Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Backward on the Burqa

One of the more disturbing, and perplexing, parts of Barack Obama’s much-lauded Cairo speech was his endorsement of the “right” of women to the hijab—as if the great problem faced by Muslim females is the inability to cover their faces (and whole bodies) rather than the subjugation and compulsion to do so. In a not-so-subtle attempt to distinguish the United States from the government of France, which has gone so far as to ban such vestments from its schools, the president stated that “the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”

As Peter Daou, the former Internet director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, wrote:

Is that a joke? With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab?

A story in yesterday’s Washington Post reveals just how foolish and counterproductive the president’s words were. It details the ongoing debate in France over the veil, a policy that is overwhelmingly popular with French citizens. It is also popular with older Muslim immigrants to France, people who made their way to the country long before Islamic extremists began to earn a footing in Europe. “If they don’t like it here, they can always leave,” the Post quotes one 65-year-old Muslim Frenchman.

Most interesting, however, is just how widespread the veil is in French Muslim society. Despite all the controversy, the French Interior Ministry estimates that “fewer than 400 women wear the full veil in France.” So here we have the president of the United States wading into an internal debate among one of our allies, rebuking a policy very sensibly adopted by that nation’s government and that affects a scant 400 people. (France, keep in mind, hosts the largest Muslim population on the Continent, some 6 million out of a total population of 64 million.) President Obama entered office promising better relations with Europe and the Muslim world. His backward position on Islamic dress will not help him accomplish that goal.