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Some Arab sympathy for burqa bans

Far from considering it an attack on Islam, Jordanians see wisdom in burqa bans.

burqa ban paris terrorism
Models parade during a performance called "VIP Volie Islamique Parisien" (Parisian Islamic Full-Face veils) by Moroccan artist Majida Khattari in Paris April 10, 2010. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

AMMAN, Jordan — As European country after European country banned Muslims from wearing the burqa, niqab or other Islamic clothing that covers a woman’s face completely, several Arab nations stood quietly by.

Few, if any, Arabs support such bans and the prohibitions raise questions among them about anti-Muslim sentiment in the West. However, many people in Jordan can at least understand where European countries are coming from, especially regarding security concerns.

In most cases, European politicians in support of banning complete facial covering avoided making religious arguments, instead arguing that clothing of any kind that hid a person’s face constituted a security threat.

“It’s understandable why some countries are not too happy with the niqab because it does not reveal the true identity of a person, the face of a person. Now whether this should be introduced as a law or not, I’m not sure,” said Moneef Zou’bi, director general of the Islamic World Academy of Science in Amman. “I think it’s a matter of choice at the end of the day.”

In France, the most recent country to ban the niqab and burqa, Jean-François Cope, the majority leader of the French National Assembly, went so far as to compare the niqab to a ski mask in an editorial piece published in The New York Times in which he defended the law.

“The visibility of the face in the public sphere has always been a public safety requirement. It was so obvious that until now it did not need to be enshrined in law,” he wrote. “But the increase in women wearing the niqab, like that of the ski mask favored by criminals, changes that. We must therefore adjust our law, without waiting for the phenomenon to spread.”

Though accepted by most Arabs, the niqab and burqa are still relatively uncommon outside the Arabian Gulf. Most Arab women tend to view such coverings as too extreme or unnecessary.

In Jordan, where only a handful of women wear such clothing, police have noted a sharp increase in the amount of crime committed by people, sometimes even men, wearing the niqab as a disguise. The number of criminals apprehended while wearing such Islamic dress climbed from a combined total of 170 in 2007 and 2008 to 104 in 2009 alone, according to police officials. Though there were a few cases of homicide, most of the incidents involved theft or other petty crimes.

Still few Jordanians are ready to jump to the conclusions of right-wing European politicians or take legal action against the facial covering.