Monday, August 2, 2010

The Muslim veil: Europe vs. the USA

by Stephen Prothero

USA Today
August 2, 2010

When it comes to religion, secular Europe and spiritual America are more than an ocean apart. So, too, when it comes to the veil.

In the USA, even opportunistic anti-immigration politicians are steering clear of the question of head coverings for Muslim women. But legislation banning burqas, niqabs and other forms of Islamic dress that cover the eyes is being hotly debated across Western Europe.

On June 30, a Tory member of Parliament introduced in the United Kingdom a bill that would make it illegal to cover one's face in public. On July 13, France's lower house of parliament passed, by a 335-1 vote, a ban on face-covering veils.

Politics is, of course, about power, but power is energized by symbols, and in Western Europe the veil symbolizes gender inequality — a "walking coffin," according to the French immigration minister, Eric Besson.