Politics & Policy

Why Is Donald Trump Defending Burqas?

Afghan women in a Kabul refugee camp, June 2013. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty)

In yet another demonstration of his unsuitability for office, Donald Trump extolled the wearing of burqas and niqabs at length at his rally in New Hampshire earlier this week.

The comments, delivered in Trump’s typical yuk-it-up tone, are so ridiculous that they’re worth printing in their entirety:

We want it where the women over there don’t have to wear the you-know-what. [Trump gestures across his face with his hand, an apparent reference to burqas and niqabs.] And then I said, “Oh, well that makes sense, that’s nice.” Then I saw women interviewed. They said, “We want to wear it. We’ve worn them for a thousand years. Why would anyone tell us not to?” They want to! What the hell are we getting involved for? In fact, it’s easier. You don’t have to put on makeup. Look how beautiful everyone looks. Wouldn’t it be easier? Bwah. Right? Wouldn’t that be easy? I tell ya, if I was a woman, I don’t want to . . . bwah, “I’m ready, darling, let’s go.” It’s true!

Trump’s apology for the burqa (which covers a woman’s entire body, leaving only a small area of mesh to see through) and niqab (which veils a woman’s entire face except for her eyes) is worrisome not only because of its implicit misogyny; for a man who aspires to lead the world’s most powerful nation, it reveals incredible ignorance about the Muslim world.

For starters, it’s worth noting that the burqa and niqab are embraced by only a tiny minority in the Muslim world, according to a recent survey from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, which conducted polling in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey.

It found that a median of just 2 percent of people across these countries considered the burqa the most appropriate form of female attire. A median of just 8 percent favored the niqab as ideal for women, and even this already low number is skewed by including Saudi Arabia (where 63 percent view it favorably).

Contra Trump’s claim that it’s a matter of individual choice, women and girls are far too often forced to don a burqa or niqab.

Less cumbersome coverings, such as head scarves that do not conceal the face, usually known as hijabs, are vastly more popular across the Muslim world. But then, as Elisabeth Becker, a scholar of European Muslim communities, recently pointed out in First Things, comparing a burqa or niqab to other Islamic women’s attire is “akin to drawing a parallel between foot binding and high heels.” Even some members of the Muslim Brotherhood have explicitly preferred less extreme head coverings than the burqas and niqabs Trump apparently admires.

Contra Trump’s claim that it’s a matter of individual choice, women and girls are far too often forced to don a burqa or niqab. Only in Turkey and Tunisia did the majority of those polled by the University of Michigan agree or strongly agree that a woman should dress as she chooses — and even in those countries, the margin was slim. Even in countries that express nominal support for women’s choosing their own attire, overwhelming social pressure and the threat of violence often coerce women into acquiescing to more extensive covering than they prefer.

#share#Trump is not the only one attached to this idea, unfortunately. Many of the same liberals eager to promote a ridiculously narrow concept of consent for sex on college campuses in the West will also willingly embrace an absurdly flexible notion of consent when it comes to women’s wearing the burqa, niqab, or other Islamic dress.

The University of Michigan’s lead researcher on the aforementioned survey, Mansoor Moaddel, acknowledged openly what the niqab and burqa signify. “In their efforts to maintain the institution of male supremacy, the Islamic fundamentalists . . . attacked the women’s movement at what they thought was its weakest point — the freedom to dress as they wish,” he told the Pew Research Center.

RELATED: Muslim Face-Veil Controversy Boosts Canada’s Conservatives

Moaddel noted the high correlation between conservative Muslim attire and everything from religious fundamentalism to gender-based oppression in Muslim-majority nations. “It is not just a cultural issue,” he added. “It also revolves around the question of individual choice, gender equality and a woman’s control over her own body and sexuality.”

When forced into burqas and niqabs, women find themselves literally faceless, the outside world blinded to them.

When forced into burqas and niqabs, women find themselves literally faceless, the outside world blinded to them. The attire inherently assigns all of the responsibility for lust to women, not the men who may observe them. And accounts abound of how the burqa and niqab leave women dehumanized, isolated, and invisible — this in a culture where their rights are too often ignored and where they are too often vulnerable to violence already.

Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, writes compellingly about “women being strangled in the pernicious black tent that is passed off to naïve and guilt-ridden white, mainstream Canadians as an essential Islamic practice.”

Likewise, in Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women, Maria Lazreg, who has extensively studied women’s issues in the Middle East, recounts the restrictive experience of many burqa- and niqab-wearers.

One 68-year-old woman, Lazreg writes, was forced to cover herself beginning at age 13, and “experienced the veil as a turning point in her life, signaling not only confinement but loss of femininity: the world had closed in on her. . . . The veil put an end to her life of youthful insouciance that knew no gender limitation. Had she been born outside the culture of the veil, she would have continued to enjoy going outside her home and lived out her adolescence and young adulthood at her own pace.”

The niqab and burqa also carry extensive health risks. Numerous studies have examined the rampant Vitamin D deficiencies among women who don them; as a result, rickets and other bone diseases rare in the modern world are popping up with increasing frequency among this particular subset of Muslim women.

#related#Furthermore, the sheer bulk of the fabric encumbers movement, making exercise all but impossible. It’s little wonder that obesity rates have soared in many Arab nations, a phenomenon often more prevalent among women than men in the region. Many women who wear a niqab or burqa also frequently experience impaired breathing and crippling headaches.

For these and myriad other reasons, many in even the Muslim world have rejected the burqa and niqab that Trump apparently finds so desirable and convenient.

These visage-concealing tents have become the literal face of totalitarian Islam, the symbol of a culture that views half the population as chattel. It’s bad enough for Trump to joke about such an icon of evil. Worse yet, though, is the lingering suspicion that he may be serious.

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