The full-body veil, called the burqa or niqab, terrifies me.
I’m a Muslim woman who defends a woman’s choice to wear a headscarf — I wore one for nine years — but I will never defend the niqab. It embodies the erasure of a woman’s identity.
And so I agreed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy when he said the burqa wasn’t welcome in France because it “is not a religious sign, it’s a sign of subservience.”
I would add the niqab doesn’t belong anywhere, neither in countries where Muslims are a minority nor in a Muslim-majority country like Egypt, my country of birth.
An argument I had on the Cairo subway — while I still wore a headscarf —with a woman who wore niqab helped seal for good my rejection of the niqab.
She asked me why I did not wear the niqab. I pointed to my headscarf. “Isn’t this enough?”
“If you wanted a piece of candy, would you choose an unwrapped piece or one that came in a wrapper?” she asked.
“I’m not candy,” I answered. “I’m a woman.”
I retell that argument often because it shows the niqab isn’t about the “West” versus “Islam.”
Many will accuse Sarkozy of hating Muslims, but that would be to concede that the burqa is religiously-mandated, as extremists believe. Many Muslim scholars have clearly described the niqab as an old Bedouin tradition that was not required by the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
To connect the niqab with Muslim women is inaccurate because only a small minority wears it.
Hearing Muslims argue over the burqa is the best way to disarm the Islamophobic right wing in Europe and in North America and their crocodile tears for Muslim women. We don’t care for their “support” and yet — to fight Islamophobia — we must not silently watch extremists erase Muslim women out of existence.
That’s where “it’s about the economy, stupid!”
France is home to Western Europe’s largest population of Muslims, estimated at about 5 million. Many complain of discrimination and blame the French government for inaction.
It was good to hear Sarkozy also say that France’s integration model wasn’t working any more because it doesn’t give immigrants and their French-born children a fair chance. That’s the best way to fight extremists and the niqab they promote. The majority of Muslims in France are more concerned with poverty and unemployment than with the niqab.