The Burqa Has No Place In A Western Democracy

Two women wearing burqas in Hyde Park, London
Two women wearing burqas in Hyde Park, London
Joao Pereira Coutinho


As I walk through central London, I see many women wearing burqas passing me by. And as I've always felt in that sort of situation, I was uncomfortable. Physically and morally uncomfortable.

They say you're not supposed to feel such things. Nor to write about them. What right, indeed, do I have to impose a dress code on someone else?

None, I admit. But when I see a woman transformed into a mummy, it's not myself I think about. I think about her. Is that a personal choice, I ask myself, or it is — like in the overwhelming majority of cases — a form of submission to male power?

These women walk in the street entirely covered. And the husbands walk not with them but in front of them, in a public and very visible demonstration of the place women occupy in the hierarchy of sexes.

Have a smoke

This is why I support the ban on the burqa, or full veil, in European public spaces. Such legislation already exists in France and is currently being debated in Germany. For starters, not hiding your face is simply a form of respect towards others. Living in Western society also means sharing some of its values and behaviors.

Just like I don't roam the streets naked (despite my pantheist side), I appreciate it when others don't hide their entire bodies from head to feet.

The burqa ban is also a form of respect towards these women. I'm staunchly opposed to the state sticking its nose in other people's business except in extreme cases. If a woman wishes to have her head and body entirely covered at home, that's her problem. But it's a different thing when we're talking about the world outside of those four walls.

Can the rule of law really permit the public exhibition of a woman kept in a prison of cloth? Or should it declare, loud and clear, that there shall be no tolerance whatsoever for these demonstrations of male brutality?

Of course, some will claim just the opposite — that the brutality would a burqa ban's lack of respect for "different cultures." It's an interesting argument. I didn't think that violence against women was a "culture" worth respecting among civilized people.

And, while we're at it, multiculturalists should remember that Western culture is also a "different culture." On what grounds does the "tolerance" always apply to other people but never to us?

In any case, I can only recommend that people read the Daily Telegraph"s story on the liberation of the Syrian city of Manjib from ISIS. For two years, these people lived under the clutches of the so-called "Islamic State." The liberation came with U.S.-backed troops. And when the women saw the soldiers entering the town, what did they do? They ripped off their black burqas and smoked cigarettes in celebration.

I can understand that these two actions — ripping off burqas and smoking cigarettes — might offend multiculturalists and health nuts in equal measure. But when I see a woman in a burqa on the streets of London, that's also my wish: to invite her to come out of her dungeon and share a cigarette with her to celebrate her freedom.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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