USA Today: Niqab ban is a bad move

USA Today: Niqab ban is a bad move

From the realm of truly terrible ideas comes this: Parts of Europe suddenly seem enthralled with banning the burqa and niqab, Islamic attire that hides the face.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has pushed the idea for months. He wants to create a new crime, “inciting to hide the face” in public, punishable by a fine of $185. Next door in Belgium, similar legislation has passed one house of Parliament. Bans are under discussion, with uncertain outcome, in Switzerland and the Netherlands as well. In another measure of growing European angst about Islam, Switzerland has banned the construction of minarets, the prayer towers on mosques.

But France, home to a third of Europe’s Muslims, is the epicenter of the debate, and the current proposal is the second round in a longer fight. France banned Muslim head scarves in schools and government offices in 2004. The new plan goes further, applying not just to public facilities or security checkpoints (which would make sense) but to all public places.

Sarkozy and others justify this on the grounds that face-covering veils are a symbol of the oppression of women, an expression of radicalism and, most important, an offense to France’s rigidly secular state. There is some truth to all of this. For reasons deeply rooted in French history, France officially treats religion as something to be practiced in private but muffled in public, and the nation is obsessive about protecting a homogenous culture. The concept is so alien to freewheeling U.S. ways that Americans might be tempted to see the entire debate as just another French anomaly, akin to its worries about the cultural impact of Disney or McDonald’s.

But religion isn’t a Big Mac, and the spreading bans are a marker of desperation as Europe struggles to deal with its large and estranged Muslim communities. The continent is home to more than five times as many Muslims as the United States, and its nations lack America’s knack for assimilating immigrants. Muslims live mostly among themselves as an economic underclass. Many of the young are underemployed, restless and resentful. Zacarius Moussaoui, the 9/11 conspirator, sprang from such roots. So did Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch Muslim who murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

Surely, banning any peaceful Muslim religious practice is a needless affront that hands ammunition to radical mullahs who recruit others for similar missions by claiming that there is a Western “war on Islam.”

It is not as if the streets of Paris are teeming with burqa-clad women. The French Interior Ministry estimates that only 1,900 women in the entire country (population: 65 million) wear veils that fully hide the face. In Belgium, it’s a few hundred.

This is a threat?

As for Sarkozy’s claim that the burqas and niqabs oppress women, he is partly right. Men sometimes force them on their wives and daughters. Burqas, particularly, are controversial even in the Muslim world. But there are also plenty of women who wear them by choice.

There’s little the U.S. can do about any of this, even by persuasion. The cultural gap is too vast, and France has no First Amendment guaranteeing individual freedom. All the same, common sense suggests that telling women what they can wear is not only unjust. It seems certain to backfire                                           Source