By Jenn Piatt, Global Peace and Security Issue Analyst on US-Muslim world relations

The ban on the face veil in a few European countries, has received wide spread attention. Justifications for the legal bans vary; yet, seem to be centered on three key concepts: national security, the oppression/liberation of women, and the promotion of secularism.

Setting aside the legal and secularist arguments that each of these countries face within the context of their domestic laws, is banning the veil really accomplishing what they set out to? Does removing a face covering achieve national security, liberate women, or enhance the secularist perspective? I’ m unpersuaded by the arguments.

There are many reasons women wear a veil. They can be largely broken down into four broad categories, though it should be noted that this is not a comprehensive list. Some women wear the veil because of the real violence they could face if they did not. Secondly, many women wear the veil because of outside pressure. Whether it’s family, society, or their spouse’s, many women feel if they did not wear the veil, they would not be respected and could perhaps bring shame upon their families. Thirdly, many women wear the veil out of devotion to their understanding of their faith. Some women believe it is required in Islam. While this area is highly debated, a true exploration of Islamic law on the veil is outside of the scope of this post. The important thing to understand is that many women believe, as a part of their faith, that they must wear the veil. Still many others wear the veil because they choose to. They know the discussions on both sides; yet make the conscious choice for many reasons.

In the instances where women are being forced to wear the veil, what do policy makers and supporters of the ban think will happen to these women once the law becomes effective? The answer is that they will be forced to remain in their homes. The veil ban effectively renders them on house arrest and deprives them of the same fundamental notions these countries assert as vital to their society. Furthermore, in instances where a woman makes a conscious choice to wear the veil, does a policy aimed solely at their faith, result in a magical “ awakening” that the choice they made was the wrong one? Undoubtedly, the answer is no.

In the context of this debate, I can’ t help but think that there is one important voice missing: the Muslim women who actually wear the veil. Many articles promote the ban, asserting that the ban is the “ right” thing to do for women [oddly, many of these articles are authored by men]. Yet, rarely do these voices cite a Muslim woman’ s perspectives, concerns or attitudes on the topic. I should hesitate to think that the same kind of treatment would be afforded to say, the break up of the NFL and its consequences for men.

Additionally, many have asserted that banning the veil is justified on grounds of national security. In a post 9/11 climate, it’s easier to make this assertion; however, even if one concedes the ban could produce minimal gains in national security, surely there are less restrictive and more cost effective means available to achieve the desired goal. For instance, in the relatively few situations where national security concerns are present, why not have a female officer, judge, or lawyer present in order to verify identity, search a person, or take a deposition. Surely the cost of utilizing a female employee in a private setting is substantially less expensive than enforcing a cumbersome law. Removing officers from other valuable crime fighting activities, such as theft, drugs, and violence, cannot be justified for issuing tickets regarding the cover of one’ s face.

Not only are the costs and minimal security gains problematic, but what about the message this sends to European Muslim women and the message sent to the Muslim women around the world. Or is that the point?

What about the foreign policy repercussions to the ban? The seeming endless supply of evidence that the “ Western World is at war with Islam?” Surely one can see, the means cannot possibly produce the ends.

So, what do European social issues have to do with the United States? Why not just let the Europeans ban what they like with little comment from the United States or its residents? Perhaps it is true that we can have little affect in Europe, or that we ought to; however, we can have a lasting impact at home. We can ensure that these types of divisive laws aren’t allowed to take shape in the United States. We can vocalize the dangers of the ban for women and westerners alike. It’ s important to change the perspective on why women wear the veil and seek to learn more about a faith that may seem distant to some. Indeed, in today’s globally connected world long term peace and security depend on it.

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