On the other hand, what is the value of a good picture on a drivers license when it has to be compared to a veil?
I am appalled to hear the defence of the niqab or burka in Europe. A bizarre political correctness has tied the tongues of those who would normally rally to defend women's rights but who are now instead sacrificing those very rights in the name of fighting an increasingly powerful right wing.
Every time I return to Cairo from New York City, where I now live, I wonder what Hoda Shaarawi, the pioneering Egyptian feminist, would say if she could see how many of her sisters are disappearing behind the face veil. Returning from an international women's conference in Italy in 1923 " yes, we had feminists that early in Egypt " Shaarawi famously removed her face veil at a Cairo train station, declaring it a thing of the past. We might not have burned our bras in Egypt but some have described Shaarawi's gesture as even more incendiary for its time.
And yet here we are, almost a century later, arguing over a woman's "right" to cover her face. What is lost in those arguments is that the ideology that promotes the niqab (the total body covering that leaves just the eyes exposed) and the burka (the garment which covers the eyes with a mesh) does not believe in the concept of women's rights to begin with.
It is an ideology that describes women alternately as candy, a diamond ring or a precious stone that needs to be hidden to prove her "worth". That is not a message Muslims learn in our holy book, the Qur'an, nor is the face veil prescribed by the majority of Muslim scholars.
It is instead a pillar of the ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam known as Salafism. It is associated with Saudi Arabia, where I spent most of my adolescence and where it is clear that women are effectively perpetual children, forbidden as they are from driving, from travelling alone and from even the simplest of surgical procedures without the permission of a male "guardian". I detest the niqab and the burka for their erasure of women and for dangerously equating piety with that disappearance " the less of you I can see, the closer you must be to God. I defend a woman's right to cover her hair if she chooses but the face is central to human interaction and so the ideologues who promote its covering are simply misogynists. ....
it'll probably cause more problems than remedies.
The burqa ban debate
21 May /2010
For and against: Female subjugation or ignoring the rights of women? Reverend Fred Nile and Muslim author and lawyer Randa Abdel-Fattah present their case.
The burqa is a war on women
May 21, 2010/the Age
A bizarre form of political correctness is preventing us from an open discussion about what is, in fact, female subjugation.
It would seem there are some things in Australia we are not allowed to discuss. A ban on the burqa is clearly one of them. But the time has come to get over our fears and cultural fragilities - and grow up. The call to ban the burqa is receiving serious consideration in European parliaments. And it should here, too.
Belgian legislators voted last month to outlaw the burqa in public places. On Wednesday, a bipartisan resolution passed by the French parliament deploring the burqa - on the grounds of "dignity" and "equality of men and women" - was presented to the French cabinet, and a ban is expected later this year. Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada are also grappling with the issue.
But in Australia, in a sign of cultural timidity and intellectual weakness, we seem intent on shunning any meaningful debate about the burqa and its place in a liberal democracy. At one level this is understandable, given the issue has become a confusing tussle between feminists and well-meaning liberals; nervous libertarians and right-wing ideologues; and the usual smattering of racists and dog-whistling shock-jocks.
Unfortunately for Muslim women, the burqa is not just a garment. It has become a weapon in a war of ideology: a war in which women are the battleground and their rights and freedoms are at stake.
Here's the problem. Those who are critical of calls to ban the burqa perceive it to be an attack on personal freedoms. They view the burqa as an individual choice - which is arguable - and a religious requirement, which it is not. They look straight past the woman hidden from public view under heavy cloth, and instead applaud our multicultural tolerance. This is a mistake. The burqa has nothing to do with ethnic diversity and everything to do with a war against women. Those who wear it, and those who insist it be worn, subscribe to an ideology in which women are inferior sexual temptresses, whose female form is a problem and must be covered. This is based on the contradictory proposition that men are both superior and yet unable to control their sexual urges if they see women in their natural human state. If this wasn't deadly serious, it would be funny.
Award-winning Muslim journalist Mona Eltahawy says she is appalled to hear Europeans defend the burqa and niqab. "A bizarre political correctness has tied the tongues of those who would normally rally to defend women's rights," she says. Yet, to argue directly with Islamic fundamentalists about gender equality is fruitless. According to Eltahawy, "the ideology that promotes the niqab and burqa does not believe in the concept of women's rights to begin with".
The burqa and the niqab shroud the full body, covering every part of a woman except her feet. The niqab includes a slit for the eyes, whereas the burqa has mesh netting. Malalai Joya, an Afghan MP and a devout Muslim, hates wearing it. "It's not only oppressive," she says, "but it's more difficult than you might think. You have no peripheral vision. And it's hot and suffocating under there."
When visiting Australia recently, Joya didn't pack her burqa. She is one of the many millions of Muslim women around the world who choose not to wear it - when they don't have to. Numerous Islamic scholars, men and women, argue that there is not a single reference in the Koran that mandates women must cover their face and bodies and hide themselves from public view. The Koran does call for modesty, which some interpret as an obligation to wear the headscarf. But even that is widely questioned by progressive Muslims scholars such as Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. Furious at Islamic extremists for their "gender apartheid", Fatah insists that even the hijab is being used by fundamentalists as a "political tool" who have turned it into "the central pillar of Islam".
Outside Australia, there are plenty of Muslim women who despise the burqa and niqab as much as I do, and are prepared to say so. British journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a Shiite Muslim who pulls no punches. "I abhor the burqa," she wrote in The Independent, saying that she was "offended" by the presumption that women who wear it "are more pious and true" than her.
There is no doubt that women who don this ostentatious costume in the West are proud of their piety. One such woman told me, "the niqab is submission and servitude to my Almighty Creator" and that I had no right to question her choice to wear it. Well, I do. What God demands men roam free while women wear a sackcloth that restricts their movement and dehumanises them? What God wants to punish women in this way? What God hates women so much that he restricts her right to be man's equal?
The answer is obvious. No God. This is the work of men - who claim a direct link to the divine - and wish to keep women subordinate and under their control. It's that simple.
Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra-based ABC news presenter.
Coming to individual freedom, why should a person, because she is Muslim, would have the right to go around masked, when I don't have that right?
I still lean toward giving people the freedom to choose.