As Islamists condemn the French ban on face-covering attire in public, it is worth noting that some of the strongest words in support of the law — and in opposition to the burqa and niqab — actually have come from Western Muslims. A few recent highlights:
Qanta A. Ahmed, an author and medical professor in New York, calls the statute "logical and one that many Muslims, myself included, welcome." Seeing face veils as a largely political statement, she attributes their proliferation in the West to encroachments of an "insular, Islamist neo-orthodoxy" whose adherents "place no priority on the status of their women." Ahmed posits that the French law provides an opportunity for all Muslims to confront the "rigid myopia of Islamism" and lift the "asphyxiating veil of ignorance."
Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of a mosque in suburban Paris, approves of the ban, arguing that burqas and niqabs harm Muslims and present a security risk. "Normal, moderate, religious women do not wear the niqab," he asserts in a recent video. Advocating deference to the host culture, Chalghoumi counsels French Muslims who don such clothing to "consider the perspective of the others. They view us with disgust." Elsewhere he has described the veil as "a prison for women, a tool of sexist domination."
Tarek Fatah, a Canadian activist and author, has voiced hope that his country will follow France's lead in outlawing the face veil, calling it a "political uniform of the regiments of the Muslim Brotherhood" and comparing its symbolic effect to that of the swastika. A woman who wears it in the Western world, he contends, "is a supporter of Islamic fascism" seeking to impose Shari'a on her society.
Taj Hargey, imam of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, England, denounces the burqa as an "alien cultural monstrosity" pushed by misogynists. On behalf of "all thinking Muslims," his organization "salutes France for its bold legislative steps to eradicate this hideous tribal dress code." Even if prohibitions are not feasible, "every effort should be made to disparage and discourage this tribal trend and cultural custom from infesting British society," he says. Hargey also reports that some Oxford Muslims recently expressed their anti-burqa views by setting one aflame.
These are not the first Western Muslims to back legal restrictions on burqas and niqabs. Previous examples include the Muslim Canadian Congress, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, Danish MP Naser Khader, British television personality Saira Khan, and Irfan al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz of the U.S.-based Center for Islamic Pluralism.
Wearing burqas and niqabs is not about modesty; the garments are symbols of female subjugation and cultural separatism that need to be shown the exit. Reform-minded Muslims — both those who promote bans and those who prefer gentler means of persuasion — play a crucial role in this fight and should be bolstered however possible, before the "asphyxiating veil of ignorance" envelops us all.