As some of the discussion around that post argued that this was racist move I was interested to read that Syria (a secular state with a muslim majority) has this week announced a ban on women wearing full face veils in universities. From a feminist perspective, does this change the debate?
The draft bill says that “no one can, in the public space, wear clothing intended to hide the face.” The bill also defines “public space” broadly, including streets, markets and private businesses, as well as government buildings and public transportation. A fine of $190 will be imposed on those wearing the full facial veil, and anyone who forces a woman to wear such a veil will be punished by a fine of as much as $38,000 and a year in jail, doubled if the victim is a minor. (from here)
The ban shows a rare point of agreement between Syria's secular, authoritarian government and the democracies of Europe: Both view the niqab as a potentially destabilizing threat. "We have given directives to all universities to ban niqab-wearing women from registering," a government official in Damascus told The Associated Press on Monday.
The order affects both public and private universities and aims to protect Syria's secular identity, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. Hundreds of primary school teachers who were wearing the niqab at government-run schools were transferred last month to administrative jobs, he added.
The ban, issued Sunday by the Education Ministry, does not affect the hijab, or headscarf, which is far more common in Syria than the niqab's billowing black robes.
Syria is the latest in a string of nations from Europe to the Middle East to weigh in on the veil, perhaps the most visible symbol of conservative Islam. Veils have spread in other secular-leaning Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, with Jordan's government trying to discourage them by playing up reports of robbers who wear veils as masks. Turkey bans Msulim headscarves in universities, with many saying attempts to allow them in schools amount to an attack on modern Turkey's secular laws.
See here for the full article, which also takes a [patronising] class angle on the issue in Syria:
But in the Middle East — particularly Syria and Egypt, where there have been efforts to ban the niqab in the dorms of public universities — experts say the issue underscores the gulf between the secular elite and largely impoverished lower classes who find solace in religion. Some observers say the bans also stem in part from fear of dissent.