Politics & Policy

Should France Ban the Burqa?

The threat of Islamic extremism has prompted a controversial proposal.

On July 13, France’s lower house of parliament voted 335 to 1 in favor of a law that would prohibit wearing the burqa, or any other clothing “intended to hide the face,” in public. If the ban becomes law, will it liberate women or inflame religious extremism? Are burqa-ban proponents’ concerns for national identity and national security outweighed by opponents’ concerns for religious tolerance? National Review Online asked the experts — including Raymond Ibrahim, Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Melanie Phillips, Daniel Pipes, James V. Schall, Jonathan Schanzer, and Bat Ye’or — to weigh in.


That France is moving toward banning the burqa is a positive development on several fronts. Arguments against the burqa are many — it is anachronistic, misogynistic, etc. — but not least important is the fact that there have been many instances worldwide of criminals and Islamic terrorists facilitating their activities by concealing their identities via the burqa (which, of course, was originally designed for female “modesty”).

Incidentally, what if the shoe were on the other foot? Would the Muslim world, which has problems with something as inoffensive as churches being built, permit a distinctly Western custom on its soil, especially one that poses a security threat?

Moreover, according to former Islamists, a direct correlation exists between radical Islam and burqas — that is, wherever there is an increase in the former, there follows an increase in the latter, which is seen as a physical manifestation of radicalism.

However, where the Western infidel bans the burqa, the Islamists’ options become limited: stay in places like France and be forced to conform; insist on the burqa and, as a matter of priorities, return to accommodating Muslim countries; or forego the burqa, in compliance with secular laws, but continue to harbor Islamist beliefs in a state of taqiyya.

Ultimately, the burqa ban is a reminder that those religions that do not “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” will always be at odds with secular societies. The burqa is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sharia mandates that conflict directly with secularism.

Raymond Ibrahim is editor of The Al Qaeda Reader.


France is not banning the burqa; it is in the midst of a process to ban “face covering” in public. Of course, everybody knows that the real target is the growing tendency of Muslim women to wear a face covering, also known as the niqab. Still, the reference to “face covering” not only demonstrates a wish to avoid singling out Muslims but also points to the essential objection the state has to the niqab. France has always been an open communal society; to become French, one has to share basic French values. That was Napoleon’s message to Jewish leaders in 1806. It is Nicolas Sarkozy’s message to Muslims in 2010.

Prejudice, you’d say. A fear of a significant erosion of French social cohesion, I would answer. It is difficult, if not impossible, to trust someone whose face is covered, and, as Francis Fukuyama so well argues, a high level of trust is a necessary component of the social cohesiveness modern states need to function well in the global market economy. Of course, there is nothing Islamists would like better than to undermine modern states and replace them with a Muslim ummah, and they know that such a transformation will take time. The niqab is one way Islamists seek to prevent the Muslim diaspora from becoming part of a non-Islamist circle of trust. Banning the face veil is one way the French state seeks to defend itself.

Other states are doing the same, and many more are bound to join. These face-covering laws mean that modern states have started to take the Islamist challenge seriously.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer is an affiliate professor at Haifa University and co-author of International Citizens’ Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights.


The French banning of the burqa has provoked near-hysteria in Britain, where government ministers have rushed to say that banning it would be “un-British” and even that it is a “woman’s right” to wear it. But the issue here is not the rights or feelings of the woman beneath it. The point is the threat it represents to everyone else.

Wearing the burqa is not a religious right: Islam merely requires women to be modestly covered. The burqa is an act of religious war. It is a political symbol, designed to intimidate others by sending the most visible signal possible of the presence of those who want to replace secular rule with theocratic Islam.

It is also an act of hostility towards human society. We cannot see the face, expression, and identity of the individual concealed beneath it, whereas she can see everything about us. It thus creates a radical imbalance of power and destroys the basis of equality on which human beings deal with each other.

Countries that have banned the burqa understand that the threat it poses is not just to the women it enslaves but to themselves.

Melanie Phillips is author of The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power.


The vote recently taken by the French lower house of parliament does not ban niqabs and burqas, though it constitutes one of many steps in that direction. The French Senate must pass the bill. The Constitutional Court will likely review it. Both French and Europe courts will certainly judge it. Its chances of becoming law remain unclear.

The bill, far from reflecting Gallic eccentricity, fits into a much larger pattern of Western responses to this horrid, dangerous garment. Efforts to ban face coverings have passed or are under way in Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, and Australia. (The United States is conspicuously absent from this list.) In a review of these initiatives, David Rusin of Islamist Watch dubs them the “fashion trend of the year.”

Muslim-majority countries are more divided: On a single day, July 19, even as Pakistanis demonstrated against the French vote, the Syrian government banned niqabs and burqas from the country’s universities.

Laws governing women’s clothing symbolize a larger trend: Muslims driving the West’s social and legal agenda.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.


Once upon a time, on Catholic campuses, we would have been familiar with ladies in veils. Except for Nashville Dominicans and papal audiences, they have pretty much disappeared, but the Muslim burqa has become quite common. If France bans this head-dress, we will soon have martyrs to the burqa; if they do not ban it, it won’t be long before the burqa is required for all university ladies.

Is the Muslim woman who wears the burqa “forced” from within to do so? Is there a religious or social penalty if she does not? If the burqa is banned, will this include the mantilla and the nun in the name of the equality of religious hats? This looks like a small thing, but, as Aristotle said, revolutions begin with small things. If the burqa were only another lady’s hat, there would be no problem. The problem is that we fail to understand that it is not just another lady’s hat.

Fr. James V. Schall is a professor of government at Georgetown University and author of, among others, The Order of Things.


France’s lower house of parliament should be commended for approving a ban on the burqa this week. The French senate is expected to pass the measure in September. Once enacted, the law will impose a small fine (about $200) on women wearing the veil. Men who force women to wear the burqa can be slapped with a €30,000 fine and even jail time. Anyone found forcing a minor to wear the burqa can be fined €60,000, with a longer prison sentence.

Critics call the move xenophobic, but there is nothing hateful about it. For one, burqas make identification exceedingly difficult at a time when security agencies need to check faces against names to prevent terrorism. The ban is also a nod to women’s rights. As philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy notes, the burqa “communicates the subjugation, the subservience, the crushing, and the defeat of women.” Finally, France has a right to defend itself from a burgeoning Muslim population (perhaps 10 percent) that seeks to impose elements of Islamic law that are inherently antithetical to Western values.

Jonathan Schanzer is vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


The ban on wearing the burqa in public addresses two main issues in Europe: security and a growing European backlash against the continent’s ongoing Islamization, as manifested by one of its most obvious signs, the seclusion of women.

As for the security aspect: Government leaders point to the fact that male delinquents have sometimes used Islamic women’s attire. Also, since the late 1960s, Islamic terrorism has been a prime concern for European states.

As for the other: Throughout Europe, a strong cultural and political movement has emerged, mainly on the Internet, and been given voice by Geert Wilders of Holland, former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, Magdi Cristiano Allam of Italy, Claude Goasguen of France, and others who vehemently oppose the Islamization of Europe. The Eurabian transformation breeds virulent Judeophobia, anti-Zionism, and anti-Western hatred; it curtails human rights and basic freedom of speech; unofficial rules of Islamophobia, triggered by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) via the United Nations Human Rights Council, are tacitly applied by media and governments to stifle dissent.

But resistance to this state of affairs is growing; elements of the European intelligentsia are aware that the Nazi-Palestinian pact that led to Europe’s descent to barbarism is being renewed. Burqa bans are a shy answer from weak and discredited governments, but they are part of an overall fight for the democratic, Judeo-Christian, and Enlightenment values of freedom and human dignity.

Bat Ye’or is author, most recently, of Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis.

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