Holland has just recently declared it would ban the burqa, and other face veils, worn by Muslim women. It will be the strictest law of its kind so far in Europe, and follows a number of other nations which have moved in similar directions. The Dutch government justified the move on security grounds. The Netherlands has had a long-standing reputation for tolerance and social liberalism, but that is now undergoing a readjustment, as problems with integration and social cohesion continue to plague the ethnically-diverse nation.
In 2004 France banned the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, in public schools, along with other religious symbols. While criticised at the time, today most European nations are also looking at such restrictions. This all has to do with the growing problem of Islamisation and the radical redefinition of what Europe is all about.
Writing in the latest Weekly Standard, Olivier Guitta traces the historical background to these moves, and notes the reasons why liberal democracies are finding they must take a stand against radical Islamism.
Consider Italy for example. One member of parliament, Daniela Santanche, told a local imam that the veil was not a religious symbol nor ordered in the Koran. The imam replied: “The veil is an obligation required by God. Those who do not believe that are not Muslims. You’re ignorant, you’re false. You sow hatred, you’re an infidel.”
Says Guitta , “Coming from an imam, this rant carried almost the weight of a fatwa, or religious edict, in certain quarters, where it could be seen as a death sentence. Santanche has been given 24-hour police protection. She says she is speaking out because Muslim women forced to wear the veil have asked her to. She told the Sunday Times, ‘It’s time to turn our backs on the politically correct. It’s a question not of religion but of human rights’.”
In Islamic countries more moderate Muslims are also calling for an end to the mandatory wearing of the veil. In countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, there are growing attempts to free women from such compulsory clothing regimes. But traditionalists have not been easily swayed:
“For Islamists, the imperative to veil women justifies almost any means. Sometimes they try to buy off resistance. Some French Muslim families, for instance, are paid 500 euros (around $600) per quarter by extremist Muslim organizations just to have their daughters wear the hijab. This has also happened in the United States. Indeed, the famous and brave Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan recently told the Jerusalem Post that after she moved to the United States in 1991, Saudis offered her $1,500 a month to cover her head and attend a mosque.”
He continues, “But what Islamists use most is intimidation. A survey conducted in France in May 2003 found that 77 percent of girls wearing the hijab said they did so because of physical threats from Islamist groups. A series in the newspaper Libération in 2003 documented how Muslim women and girls in France who refuse to wear the hijab are insulted, rejected, and often physically threatened by Muslim males. One of the teenage girls interviewed said, ‘Every day, bearded men come to me and advise me strongly on wearing the veil. It is a war. For now, there are no dead, but there are looks and words that do kill’. Muslim women who try to rebel are considered ‘whores’ and treated as outcasts.”
In the light of such pressure and intimidation, it is worth asking why the Islamists are so insistent on this point. Guitta explains: “The obvious answer is that it is a means of social control. Not coincidentally, it is one of the only issues on which Sunni and Shia extremists agree. It’s not by chance that use of the hijab really took off after Iran’s Islamic regime came to power in 1979. Some Shiite militias in Iraq have actually started forcing women – Muslim or not – to wear the veil or face the consequences. If this issue were not vital for Islamists, how can one explain their reaction when France banned the hijab in public schools? Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, ‘strongly condemned’ President Chirac’s decision and threatened actions against France. Likewise, Sheikh Fadlallah, founder and spiritual leader of Hezbollah, wrote to Chirac threatening ‘likely complications’ for France. Mohammad Khatami, former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, called on the French government to ‘cancel this unjust law’.”
Guitta then cites Professor Iqbal Al-Gharbi, of the Islamic Zaytouna University in Tunis, on the Islamists’ strategy: “The veil is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the veil, there is the regressive interpretation of the sharia [Koranic law]. There are the three essential inequalities which define this interpretation: inequality between man and woman, between Muslim and non-Muslim, between free man and slave.”
Concludes Guitta, “‘Islam is the solution’ is the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead, the real solution to the veil problem in Europe and in modern countries elsewhere is the defeat of radical Islam, making possible the peaceful integration of normal Muslims into Western societies on Western terms.”
If the Dutch, so long known for their social libertarianism, can finally wake up and take some much-needed steps of reform, there may yet be hope for Europe. But much more needs to be done. The liberation of Muslim women is just the first of many needed changes.