Christopher Hitchins in a column today argues that France and other countries should outlaw the burqa--full head to toe covering for women--partly for women's sake.
Wrong, Christopher. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Let's see, who was the last prominent American male to try to "rescue" poor, oppressed Muslim women?
Right, President George Bush. He started a war on Afghanistan that he justified in part by his noble desire to free Afghani women from Taliban control. Actually, he was just using women as a way of getting more support for his desire to capture and punish Al Qaeda.
The result has been much combat and death, including the accidental bombing of innocents--men, women, and children.
I posted the following comments under Hitchins' blog on slate.com:
Neither France nor the US nor any other country should legislate that women do not have the right to wear the burqa or the hijab.
Women's bodies and clothing have become a location on which men wage their political arguments--you must wear the burqa or you must not wear it. You must wear the hijab (headscarf) or you must not wear it.
Non-Muslims should stay out of this conversation. That way the clothing of Muslim women could become de-politicized, no longer part of a political argument between West and East. If their clothing were no longer part of a big political battle, men and women within Islam could discuss the clothing issue more rationally.
Even the Shi'ites could admit that the Qur'an requires neither the hijab nor the burqa. It speaks only of modesty for women, and it notes that Mohammad's wives needed to stay "behind a wall" to guard their privacy and social status. The "wall" became a veil when outside the home, and later other women imitated this elite practice in the way women today imitate the clothing of Hollywood stars.
If you really want to help Muslim women to gain equality, Christopher, you would best stay out of the conversation so Muslim men and women could work out these issues without Western pressure and politics.
Note: I teach Women and Religion at California State University, Northridge.