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Some Arab sympathy for burqa bans

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

“Most of the people are not concerned about it. In general we accept that sector of our society. It is not a masking behavior to cover your face,” said Hani Hourani, the founder and director of Al-Urdun Al-Jadid Research Center in Amman. “We have a lot more important things to worry about in this part of the world than women’s code of dress.”

Aside from France, Belgium banned facial coverings last month. In Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands, there are also laws regulating full facial covering at the local level or right-wing politicians who strongly advocate for it.

Referencing the 1966 film about the French fighting the Algerian insurgency in which veiled women are used to smuggle weapons, Jennifer Heath said: “This is like someone has figured out that we can get rid of the niqab by sort of pretending it’s going to be the Battle of Algiers again. I find it a little sensationalist.” Heath edited "The Veil: Women Writers On Its History, Lore, And Politics," a collection of essays about veiling.

Still, during the peak of the insurgency in Iraq, the niqab became a serious issue. Many women were not thoroughly searched at checkpoints, so militants began recruiting them for suicide bombings or to smuggle weapons under their clothes. Authorities in turn began creating female police officers and a community policing organization called the Daughters of Iraq was also created to search women at checkpoints.

Most Jordanians agree that female police and normal security measures are enough to stop the niqab from becoming a serious security issue here and elsewhere in the region.

“We need a combination of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, personal freedoms on one hand and [on the other] the necessary measures for security and the normal appearance of a person in society,” said Asma Khader, general coordinator for the Sister is Global Institute in Jordan.

She added that measures designed to limit the wearing of the niqab or other forms of dress would most likely result in more people wearing them as a form of protest, as they might start to feel that their beliefs were under attack.

“It will be a symbolic political use, rather than being a personal choice or a personal religious belief. It should not be this way,” she said.