Muslim Veil Is Political, Not Religious; Restricting Extreme Practices Is Not Infringement on Freedom of Religion

Article excerpt

Byline: Ari Varon, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

If France's Senate votes to approve a full ban on the burqa next month, debate over Muslim dress will only intensify around the world. Concern centers around how a liberal democracy can create legislation determining religious practice without compromising its core democratic principles. Surprisingly, support for a European ban on Islamic dress comes from an unlikely source: Syria.

In July, Ghiath Barakat, Syria's minister of higher education, banned students and teachers wearing head and face veils from registering for classes or even stepping on university campuses, saying head coverings were against academic principles. Previously, Mr. Barakat transferred approximately 1,200 female teachers in full head coverings to administrative jobs. Of course, in an authoritarian dictatorship like Syria, the minister of higher education alone does not have the authority to pass such a radical policy. To be sure, such a decision must have been made at the highest levels of the Syrian political and security apparatus.

For Syria, which has historically French ties, banning the head covering in the educational system shows a zero-tolerance policy for radical elements that pose a threat to the survival of the secular regime. These actions specifically reduce the influence of Islamic radical elements within the secular Muslim population. Coming from a secular Muslim regime, Syria's ban of Islamic dress is not anti-Islamic; rather, it recognizes the intense internal debate of religious justification occurring within Islam.

The burqa ban raises an interesting question for all of Europe: Does a Western secular republic have to respect a Muslim's religious freedom more than a Muslim country does? The appropriate comparison should not focus on the country's system of government, but on a secular regime's tolerance of political Islam.

The religious obligation of Muslim women to wear a head covering is only one of many signs of rising Islamic radicalism in today's society. Banning the head covering will not necessarily solve the deeper issues at play; already women who wear it have said since the ban they will simply stay home rather than go out in public without it. …