Opinion | Her Headache with Face Veils

While banning the face veil may be within Europe’s rights, is it the right thing to do?

First, let’s get one thing straight, the niqab, and the burqa are not the same thing. While both are additions to the hijab, a general term used to describe covering of the head, face or body out of modesty, the niqab covers the face except the eyes, and the burqa covers the entire face with a grille in front of the eyes to allow the women to “see.”

Let’s try an exercise: What comes to your mind when you see a woman in a face veil? Be honest… I want you, dear reader, to please take a minute to face your own truth before you continue reading. Now, hold that thought; write it down if you need to.

Now, let’s talk about the face veil, which sadly has come to represent Islam, since it’s worn mainly by women of the faith. First fact: The face veil is not even mentioned in the Quran. Second fact: It is banned during the Hajj pilgrimage in the holiest site of Islam, Mecca.

So what is it then? The face veil is a cultural expression of a particular time in history that predates Islam, principally the haram culture of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires that covered the Arab world. Remember the opening of the movie Aladdin? Those women were wearing the niqab, the full face veil that remained in parts of the Arab world despite the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, spreading with the Arab colonization of the Middle East and parts of Asia. The cultural practice became intertwined with Islam because of the methods by which Arabs colonized neighboring regions, that is, through war and the exercise of power. And today a majority of people believe – falsely – that it is part of religious practice. Any Muslim who tells you this is either ill versed in Islamic history and the Quran or does not want to face the truth because of identity politics.

But that is, in fact, the heart of the issue: identity politics and, well, power. Across Europe there is a sweeping movement to ban full-face veils, including the burkini, in an effort to counter the rise of far-right movements that are gaining traction across the continent.

By doing so, European governments are ostracizing a group of people in the name of “integration” in order to prevent the collapse of their hold on power. While there is a special European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, it’s not hard for me to then question Europe’s desire for tolerance when it bans cultural expression.

Is it Worth it?

While Europe is within its full rights to ban the face veil, it sets a dangerous precedent to ban other pieces of clothing, such as the religious headscarf. The debate of “to ban, not to ban,” comes at a very sensitive point in history where Muslims feel persecuted for being Muslim and rightfully so. Let us be honest: Since 9/11, the so-called War on Terror has been a war on the Muslim world, where Muslims are also the main casualties. It has given birth to the false narrative of the extreme far right in Europe and the Middle East that has spread across the world like wildfire.

And now Muslims feel they are victims of discrimination and hate. Tensions are high on all sides. By advancing laws that are designed specifically to target Muslims, the West is alienating rather than integrating these growing communities.

I have my own contradictory views concerning the face veil that concern themselves with the freedom of choice and expression versus freedom from oppression. As a Muslim woman, I recognize that Muslim-dominated countries need to clean up their act starting with their relations with, and views of, women. As Muslim women in the West, I acknowledge that Western governments are more respectful of democratic rights, and therefore, I am very grateful for the protection of choice.

Still, ask yourself: Is a ban worth it? The more you target a person’s identity and make it, and them, a source of fear, the more you alienate them. Does it even matter what comes to mind when you see a woman in a face veil, when what is at stake are human rights, freedom and safety?

“While Europe is within its full rights to ban the face veil, it sets a dangerous precedent to ban other pieces of clothing such as the religious headscarf.”

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Layla Huriya
Layla Huriya is a Muslim female with roots in Turkey. Given the current political climate in Turkey, (arbitrary detention, travel bans, assaults on free speech), Layla does not feel safe providing her real name. She hopes one day in the future to write in the open without fear of persecution or retaliation against her family members.

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