What hides behind the veil debate.

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Enough with “pussyfooting around Muslim sensibilities,” said Jon Gaunt in the London Sun. Phil Woolas, minister for race relations, finally wised up and told a Muslim teacher’s aide that she could not wear a full-face veil while working at her Church of England school. He has evidently realized that it’s time to treat Muslims “the same as every other Brit,” subject to the same dress codes. Muslim leaders are naturally shrieking about the decision, complaining that no group has been as “systematically vilified” as theirs. The truth is, “no group in Britain has been such a pain in the burqa as some of the Muslims in recent years—and no group has contained elements that wanted to blow themselves and the rest of us up.”

This kind of Islamophobic rant doesn’t help anyone, said Johann Hari in the London Independent. The national debate about the veil has been going on for several weeks now, and it’s turned into “a political Pandora’s box, letting any old anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment spew out.” A few women, mostly converts, choose to wear the veil, and that is their right as Britons. What we should be doing is reaching out to “the bullied Muslim women” who would prefer to bare their faces but fear the wrath of their fathers or husbands. When we demonize veiled women as separatist and anti-social, we become “just another group of moralizing men telling them what to do.” These women who need our help feel trapped “between men who will call them whores if they take the veil off and men who will call them freaks if they keep it on.”

Attacking the veil on feminist grounds is misguided, said Maleiha Malik in the London Guardian. We Muslim women may have many different reasons for veiling. “For some it may be linked to patriarchal pressure, for others a symbol of identity and emancipation in a commodified and patriarchal society.” Let’s not forget that Muslim women are not oppressed only by Muslim men. “Their bodies have also been, and continue to be, a battleground for European and U.S. imperialism.” Back in the 19th century, British consuls justified their colonial rule in Egypt by arguing that the Brits would “liberate women from their oppressive veils.” Now, too, American and British propaganda for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq claimed that Muslim women would be freer after the invasions. The reality is that wars have killed “vast numbers” of women in both countries. No wonder we’re skeptical when Western men say they know what is best for Muslim women.

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Lahore, Pakistan, Daily Times

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