Behind the Veil

April 12, 2010

Day 15 of Unemployment

I’ve discovered that not driving to and from work everyday means I don’t catch the NPR programming I have become accustomed to hearing daily. Yes, I could listen to it online or at home but it’s not the same!

Today I was out and about during rush hour and heard a story on All Things Considered on the burqa ban in Belgium (follow the jump to read/listen for yourself).  It seems that in Belgium they are considering the passage of a law that would require that a woman’s eyes be exposed at all times. In other parts of the world similar laws are being enacted causing much friction.

As I was listening to the commentator explore both sides of the issue I remembered something. While  studying abroad in Egypt in the summer of 2007 I encountered countless women in head scarves, burqas, hijabs, niqabs and any other name you wish to use for fabric covering the head and, often times, face of an Islamic female. I must consider how countries with large Islamic populations ensure that the masked figure under the burqa is, in fact, the woman she claims to be. Additionally, how do you find out if she is hiding something, like a weapon or a stolen loaf of bread, under all of that fabric? That’s when I remembered standing in airport security in Cairo.

I remember going through the metal detector and having my bag searched AND I remember a small curtained off section to the side of the security line.  I had asked what this was when I passed through the line as I saw one covered woman after another escorted into this area. It turns out that it is a special screening area where all of the employees are female. Islam only requires that a woman be covered in the presence of a man. Therefore, if a woman is required to remove her burqa in a room full of female security officers she doesn’t have to compromise her religious values to meet the security requirements of the state.

Countries with large Muslim populations are dealing with the same security issues as “the West” but doing so with optimum consideration for Islamic religious values. I don’t understand why we can’t do the same by asking the Muslim population to assist the government in finding solutions, such as the one used in the Cairo airport.

The NPR report made a great point: By the Belgian government banning the burqa they will force the burqa wearing Islamic women into prison one way or another. Either they will be put in state prison for wearing the head covering outside or they will be imprisoned in their own homes unable to go outside due to the law’s conflict with their beliefs. This certainly doesn’t liberate women or modernize society…