The issue at the heart of terrorism and security concerns though is rising marginalisation of Islam and the extremism that emanates from this.
In the aftermath of the horrific Easter attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka by ISIS-affiliated terrorists, the island nation’s president, Maithripala Sirisena, said he was using an emergency law to ban face coverings in public. Any piece of cloth or garment that covers the face of the wearer and “hinders identification” is outlawed, the leader’s office said, in a move that is apparently being carried out for security reasons after Islamic militants carried out the vicious and relentless terror attacks that killed at least 250 people and injured scores more. Although the official press release from the president’s team did not contain the words, ‘niqab’ or ‘burqa’—face-covering veils traditionally worn by Muslim women—critics are already pinning it to the state deliberately impinging on the religious freedom of Muslims. While the two poles in the larger debate on burqa ban are, respectively, that veiling is a choice and that it is a symbol of oppression, in the Sri Lanka instance, with reports of intelligence from various sources warning of more attacks where the terrorists may be clad in military uniform or face-veils typical of the burqa, there is little reason to read too much into the ban.
Limitations on wearing face veils in public have already been enacted in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Austria and Denmark. Critics of the Muslim veiling tradition argue that women do not wear the veil by choice, and they are often forced to cover their heads and bodies. The opposing camp holds that, for some, the veil symbolises devotion, piety and identity. To them it is a question of religious identity and self-expression. The bans have, in some instances, led to harsher violence against Muslim women. Surveys of attitudes toward French Muslims post the country’s ban showed that there was a strong correlation between the highly publicised legislation banning headscarves in 2004 and an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment.
Banning face veils prescribed by Islam for national security reasons is tricky terrain, since it encroaches upon personal freedoms, but it is a necessary evil. At the same time, it could be liberating for some women who are actually facing injustice and oppression—the dreaded culture police in some Islamic nations that enforce veiling has its parallels within the Muslim community even in progressive nations. The issue at the heart of terrorism and security concerns though is rising marginalisation of Islam and the extremism that emanates from this.