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Opinion: Why France is right about the burqa

The burqa has nothing to do with religion. It is a way for fanatical men to control women.

Islamists will stop at nothing to veil women. Sometimes they try to buy resistance. Some French Muslim families, for instance, are paid 500 euros (about $680) per quarter by extremist Muslim organizations just to have their daughters wear the hijab.

But what Islamists use most is intimidation. A survey conducted in France in May 2003 found that 77 percent of girls wearing the hijab said they did so because of physical threats from Islamist groups. A series in the newspaper Liberation in 2003 documented how Muslim women and girls in France who refuse to wear the hijab are insulted, rejected and often physically threatened by Muslim males. Muslim women who try to rebel are considered "whores" and treated as outcasts.

In fact, around the globe millions of women are forced to wear the veil for fear of physical retribution. And the fear is well-founded. Every year hundreds of women in Pakistan and Afghanistan alone are killed, have acid thrown in their faces or are otherwise maimed by male fanatics for the simple reason that they were not covered.

For Islamists, veiling women is a way to control society, hence their ferocious determination to do so. Not coincidentally, it is one of the only issues on which Sunni and Shia extremists agree. It’s not by chance that the spreading of the veil really took off in 1979 after Iran’s Islamic regime came to power and Saudi Arabia’s radicalization wave following the foiled coup.

Some Shiite militias in Iraq have actually started forcing women — Muslim or not — to wear the veil or face the consequences. Interestingly, Al Qaeda through its Islamic Maghreb branch also joined the debate by accusing France of “religious terrorism” and threatening terror attacks in France and/or against French interests.

Last but not least, the burqa is also potentially a security hazard because it prevents others from being able to identify the person wearing it. For instance, there have been numerous cases of terrorists blowing themselves up in Iraq and Afghanistan while wearing a burqa, and some others have tried to escape while under the cloak of one.

The burqa has nothing to do with freedom of religion but with basic human rights. Europe appears to understand this. Let's hope America will one day, too.

Olivier Guitta is a security and geopolitical consultant based in Europe. He is also an Adjunct Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. You can view his latest work at