It is important to remember these words of Christopher Hitchens’ as we encounter what little resistance to full-body veil bans is left in Europe.

As when a Human Rights Watch writer stages the burqa/niqab as a “choice,” and, quite perversely, an expression of female “autonomy.”

Look at the image that accompanies her article. This woman is not wearing a full face veil; she is wearing a full body veil. The writer asks us to respect the rights of women who will under the ban never be able to leave their house. They are now “forc[ed] …to remain housebound.”


By whom? By what twisted understanding of religious texts? They are never to feel the sunlight again; never to take a walk. Because unless they look like the woman pictured in the article, unless totally wrapped to the point where they have no peripheral vision, their mouths pulled shut by tight material, they simply cannot leave their prison.

It was inevitable that democratic societies would eventually read the burqa/niqab, and the self-imprisoning (or husband/father/brother-imprisoning) of some of its wearers (most of its wearers, of course, will quietly accommodate themselves to the law, as they have in France), as a toxic refusal to engage in even the most basic forms of civic life. It is positively Orwellian for people like the HRW writer to champion the burqa as an icon of autonomy.


Or think of it this way:

This goes to the foundational issue of whether anyone can want the wrong things… Some concatenation of causes has trimmed down [some womens’] world view in such a way that doors to human flourishing are closed to them. So for instance literacy for women: I think that it is an intrinsic good, and it really doesn’t matter how many women you can get to tell you from behind their burqa that they don’t want to read…

Being born a woman in Afghanistan any time in last thirty years was to be unlucky… These lives have been imposed on them. When you listen to the expressions of relief and humility and clarity that you get around this notion of wearing the veil… you are hearing that as a response to the thuggish misogyny of the men in those cultures. Women are treated like whores and considered to be whores if they are not appropriately veiled. They are groped and … beaten for not being appropriately veiled… No doubt many women feel relieved to be appropriately veiled in those cultures.

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