Burqa on, burqa off


A few days ago, a law came into effect in Austria, which prohibits covering face in public, and thus de facto prohibits wearing a burqa or a niqab.


(The three rows from the top: allowed, allowed under some circumstances, prohibited).

As Reuters reports, “The law is expected to affect just 150 women—that’s 0.03% of the Austrian Muslim population and 0.002% of the entire population.” Overwhelming majority of Muslim women clearly don’t cover their entire bodies, including faces.

I continue to be ambiguous on the issue – I find burqas and niqabs confronting and offensive, but the liberal/libertarian in me does not like governments banning things and dictating to people, for example, what they can and can’t wear.

Whichever side you fall on this question, let us get one thing clear: face covering is not a religious as much as a political act. Burqa and niqab are not mandated by the Koran, which only proscribes that women dress modestly (even then there is a minor debate whether the injunction was meant to have a universal application or concern only Muhammad’s wives). Which is easy enough: if you are into that sort of a thing, Amish women dress modestly, so do Hassidic women, so does an overwhelming majority of Muslim women worldwide who don’t wear a black tent with a slit or mesh for eyes only. Heck, most of the women around the world dress pretty modestly.

But burqa and niqab are not about modesty – instead, they make a two-fold statement about the genders: firstly, that women are a property of their husbands or male guardians, who enjoy the exclusive right to see any and all of their flesh; and secondly, that all men are rapists, who only need a glimpse of an uncovered female body to drive them into an uncontrollable animal-like lust – full body and face covering is thus necessary to protect the women from the men, and to protect the men from themselves.

Both these statements I find odious and morally repugnant, and they tell me more about the people making them than about any objective reality. But in addition to that ideological loading, burqa and niqab are also used as potent symbols – walking flags or billboards – of Islamist supremacy and separatism. As such, I consider them less analogous to a dress than to a costume or a uniform, like the KKK “sheets” or an SS uniform.

Seeing, however, that burqas and niqabs are worn by “the Other” and generally opposed by “the right wing”, the left, including the feminist left, is by and large in love with them. Like Austria’s president, Alexander Van der Bellen, who is a Green and as such opposed to the current government:

“It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants, that is my opinion on the matter,” Van der Bellen told an assembly hall of schoolgirls, before arguing freedom of expression, like wearing the hijab, is a fundamental right.

“And it is not only Muslim women, all women can wear a headscarf, and if this real and rampant Islamophobia continues, there will come a day where we must ask all women to wear a headscarf — all — out of solidarity to those who do it for religious reasons.”

Of course the new Austrian law does not ban any form of hair or head covering but only face covering, but by all means, let the feminists wear the symbol of the fascist oppression of women in solidarity with women who wear the symbol of the fascist oppression of women (some by choice, some because they are forced to).


A young woman banned from Iran’s national chess team for playing without wearing a headscarf has switched allegiances to the US.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA said that Dorsa Derakhshani, 19, refused to wear the hijab during a competition in Gibraltar in February, and has joined the US national team.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has required women to wear the hijab in public places.

However, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported Monday that the president of Iran’s chess federation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, said Ms Derakhshani had in fact changed her national federation to the United States, which was not unusual among chess players.

Something tells me that, sadly, it’s the face-coverers of Austria rather than Derakhsani who are much more likely to be treated as feminist heroines, martyrs and role models in our crazy world.