Veiling Women: Islamists’ Most Powerful Weapon
- The first victim of the Islamist war in Algeria was a girl who refused the veil, Katia Bengana, who defended her choice even as the executioners pointed a gun at her head. In 1994, Algiers literally awoke to walls plastered with posters announcing the execution of unveiled women.
- In April 1947, Princess Lalla Aisha gave a speech in Tangiers and people listened astonished to that unveiled girl. In a few weeks, women throughout the country refused the scarf. Today Morocco is one of the freest countries in the Arab world.
- In the mid-1980s, sharia law was implemented in many countries, women in the Middle East were placed in a portable prison and in Europe they resumed the veil to reclaim their “identity,” which meant the refusal of assimilation to Western values and the Islamization of many European cities.
- First veils were imposed on women, then Islamists began their jihad against the West.
Laurence Rossignol, France’s Minister for the Family, Children and Women’s Rights, sparked a furor about the Islamic veil proliferating in her country, when she compared headscarved women to “American negroes who accepted slavery.” In addition, Elisabeth Badinter, one of France’s most famous feminists, even called for boycotting Europe’s fashion companies, such as Uniqlo and Dolce & Gabbana, which are developing Islamically correct clothes (in 2013, Muslims spent $266 billion dollars on clothing, and the figure could reach $484 billion by 2019).
A new trend is also emerging in Western popular culture, which was almost invisible in the media a decade ago: headscarved women are now also present in television programs such as MasterChef.
The mainstream culture now considers veiling women “normal.” Air France recently called on its female employees to wear veils while in Iran. The government of Italy recently veiled nude sculptures at Rome’s Capitoline Museum during a visit by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, out of “respect” for his sensibilities.
In the Arab-Islamic world, however, for a long time covered women were the exception.
It is hard to believe that, until the early 1990s, the majority of women in Algeria were not veiled. On May 13, 1958 at Place du Gouvernement in Algiers, dozens of women tore off their veils. Miniskirts invaded the streets.
Iran’s Revolution reversed this trend: the first scarf appeared at the beginning of the 1980s with the rise of the Islamic movements in Algeria’s universities and poor neighborhoods. The hijabwas distributed by the Iranian Embassy in Algiers.
In 1990, Algeria was on the edge of a long season of death and fear: a civil war, with the specter of Islamist breakthrough (100,000 dead). People knew that something terrible was going to happen by counting the number of veils in the streets.
The first victim of the Islamist war in Algeria was a girl who refused the veil, Katia Bengana. She defended her choice even as the executioners pointed a gun at her head. In 1994, Algiers literally awoke to walls plastered with Islamist posters announcing the execution of unveiled women. Today, very few women dare to leave their house without a hijab or chador.
Look at the photographs of Kabul in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and you will see many unveiled women. Then came the Taliban and covered them. The emancipation in Morocco was sparked by Princess Lalla Aisha, the daughter of Sultan Mohamed Ben Youssef, who took the title of king when the country proclaimed independence. In April 1947, Lalla gave a speech in Tangiers and people listened astonished to that unveiled girl. In a few weeks, women throughout the country refused the scarf. Today Morocco is one of the freest countries in the Arab world.
In Egypt, back in the 1950s, President Gamal Abdel Nasser took to television to mock the Muslim Brotherhood’s request to veil the women. His wife, Tahia, did not wear a scarf, even in official photographs. Today, according to the scholar Mona Abaza, 80% of Egyptian women are veiled. It was only in the 1990s that the strict Wahhabi version of Islam arrived in Egypt, through millions of Egyptians who went to work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Meanwhile, Islamist political movements gained ground. Then Egyptian women began sporting the veil.
In Iran, the traditional black veil covering Iranian women from head to ankles, invaded the country under Ayatollah Khomeini. He asserted that the chador is the “banner of the revolution” and imposed it on all the women.
Fifty years earlier, in 1926, Reza Shah had provided police protection to women who had chosen to refuse the veil. On January 7, 1936, the Shah ordered all the teachers, the wives of ministers and government officials “to appear in European clothes.” The Shah asked his wife and daughters to go unveiled in public. These and other Western reforms were supported by Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, who succeeded his father in September 1941, and instituted the ban on veiled women in public.
In Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk harangued female crowds, pushing them to set an example: taking off the veil meant hastening the necessary rapprochement between Turkey and Western civilization. For fifty years, Turkey refused
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