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some great commentary on the topic:
We had a mini-debate in the office yesterday about a new Syrian law banning niqabs, those head coverings that cover everything on the face except for the eyes. I favor the ban, having lived in and spent a very long time in the Muslim world. I would submit that the niqab and burqa are not Islamic. They are not mentioned or implied as a dress requirement in the Quran. And they are not a garment of choice among Muslim women.|
Others on the board disagree. Their position is that clothing bans, in general, are bad, and that people should be free to wear whatever garment they want in accordance with their religious beliefs. That's great in theory, but the key word here is choice. I've yet to see a survey anywhere in the Muslim world in which women are asked whether they actually choose to wear burqas or niqabs. What I do know is that when women in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan travel to the West and get away from their male minders, they very quickly and enthusiastically get as far away as they can from these clothing items.
It's not their choice to wear niqabs and burqas. It's the choice of the men in their lives -- their husbands, brothers and fathers. In cultures where women are not free to make their own choices, I say, there is a role for government to play in telling men unequivocally: You will not impose your backward codes on women as a means of dominating them.
When free choice comes to those countries and infiltrates every aspect of their cultures, then it'll be time to lift the bans. But until that day comes, I say the government of Syria is correct in imposing the ban.
What about France? Isn't it a country where free choice rules the day? For people who have adopted France's Western culture, absolutely. But thousands of immigrants from the Muslim world have formed insular communities in France where they continue to impose the strictures of the cultures from which they came. Within those communities, there is no freedom of choice for some women. The ban allows them to say "no" when males in their homes try to dictate a harsh dress code for them.
It's easy to see a ban as harsh when you view it from a Western perspective, where women are free to do as they please. But we can't assume that's the case for all women, across the board. This is not a question of religious expression. It's a question of male domination over women. Ban the niqab and burqa, and you whittle away at that domination.