoons in WEIT. Perhaps Prof. Jerry can decide?

    • Posted November 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Even a Canadian flag in 3 burqas!

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    That was a really good interview & is consistent with what women have told me as well. A friend who was once Muslim, then JW, then I have no idea what, told me that women who were veiled judged other women as less holy. My friend would get angry whenever she saw a veiled woman (to the point that I feared an incident) especially if her head scarf was ornate.

    For me, my opinion changed about the burka and the niqab when I saw women in burkas at Toronto’s Union Station. I often get lost in the subway lately because everything is under construction downtown & I usually just ask someone for help. It occurred to me, as I looked at them, that I would feel uncomfortable talking to them because I couldn’t see their faces. I wouldn’t be able to key in on their expressions or body language, know if my question was welcome, irritating or not understood. It was then that I thought the covering of the face was dastardly because it cuts off these women from having normal human interactions, separating them from the rest of humanity.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      Yes. That seems very right. Even ignoring the security risk of police not knowing what these sacks contain and what their motives might be, the total loss of social connectivity is jarring to contemplate.

    • Posted November 2, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      “…the covering of the face was dastardly because it cuts off these women from having normal human interactions, separating them from the rest of humanity.”

      Well put.

      • Posted November 3, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        And that, sadly, seems to be precisely the point. Many religions do this “insider/outsider” marking thing, but the burqa is a particularly extreme case.

    • eric
      Posted November 3, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Yes, the facial covering is what makes it different from many other ‘fashion’ discussions. It dehumanizes them. Our brains spend a lot of calories reading and interpreting faces, and we interact socially with visibly facially “there” people in ways that are often dramatically different from people who aren’t.

      I would not be in favor of banning any of those shown outfits here in the US because I think the free speech value of choice is more important than the social pressure problem (moreover, the social pressure “problem” is also a matter of free speech: telling someone you think their dress is immoral or unholy *is* free speech. A conservative woman shaming/criticising the clothing choice of a liberal woman is exercising her free speech). But I could probably be easily sold on the Burka because, unlike the others, it covers the face.

  6. Barry Lyons
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    That was a good interview. Thanks for that.

  7. LS
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    After watching, I looked at another YouTube video, this one interviews of women in Britain who wear the niqab. Problem was, they ere so muffled by the cloth, I couldn’t make out what they were saying…

  8. Posted November 2, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Interesting point, that the burka is (or can be) in effect hate speech — shaming women who aren’t wearing it, or worse, implying that they are making themselves a target for rape.

  9. Posted November 2, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    In the UK we’ve had a recent spate of Muslims burning poppies – sold in remembrence of soldiers killed in combat – in protest.

    Some Muslims have retaliated to those other Muslims – by wearing poppy hijabs designed by Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq.

    And of course, the Daily Mail has turned this into a loyalty test by urging Muslim women to wear them.

    Gotta admit I’m torn on this one. Don’t like the hijab, don’t want the government dictating what people wear, quite like this particular hijab and appreciate the thought behind it, hate the Daily Mail and their moral blackmail.

    Being liberal used to be so much simpler.

    • Posted November 2, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      The hijab isn’t too horrible because at least I can converse as a human being with the wearers. The coercion of women is still an issue though.

      • LS
        Posted November 2, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        Looking at the illustrations above, the “shayla” style can easily be a fashion statement, and there are other reasons for women to cover their hair with a scarf. Like bad hair days. I do it occasionally if I have a shawl or scarf and I forgot my hat. Or I’m cooking I toss on a Buff so as not to get hair in my food. Things like that. Intention and context is a lot of this, and that is harder to legislate.

        • eric
          Posted November 3, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

          A lot of the women in my family have, at various times, undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer. It would be a cruel world indeed where such people could not don fashionable scarves and headcoverings because of our concern over muslim social pressure.

  10. Stephen B
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    The First Amendment to our Constitution would effectively preclude such bans in the United States. But this kind of thing makes me queasy anyway.

    I unequivocally oppose forced veiling but is there a way to accomplish that without an outright ban? I don’t know. I’m conflicted.

    I am astonished at the courage of these women who are speaking out and am dismayed at the lack of support for them from many western “liberals”.

    • eric
      Posted November 3, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      is there a way to accomplish that without an outright ban?

      Well pat/standard answer is that the solution to bad speech is more speech. IOW, if you see one woman shaming another woman because of the way she’s dressed, you speak up in defense of the second woman’s right to wear whatever the frak she wants.

  11. Ionescu
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    The ban in France is only a political move. In real life only some politicians try to enforce it. Police does not touch the issue and any town bigger than 10.000 sees these women on the streets daily. Of course, 10.000 is a number I have invented, I have no data to back it up.

  12. Posted November 2, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    My grandmother used to tell me it was “just rude” to talk to people while I was wearing my sunglasses, because they couldn’t see my eyes. I think that would be her response to Niqab and Burqa too.

    I support the French ban, but on feminist grounds. A woman who has been brought up to think women should not have equal rights, choices and decision-making power in all aspects of her life is extremely unlikely to be able to make a free choice about whether or not she wears a Niqab or Burqa.

    Also, the whole idea that women who don’t wear them are valid targets for rape, even when they are children, that is prevalent in some parts of Muslim society (as evidenced by such cases as the one in Rotherham) must be wiped out.

    I continue to be disgusted that many liberal groups are buying into the idea that any criticism of Islam is Islamophobia. My fellow liberals continue to let me down with their failure to call out the abuse of women because they don’t want to offend Muslims. The same people have no problem protesting against sexism within Christianity, for example. They are undermining the work of those who are, sometimes at risk to their own lives, trying to reform Islam.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      “My fellow liberals continue to let me down with their failure to call out the abuse of women because they don’t want to offend Muslims.”
      I am hopeful this is an interim situation. Liberals have the philosophical tools to get around this bias. They might need some time to do it. Perhaps the folks who speak and publish the whole story will eventually achieve some turnaround.

  13. Posted November 2, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink


  14. Diane G.
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    “…who used to be the head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International, before being fired by that organisation for criticising its relationship with Islamists such as Moazzam Begg. She explains how Amnesty and numerous other human rights groups have effectively been captured by Islamism…”

    Amnesty International?!

    I can’t even begin to express how disappointing that is.

    • Marella
      Posted November 2, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

      Ironic isn’t it, that an organisation created to rescue (atheist) communists from prison, should have caved into religious extremists. It does explain why we don’t hear about women sentenced to stoning from AI though. Disgraceful.

    • Posted November 2, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes I was surprised to learn of that as well!

    • Posted November 3, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately, this is part of a broader problem, where so-called progressives on the left have chosen Islamists and apologists for Islam as bedfellows. In truth, there are numerous secularists and critics of Islamic doctrine among Muslims, but they are not getting any airtime. See the following article by a secular Muslim living in New York:

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 5, 2014 at 1:55 am | Permalink

        Good article. Naturally it was in the WSJ, rather than, oh, say, the NYT.

  15. Cat B
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Hearing these details (banning burka, not all forms of head coverings) makes me relieved. There’ll be choice but not extremism. Good. I truly found that wearing shayla in mosques while visiting Turkey ENHANCED the experience of the holy for me. (It’s required in mosques, but not in those turned into museums.) Wearing it on the street was interesting too, though I was nervous at first, but I was glad I experienced it. I was treated very respectfully despite my obvious foreigner status. (And, as an aside, I’m Jewish.)

  16. Posted November 4, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Where is the yashmak? That was the only word for a veil I knew until the last 15 years or so…

    • Posted November 4, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      To be honest, I think no one has the right to tell anyone what to wear or not to wear. If people wish to go naked in public that is fine by me – what I would object to is having to interact – that is speak to – someone wearing a full face veil. If someone wants to wear a hat, a scarf, a dustbin liner etc that is their business.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 4, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Yes, but, the question here is how much of this “wanting” is sincere vs. coerced?

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