Terrorism doesn’t wear a veil or have a religion

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On Aug. 1 2018, Denmark joined France, Belgium, Austria, and more than 10 other nations that banned face veils in attempt to create a safer, more integrated society. Niqab and burqa refer to clothing that veil the face. The “Burqa Ban” criminalizes Muslim women who wear face veils, charging them with a penalty between 150 to 10,000 euros and with the potential for arrest for repeated offenses.

Then President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose administration brought in the ban, said that veils oppress women and were “not welcome.” Many view the niqab as a form of oppression and a barrier for Muslims integrating in society.

While some deem face veils as oppressive, women have been wearing veils for centuries. Professor Daniel Martin Varisco of Hofstra University said that women of the past who were from higher status would cover themselves, especially their face. Ancient Assyrian records date from 1200 years ago, if this.

There’s evidence from Iran that from the Parthian Period up to the Sasanian Empire, that elites would wear veils. Nuns from Spain and Rome have also worn habits that looked similar to the burqa in the early 1900s. In Great Britain under Queen Victoria in the 19th century, mourning veils were worn. Many orthodox Jewish brides in the United States and Canada still wear face veils.

In Islam, the face veil is something that is not mandatory but is a means of spirituality and a way to become closer to God. Tahira Noor from the UK, a niqabi for 20 years, said, “It’s not a must. It’s not an obligation. However… [it] gets you closer to God. It’s a spiritual thing more than anything else.”

Muslim women have different reasons for why they choose to wear niqabs. Many Muslim women find liberation in veiling their face. Menahal Begawala, a niqabi in Irving, Texas, who used to teach grade school, states, “I think I blow perceptions because I speak English, I’m educated, and it’s my choice to cover.”

In the last few decades, the face veil has become a subject of scrutiny and fear. Former foreign secretary to the UK, Boris Johnson, stated that, “It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.” He continued with stating that if a female student came to school looking like a ‘bank robber,’ he would ask her to remove it. People tend to associate niqabis with criminals because of their fear.

Most niqab/burqa bans are often proposed following terrorist attacks and caused by Islamophobic paranoia. After a terrorist attack that killed more than 20 people in June 2015, Chad banned the niqab. Congo then also banned the face veil to counter terrorism due to the attack in Chad.

Prejudice against Muslims is often what motivates the passage of such laws or bans. Australian senator Pauline Hanson, who mocked women that wear face veils by wearing a burqa to court and ripping it off, stated that, “Islam cannot have a significant presence in Australia if we are to live in an open, secular and cohesive society.”

She continued stating that banning face veils was necessary to protect Australia’s society.

While the face veil is not banned in the United States, Islamophobia is still a concern. There have been 763 separate anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S. since 2012, which are all documented by New America (a non-profit and non-partisan organization). According to the Pew Research Center analysis from the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims were higher in 2016 than in 2001.

In a speech in August 2016 former Trump Administration National Security Advisor Michael Flynn stated that, “Islam is a malignant cancer and a very vicious threat.” That speech has been viewed millions of times. The impact of media and the fear of Islam can be seen in the highest level of our country’s government officials.

Terrorism doesn’t wear a veil, neither does it have a religion. The ban forces women who cover to be bound to their homes and stay secluded. Instead of integrating them into society, the ban alienates Muslim women.

Hate speech such as Flynn’s triggers crimes against Muslims and affects their safety.

A man who verbally harassed a niqabi woman in line at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop in California, stated that, “Is it Halloween or something” continuing with “I don’t like your religion, it says to kill me and I don’t want to be killed by you.”

In December 2018, a hospital guard in Inova Fair Oaks hospital in Fairfax, Virginia told Arwa Zahr, a niqabi who was visiting her brother’s newborn, that she was scary and needed to leave or the police would be called.

As a Muslim female who wears niqab, I’ve experienced discrimination and prejudice as well. Often getting my picture taken, receiving weird looks and the questioning glances, or being complimented on my “Halloween costume,” it’s difficult to be ‘normal’ and even more so as a high school student. It’s challenging to be ‘socially acceptable’ when you’re a niqabi, like when my new neighbor in Wilmette told us to stop imposing Sharia law and wear clothes like “us Americans do.”

An experience that I won’t ever forget is when I was at an airport in France with my family two years ago. Being tired from the jet lag and the random security checks, we were heading to our hotel. My mom was abruptly stopped by a heavily armed airport security officer. He told her that me, my sister and my mom would not be allowed outside.

After trying to explain that we were only going to our hotel, the officer informed us that we would be fined and taken to court unless we remove our niqabs. By then, there were seven officers surrounding us. We were forced to make sleeping arrangements at a hotel in the airport.

That night, I cried myself to sleep. Was my crime simply choosing what I wore?

The impact of these bans on the Muslim women who wear veils is rarely taken into account. They face bias and Islamophobia on a daily basis. Muslim women who bravely choose to wear the niqab or burqa in schools, on public transportation, in public places and perhaps the most anxiety inducing, in airports, struggle to overcome biases. Most people assume that niqabis or those who wear burqas don’t care about safety and also pose a threat to their safety. In airports, we usually wait the longest for TSA agents to privately screen us.

A 181 year old law that prohibited covering your head in the House Chamber was recently changed for Ilhan Omar. She is the first hijabi Muslim woman in Congress. Ilhan Omar stands for the dignity and fairness that everyone deserves. She is the silver lining of hope for Muslim women to change society’s impression of hijabis and niqabis. She represents not only her state in the House of Representatives but an era of revolution for Muslim women to be respected for how they choose to dress.

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