What did the French people see in the burqa that, despite all the personal freedoms that people enjoy in Europe in general, and in France in particular, that moved them to ban the burqa?
Here in America, any such move to ban the burqa would immediately be condemned by many as a violation of a woman's freedom of speech. It would also be a violation of the freedom of religion, and these are the two most fundamental rights we have in America. Or would it be?
In order to have a better indication of what is going on here, we need to look at whether these Muslim women are truly wearing the burqa voluntarily and of their own free will, or is someone or some organization forcing these women to wear it. Over thirty years ago, I was a student at Kabul University, where at the time there were at least a couple of thousand women studying at that university. Kabul University was and still is the biggest university in Afghanistan, and that is why young women from all over Afghanistan go there to study, including many from the most remote villages in Afghanistan, which usually have a very conservative Islamic mindset. Yet, I can barely recall one single girl at that University who actually wore even the smallest covering—the little Chader, or scarf—let alone a full scale Chadery or burqa (veil). Today by contrast, thirty years later, if you go back to that same university, I bet you will not find one girl who is without a fully covering veil.
Now let’s go back to Iran before Khomeini, which again is about thirty years ago. Back then you could barely ever find a girl who was wearing that long burqa, or veil. Iran was even more modern socially than Afghanistan or Pakistan. But go pay a visit today, and you will not find even a single girl or lady that is not wearing one of those long, fully covering burqas! So why is it that in both Afghanistan and Iran, thirty years ago, when women had the freedom to wear the burqa or not, no one wanted to wear it, and yet today they all “willingly” hide themselves under that burqa! I hope you still remember those gruesome scenes of members of the Taliban beating women on street corners in Kabul. Those women were wearing their burqas as they were required to—the heaviest one that covers the most, called the Chadery—but even that was not enough for the fanatics, because one of the women had a couple of small holes in her old stockings, and thus the fact that a nickel-size patch of her skin was visible, that was enough for the Taliban to beat her in front of the eyes of hundreds of onlookers!
No, I think it is safe to say that wearing the burqa is most often not the choice that a woman would actually make for herself, and so in most cases these women are not wearing it voluntarily of their own free will. They are in fact being forced to put it on. Whenever these women see an opportunity, either politically or socially, to stop wearing the burqa or to stop being forced to wear it, they immediately throw it away, just like they did in Afghanistan and Iran 30 years ago. The sad fact is that they wear it only under duress, in other words, when they are forced by others to put it on. Sometimes they are under that pressure for so long and so much that these women will actually argue for wearing it, and that fact can confuse others, particularly non-Muslims, into believing that they are not being forced, or that they wear it because they really do want to.
Viewed in this way, if America was to ban the wearing of the burqa, it would really not be violating a woman's right to dress the way she wants to, because it’s established that women do not want to wear it at all. Instead, banning the burqa would amount to prohibiting a man (or an organization) from forcing a woman to hide in the burqa—from forcing her to wear it against her will. Some might argue that banning the burqa would be disrespectful of Islam and a slap in the face to Muslims. No, it will not be. For example, Islam actually allows men to have four wives and hundreds of sex slaves (Kaneez) all at the same time. Do we allow men to practice that here in America? Of course not! And is that viewed as disrespecting Islam? Not at all—it is only a matter of respect for American laws in America.
But one might wonder why the French are creating so much hassle over this issue at this particular moment, when it seems like there are so many other pressing issues that are much more important to resolve, from wars to the serious worldwide economic recession. So then, why did the French people go through so much trouble, and withstand so much international criticism, just to ban the burqa?I seriously doubt that banning the burqa in France had anything whatsoever to do with women's rights, or even with the idea to prevent possible abuse by Muslim men. Let me tell you exactly why they did it. They noticed that wherever there was a woman wearing one of those long, fully covered burqas, there was usually a man nearby with the characteristic long beard of the extremist. When followed secretly by plain-clothes security officials, these men invariably ended up in a Mosque full of the most extreme Muslims. Thus French counterterrorism police realized that behind this burqa and behind that telltale beard there was most often an extreme Islamic mindset, a mindset which was fed by extremism, and a mindset that was feeding back that extremism, or passing it on to others. They realized that in most cases, these radicals were the ones who were pushing other peace-loving Muslims against the west, their religions, their lifestyle.
In this way the extremists were using those same civil rights—which were designed to protect the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech—against the hosting countries. French counterterrorism experts further realized that these women in the burqa and men in the beards who always shadowed the women were in fact the ones who were raising their kids in isolation, through strict home schooling, for example, and instilling in those children a deep hatred for the western countries in which they lived, waiting to carry out their terrorist plots. And unfortunately, it is likely that these kids will become the softest targets for the extremists who are working invisibly, from behind the scenes at many local mosques. But the saddest thing is that some of these kids, after being brainwashed and turned against the west, will then be pushed to the next level of joining extreme anti-America and anti-west organizations. From there, they will be pushed to the next level of taking trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and some other places, where they will be introduced to some Sheiks. Then they will be moved to the next and most extreme level of participating in military-style exercises and training. And the worst extremists among them will be the most likely to become the future members of "sleeper cells" here in America and Europe, where they will plot terror attacks against both military and civilian targets. Particularly these days, it seems that they are bent on hitting civilian targets the most.
But the more important, and the most despicable thing about these extremists, who live among us in our communities, while trying to hide behind the burqa and the beard, is that they are not only forcing their own children to become radicalized, they are also doing it to other kids, whether at their own mosques or within the community at large. Through their own kids and their women they will push other kids and families to follow their terrible example. Islamic societies like the Pakistani, Afghani, Iraqi, Irani and so many others are closely connected. Some of these societies—even if they want to—do not have the resolve or the means to disconnect from the extremists who are around or among them, because they are afraid of becoming isolated. That fear makes them even more vulnerable to being manipulated and victimized by these extremists.
In order to win the war against terrorism, we need to take extremism very seriously. While we have spent over one trillion dollars in the last 10 years in Afghanistan and Iraq alone, and we did everything militarily that we possibly could, by contrast we did nothing, or close to nothing, to fight extremism. We will never succeed to win the war against terrorism without fighting and eradicating extremism. We need to concentrate on attacking the cause of the sickness—the disease, the germs—instead of attacking the sick.