Daniel Pipes: Ban the Burqa - and the Niqab Too

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org. Click here for his blog.]

Once-exotic forms of Muslim women's head and body garments have now become both familiar in the West and the source of fractious political and legal disputes.

The hijab (a hair-covering) is ever-more popular in Detroit but has been banned from French public schools, discouraged by the International Football Association Board, and excluded from a court in the U.S. state of Georgia.

The jilbab (a garment that leaves only the face and hands exposed) was, in a case partly argued by Tony Blair's wife, first allowed, then forbidden in an English school.

Sultaana Freeman wanted her Florida drivers license to show her in a niqab, but an Orlando court said no.

The niqab (a total covering except for the eyes) became a hot topic when Jack Straw, a British Labour politician, wrote that he"felt uncomfortable" talking to women wearing it. If Quebec election authorities disallow the niqab from voting booths and a judge disallowed it from a Florida driver's license, it is permitted in British courts and a Dutch candidate for municipal office wore one. A British hospital even invented a niqab patients' gown.

The burqa (a total head and body covering) has been barred from classrooms in the UK, is illegal in public places in five Belgian towns, and the Dutch legislature has attempted to ban it altogether. Italy's"Charter of Values, Citizenship and Immigration" calls face coverings not acceptable. A courtroom in the United States has expelled a burqa'ed woman.

In brief, no general rules govern Islamic headwear in the West.

Some observers would ban hijabs from public places, but what legal grounds exist for doing so? Following my rule of thumb that Muslims enjoy the same rights and obligations as other citizens, but not special rights or obligations, a woman's freedom of expression grants her the option to wear a hijab.

In contrast, burqas and niqabs should be banned in all public spaces because they present a security risk. Anyone might lurk under those shrouds – female or male, Muslim or non-Muslim, decent citizen, fugitive, or criminal – with who knows what evil purposes.

Some examples (full details can be found at my weblog entry,"The Niqab and Burqa as Security Threats"): A spectacular act of would-be escape took place in early July, when Maulana Mohammad Abdul Aziz Ghazi, 46, tried to flee the Red Mosque complex in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he had helped lead an insurrection aiming to topple the government. He donned a black burqa and high heels but, unfortunately for him, his height, demeanor, and pot belly gave him away, leading to his arrest.

One of the July 2005 London bombers, Yassin Omar, 26, took on the burqa twice – once when fleeing the scene of the crime, then a day later, when fleeing London for the Midlands.

Other male burqa'ed fugitives include a Somali murder suspect in the United Kingdom, Palestinian killers fleeing Israeli justice, a member of the Taliban fleeing NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the murderer of a Sunni Islamist in Pakistan.

Burqas and niqabs also facilitate non-political criminal behavior. Unsurprisingly, favorite targets of robberies include jewelry stores (examples come from Canada, Great Britain, and India) and banks (Great Britain, Bosnia, and two 2007 attacks in Philadelphia). Curiously, in Kenya, street prostitutes have donned buibuis (which reveals slightly more of the face than a niqab), the better to blend into the night population and avoid the police.

Expressing the universal fear aroused by these garments, a recent Pakistani horror film, Zibahkhana (meaning"slaughterhouse" in Urdu) includes a sadistic cannibalistic killer figure dubbed"Burqa Man."

The practice of covering the face derives from tribal customs that build on Islamic law, not the law itself. For example, some tribeswomen in Saudi Arabia's Al-Kharj region put on the burqa at puberty, then never take it off – not for other women, not for their husbands, and not for their children. These family members typically see the woman's face only when viewing her corpse.

British research offers another reason to drop the burqa and niqab, finding that covered women and their breast-fed children lack sufficient amounts of vitamin D (which the skin absorbs from sunlight) and are at serious risk of rickets.

Nothing in Islam requires turning females into shapeless, faceless zombies; good sense calls for modesty itself to be modest. The time has come everywhere to ban from public places these hideous, unhealthy, socially divisive, terrorist-enabling, and criminal-friendly garments.

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

It is totally off the point to expect Pipes to consider the civil and personal rights implications of his call....as far as he is concerned Arabs and Moslems, women as much as men, should NOT have any!

Except for the fact that this is a public forum it would be as inane as his call to address the question of civil and personal rights with him.

He is on the record as an avid and avowed supporter of all and every imaginable constraints to be imposed on the arch enemies of his racist , rapacious doctrine; Zionism.

Soon enough I expect him to come out publicly advocating birth control for all Arabs and Moslems , soon to be followed by another call for their overall sterelization ; starting with those closest to his beloved Israel.(I would NOT be surprized if he already did, in private of course, among his fellow Zionists, to their tacit appreciation and approval. )

I, personnally, welcome each and every one of his stands and utterances and will do my very best to give them the widest possible public exposure...where it counts of course.
That would be in the Arab and Moslem Worlds for every Arab and Moslem to better appreciate the real mettle of their enemy: Zionism and its advocates.

However and purely out of curiosity it would be interesting to know where Pipes stand re:
-public nudity
-extra marital sex
-gay marriage
-the, perforated, nuptial sheet of some of his ilk.
Purely out of curiosity, no more, no less; it would be quite illuminating.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Simon you usualy do better than that; have you been Pipized?
You make even poor Eckstein look bright!
Is that your real intention?

E. Simon - 8/17/2007

"To question the rationale of laws in your country is not going against the laws necessarily."

I never said it was. In fact, my statement implied anything other than what this quote would suggest it did.

"Anyone has the right to do so by power of voice irregardless of what religion you adhere to."


"And why is it that Muslims as a whole are being collectively implied as Middle Eastern extremists. I'm sure the vast majority of Muslims worldwide do obey the laws of their countries."

Regarding your first sentence, they aren't, and regarding your second sentence, I'm sure they do. What I think you're doing however is conflating between collectivizing and being discerning. These two concepts are actually opposites. What would be collectivizing would be to single out everyone regardless of religion for increased scrutiny. Not all Muslims are terrorists disregarding the laws. But most terrorist activity today is being carried out or attempted by extremists of the Muslim religion. This doesn't mean all Muslims are terrorists that Western governments should scrutinize more intensely. It means that in the absence of Muslims drawing clear distinctions within their communities for what is and is not acceptable, for not drawing clear boundaries on whether terrorism is a part of a condoned jihad in their own particular religious tradition within Islam or not, in the absence of a religious leader clearly speaking for all Muslims or for significant sects within the religion - categorically rejecting this activity, then Muslims in general will be correctly recognized as belonging to the only category to which the bulk of this activity is attributed. It is a shame because they are at over a billion individuals a large group, but much smaller than the over 6 billion individuals as a whole or the 5+ billion others who are not affiliated with the religion that more terrorists than any other are. If it is undesirable to subject a billion to increased scrutiny, then why is it more desirable to subject 5 times that number to increased scrutiny? Of course this scrutiny and use of law-enforcement resources could be resolved in a less unequitable way. But the inability to do so reflects on the failings of Muslim leadership to prevent the terrorism that comes from within their communities. The answers must be sought from there before Muslims can blame others for wanting to use their law enforcement resources judiciously in battling terrorism. After doing this, then maybe agitating against others, such as Western governments and the populations they represent who don't want to deal with Islamic terrorism, wouldn't be such an arrogant, and illogical approach for Muslims to take.

"Correct me if I'm wrong but I haven't heard of there being many incidences revolving around wearing a Burqa in the West. And considering the Burqa is notable for being "Islamic" dress these days, I think it would be to obvious to pose with it."

You might be right here, but the problem is that in some parts of the world, women are comprising more suicide bombers and that concealing dress is important in helping a suicidal terrorist carry out his or her aims.

Saiful Ullah - 8/15/2007

Correct me if I'm wrong but I haven't heard of there being many incidences revolving around wearing a Burqa in the West. And considering the Burqa is notable for being "Islamic" dress these days, I think it would be to obvious to pose with it.

And why is it that Muslims as a whole are being collectively implied as Middle Eastern extremists. I'm sure the vast majority of Muslims worldwide do obey the laws of their countries.

To question the rationale of laws in your country is not going against the laws necessarily. Anyone has the right to do so by power of voice irregardless of what religion you adhere to.

E. Simon - 8/12/2007

The first five suicide bombings by nuns, Hindus, or Sikhs in attempts to bring Western Civilization to its knees and I say the practice of wearing the habit, sari or turban be scrutinized just as intensely.

I would be more impressed by Muslims who might actually go beyond the idea of merely obeying the laws of the lands they live in, to questioning the rationale behind those laws and the goals of those laws as well as the conflicts between that and the sentiments and practices of their own communities.

Joseph Mutik - 8/12/2007

The niqab and burqa can make police inquiries of terrorist acts difficult, because witnesses will not be able to help police artists do the drawings of suspects. The niqab and burqa can also cover a man with an explosive belt (or woman).

Joseph Mutik - 8/9/2007


Saiful Ullah - 8/9/2007

I am of the opinion that the niqab or burqa poses no harm in the West to any individual. If a woman is asked to remove the veil for the purposes of security and identification, she should do so. Muslims have to obey the laws of the lands they live in.

However a complete ban or questioning of Islamic dress to me is indicative of Western Islamophobia that is rife across politicians' and scholar's minds.

Why is it Islamophobic you may I ask? Well look at the current sole questioning of an Islamic dress. With or without the veil, Islamic dress is being portrayed as something backward and alien. You do not see the same attitude towards a nun's habit. a Hindu's sari or a Sikh's turban.

What I like about America is the freedom of attire that is not questioned to the extent it is in Europe. Americans should not follow the suit of the Islamophobic sentiments in Europe that is not just about criticising a simple dress but the religion as a whole.

Joseph Mutik - 8/7/2007



Special Dispatch Series - No. 1479
February 28, 2007 No.1479

In a Satirical Poem, Saudi Author Laments Conditions in the Arab World

In a satirical poem titled "When," posted on Arabic reformist websites including www.aafaq.org , reformist Saudi author and journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider lamented what she regards as the conditions in the Arab world. In the introduction to this poem, she wrote: "'When' is an ode to the troubles of the Arab citizen. Both men and women participated in its [writing], and it is still open to additions. This ode will be hung on the walls of the palaces of the Arab rulers, [1] so feel free to add you contributions."

The following are excerpts from the poem:

"When you cannot find a single garden in your city, but there is a mosque on every corner - you know that you are in an Arab country…

"When you see people living in the past with all the trappings of modernity - do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country.

"When religion has control over science - you can be sure that you are in an Arab country.

"When clerics are referred to as 'scholars' - don't be astonished, you are in an Arab country.

"When you see the ruler transformed into a demigod who never dies or relinquishes his power, and whom nobody is permitted to criticize - do not be too upset, you are in an Arab country.

"When you find that the large majority of people oppose freedom and find joy in slavery - do not be too distressed, you are in an Arab country.

"When you hear the clerics saying that democracy is heresy, but [see them] seizing every opportunity provided by democracy to grab high positions [in the government] - do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country…

"When monarchies turn into theocracies, and republics into hybrids of monarchy and republic - do not be taken aback, you are in an Arab country.

"When you find that the members of parliament are nominated [by the ruler], or else that half of them are nominated and the other half have bought their seats through bribery… - you are in an Arab country…

"When you discover that a woman is worth half of what a man is worth, or less - do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country…

"When you see that the authorities chop off a man's hand for stealing a loaf of bread or a penny, but praise and glorify those who steal billions - do not be too surprised, you are in an Arab country…

"When you are forced to worship the Creator in school and your teachers grade you for it - you can be sure that you are in an Arab country…

"When young women students are publicly flogged merely for exposing their eyes - you are in an Arab country…

"When a boy learns about menstruation and childbirth but not about his own [body] and [the changes] it undergoes in puberty - roll out your prayer mat and beseech Allah to help you deal with your crisis, for you are in an Arab country…

"When land is more important than human beings - you are in an Arab country…

"When covering the woman's head is more important than financial and administrative corruption, embezzlement, and betrayal of the homeland - do not be astonished, you are in an Arab country…

"When minorities are persecuted and oppressed, and if they demand their rights, are accused of being a fifth column or a Trojan horse - be upset, you are in an Arab country…

"When women are [seen as] house ornaments which can be replaced at any time - bemoan your fate, you are in an Arab country.

"When birth control and family planning are perceived as a Western plot - place your trust in Allah, you are in an Arab country…

"When at any time, there can be a knock on your door and you will be dragged off and buried in a dark prison - you are in an Arab country…

"When fear constantly lives in the eyes of the people - you can be certain that you are in an Arab country."

E. Simon - 8/7/2007

To a sufficiently dull mind, I expect that almost anything can be illuminating.

Charles S Young - 8/6/2007

To put into perspective how offbeat Pipes' suggestion is, consider this:

we have yet to have a burqa blow up in the US, but we have had thousands of girls die of anorexia. Shall we ban miniskirts, which exalt the skinny look to teens susceptible to brain disorders?

Pipes would ban clothing of a whole class of people because, despite his protestations, he lacks human feeling for the wearers.

Herb Hersh - 8/4/2007

When I started high school I began to suddenly see crosses, stars-of-David and yarmulkes on half the students.All are symbols of competitive organizations which, collectively and historically, are major curses of humanity.
I would ban burqas only if crosses, stars-of-David and yarmulkes were also banned—something which will never happen.