Italian region bans burqas in response to Paris terror attacks

Ishaan Tharoor via the washington post

Visitors to Naneci Yurdagul’s “Burquoi” exhibit are pictured through a burqa at an art gallery in Wiesbaden, Germany, on Dec. 12, 2012. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

Authorities in the northwestern Italian region of Lombardy have pushed through a ban on the wearing of Islamic veils and head scarves in public buildings and hospitals, supposedly in response to heightened security fears after the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks. The move, which comes into effect next year, marks the first time that a region in Italy has banned burqas, niqabs and other similar garb.

“Whoever wants to enter a hospital in Lombardy must be recognizable and present themselves uncovered,” said Simona Bordonali, head of security, civil protection and immigration in Lombardy, according to the Daily Telegraph. “The burqa [and the] niqab are therefore banned.”

Lombardy, a wealthy hotbed of industry, is governed by the right-wing Northern League, which has advocated a strong line against immigration and the supposed threat posed by Muslims.

Northern League politicians elsewhere have enacted smaller, local bans on Islamic attire. In 2010, the town of Novara, in the neighboring region of Piedmont, imposed its own particular restrictions. The year prior, the mayor of the town of Varallo Sesia instituted a ban on the burqini — a type of swimwear that covers the head.


As WorldViews detailed earlier this year, several countries in Europe and Asia have public bans on burqas and head scarves, mostly as local ordinances and laws. This is often the consequence of specific state policies on secularism. But more recent efforts seem to reflect growing concern about Muslim integration and Islamist infiltration.

Last week, members of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union proposed a full ban on burqas in public. “Anyone who wears them is demonstrating that they are not ready to integrate in our free and open society,” a statement read. Earlier this year in Canada, the relatively small matter of whether a woman could wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies became a political wedge issue in the country’s elections.

In many instances, though, the voices for tolerance and multiculturalismhave been just as loud.

Andrea Orlando, Italy’s justice minister, reacted harshly to Lombardy’s burqa ban. “Right now the last thing we need is to wave symbols about and make propaganda — a domain in which the Islamist extremists are unbeatable,” Orlando said.

persecution of muslims in china

A Chinese couple has been sentenced to spend years in prison for wearing overtly Islamic fashions in the western Chinese city of Xinjiang. Chinese authorities sentenced the man to six years for sporting a beard and the woman to two years for wearing a burqa.

The Agence France-Presse reports that the couple was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” though the article does not mention whether any individuals testified that the couple had expressly picked any quarrels with them. The 38-year-old man reportedly began growing his beard in 2010 and refused to shave it off on multiple occasions, while the woman had also been warned not to wear Islamic clothing in public.

According to local authorities, “Since the beginning of the year, a certain number of people breaking the regulation on beards, veils and burqas have been prosecuted and sentenced.”

Uyghur organizations have condemned the punishment as a violation of the couple’s rights. The World Uyghur Congress, an organization serving the Uyghur diaspora, called the sentence “absurd,” noting, “If a Chinese person grows a beard, it is a personal fashion he is allowed to choose freely. If a Uighur grows a beard, he is a religious extremist.”

The Chinese government, run by the Communist Party and, on principle, opposed to all religion, has been transparent in its desire to eradicate Islam from China. In August 2014, authorities announced new regulations that banned beards and Islamic clothing in public in Xinjiang, the western province home to most of the nation’s Uyghur population. In December, the regional legislature passed a law banning burqas specifically.

Chinese authorities have argued that such laws are necessary to curb terrorist activity. Xinjiang experienced an increase in terrorist activity in 2014, with a combination of bomband knife attacks taking dozens of lives. The Chinese government also claims that at least 300 of its citizens–most, if not all, of Uyghur ethnic extraction–have joined the Islamic State.

Some argue that the Chinese government’s crackdown on Islam is pushing Uyghurs towards Islamist extremism. UCA News, a Catholic Asian outlet, cites the deputy director of the Xinjiang Islamic Association as urging China to recruit more state-approved Islamic authorities, rather than shun Islam in its entirety. While he notes that “if the religious leaders compete with the extremists on Islamic knowledge, I cannot guarantee that they would win,” he adds that a well-versed Islamic authority could use some parts of the Koran to counter the segments that can be used to “inject violent thoughts” into those who are insufficiently well-read.

The Chinese government has not only used the threat of arrest and state-sanctioned violence to curb the practice of Islam. In an attempt to convince Muslim women to abandon Islamic garb, a campaign called “Project Beauty” was launched in 2013, meant to convince Muslim women that wearing their hair out was preferable to hiding it, including the forced viewing of a film arguing why women should show their faces.

The niqab is perfectly compatible with Canadian values, Mr. Harper

Idil Issa is a Canadian writer and consultant based in Ottawa.

It is unclear why Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party have latched on to the niqab in the lead-up to the federal election this fall. There are plenty of wedge issues that would allow a conservative PM to muster his base. However, it is the niqab, that alien garment, so unfamiliar to Canadians in their daily life, that has been selected as the wedge of choice.

What is the niqab? A cloth that veils the lower half of the face. Some argue that it originates with pre-Islamic Arabian traditions practiced by rich and privileged classes of women. It is a marker of pious separation, in a manner similar to the cloistering of nuns. The religious rationale is that diminishment of the physical allows one to more deeply plumb the depths of the spiritual; as such, the niqab represents a conservative interpretation of religious dress in Islam. Not many adhere to it, and given its tiny impact, not many bother to be for or against it. Until now.

On March 16, the member of parliament for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, Conservative Larry Miller, told a call-in radio program: “Frankly, if you’re not willing to show your face in a ceremony that you’re joining the best country in the world, then frankly, if you don’t like that or don’t want to do that, stay the hell where you came from, and I think most Canadians feel the same.” By pandering to base prejudices, politicians like Mr. Miller are paving the way to the polls with discrimination, hatred, and division.

The impact that these casual remarks have on the few women who do wear the niqab is incalculable. Law-abiding and peaceful women, who may be marginalized to begin with, are further victimized by the insensitive decision to make political hay out of their private choices.

Prime Minister Harper fares little better than Mr. Miller. He stated in parliament that the niqab “is not transparent, is not open and, frankly, is rooted in a culture that is anti-women.” When one speaks of transparency and openness in public life, it is usually in reference to intangibles such as access to information and honesty, not to thread count. But perhaps this helps to obscure the Prime Minister’s own abysmal record on openness and transparency.

To those claiming that the niqab is antithetical to liberal democracy, I would beg to differ. The niqab is perhaps awkwardly placed within a republic, in which the people are, supposedly, ruling themselves directly, and must show up to a thought-experiment senate every day to legislate. One notices that France, and former French colonies, seem to have more difficulty with the niqab, and this may have something to do with republicanism and the understanding of the citizen as legislator.

However, in a parliamentary democracy, we elect representatives, and our will is expressed through them, at least formally. A niqab-wearing woman can voice her opinion, she can email her political representative, and she can cast her ballot. She is not hampered in expressing her democratic will any more than a person wearing tattoos, piercings or other unusual items would be.

Furthermore, it seems a little ironic that the institutions that have historically been birthed through a passion to preserve the freedom of conscience of the human being, whether midwifed by the persecuted Puritans in the United States who built a new kind of democracy, or the Protestants of Europe and Britain who dared to practice their religion outside the community of the Catholic Church, are now being used against religious minorities to curb these very same freedoms.

It is precisely the unpopular ways of being, related to the most fundamental aspects of our lives as free agents, which are jealously protected within a liberal democracy. Our ability to choose how we dress, who we love, who we meet with, who or what we worship, is the sine qua non of life in an open society. Any fundamental freedoms which turn on the popularity of a minority group within a majority population are freedoms that have not been fully realized. Reasonable accommodation, in this light, does not refer to what odd religious or cultural or sexual practices the majority is willing to tolerate, but what hardships we are all willing to bear in order to reach for true equality.

It is telling that the Prime Minister has chosen the swearing of the Canadian citizenship oath as the site where he wishes to restrict religious freedoms. From a legal perspective, the widest possible latitude is given to the most intensely felt personal convictions, which are engaged to meaningfully solemnize this oath, whether rooted in the Bible, the Koran, or secular-humanist values. Is this misunderstanding due to ignorance or cynicism? Given Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s track record to date, that’s anyone’s theory.

China jails Muslim man for six years for refusing to shave beard

News / World

China jails Muslim man for six years for refusing to shave beard

His wife is imprisoned for two years for wearing a burqa, as part of a severe crackdown on Muslim ‘extremism’.

A delegate from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region speaks during a meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 10. Critics see China's crackdown on Islam as an intensification of long-standing repression of the culture and rights of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur people, who face widespread economic and social discrimination.


A delegate from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region speaks during a meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on March 10. Critics see China’s crackdown on Islam as an intensification of long-standing repression of the culture and rights of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur people, who face widespread economic and social discrimination.

BEIJING—A Muslim was jailed for six years in China for refusing to shave off his beard, while his wife was imprisoned for two years for wearing a burqa, as part of a severe crackdown on religious “extremism” in the far-western province of Xinjiang, local media reported.

China blames rising violence in Xinjiang on Muslim fanatics and terrorists, and the government has been trying to force people to abandon conservative forms of Islam. Under an initiative known as Project Beauty, men wearing long beards and women in face-covering veils can be fined, as well as face surveillance and re-education. Criminal punishments for these offences were introduced in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, in February.

But the six-year jail sentence, reportedly for “picking quarrels and making trouble,” would represent a particularly severe punishment. According to the Kashgar Special Zone News, the 38-year-old man had grown a beard in 2010 and refused to shave it off despite repeated demands from local officials. It was unclear if he faced other charges: the maximum sentence for the reported charge is normally five years.

Critics see the crackdown on Islam as an intensification of long-standing repression of the culture and rights of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur people, who face widespread economic and social discrimination. China sees it is a justifiable response to a series of bomb and knife attacks by extremists bent on violent jihad.

The man’s wife was sentenced to two years because she wrote a confession to local authorities. The article quoted her as saying the court had given her “a chance to be reborn” and as vowing to repent for her mistakes when she is released.

The original report, issued Friday, cited the political and legal affairs committee of the Kashgar government as the source. It was picked up by major Chinese Web portals on Sunday, but later deleted by censors. On Monday, the reporter concerned wrote an apology for filing “a false report,” although there was considerable skepticism online about whether this apology was genuine or made under pressure from red-faced local officials.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman of the exiled World Uighur Congress, called the reported sentence unprecedented. “It’s unacceptable and absurd, and shows China’s hostile mentality and the crisis of its rule,” he wrote in an email. The aim, he added, was to “use judicial and administrative means to force Uighurs to give up their own way of life and accept the Chinese tradition.” This, he warned, would only provoke people to fight back.

The story was originally issued as part of a series of stories on the achievements Kashgar has made in getting rid of burqas. Officials were quoted as boasting that the city’s court has sentenced a number of “outlaws blinded by religious extremism, who wear burqas, veils and grow beards.” The Kashgar Special Zone News is a free supplement included in local papers.

Each family has to sign a “deradicalization” pledge, the paper reported, while a “buddy system” has been set up to “help” those who have been caught wearing burqas. In one village, the local authorities have educated and “converted” more than 100 women, while authorities have also encouraged religious people under 50 to shave off their beards, according to the paper.

In another township in Kashgar, 54 people who used to wear veils or beards were given training on skills such as baking, hairdressing and tailoring. “They have relatively low level of education and are deeply influenced by religious extremism,” Wang Huailiang, a township party secretary, was quoted as saying. “But we must not discriminate against them. We must let them learn some skills so that they can make a living on their own.”

As part of the efforts to eliminate extremism, people of all ages have been forced to dance to Chinese pop music and sing “red songs”—in praise of revolution and the Chinese Communist Party.

On Chinese social media, the sentence provoked debate, Agence France-Presse reported. “Anyone dressed that way is a terrorist, not a Muslim!” wrote one user on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Others dismissed the anti-beard campaign as a “simple and crude” measure that would do little to ensure public safety, while some noted that the German political theorist whose ideas inspired Communist parties across the world was far from clean-shaven.

“How many years would Marx have been sentenced to?” one user asked.

Islam needs to reform or leave, says Canadian leader of PEGIDA movement

Islam needs to reform or leave, says Canadian leader of PEGIDA movement

PEGIDA, a controversial European movement, plans to ‘send a message’ in a rally that has been denounced in the House of Commons and the Quebec legislature.

Supporters of the PEGIDA movement demonstrate in Dresden, Germany in January.  The group has quickly gained mass appeal by demanding a more restrictive policy on Germany's acceptance of foreign refugees and asylum seekers.


Supporters of the PEGIDA movement demonstrate in Dresden, Germany in January. The group has quickly gained mass appeal by demanding a more restrictive policy on Germany’s acceptance of foreign refugees and asylum seekers.

MONTREAL—Islam needs to change or it needs to leave.

That’s the message from one of the leaders who has brought to Canada a controversial European movement that unites political conservatives, anti-immigration activists and neo-Nazis with the goal of beating back a perceived rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

Jean-François Asgard is one of five people to have launched PEGIDA Québec earlier this year, the latest branch of a global anti-Islam movement that was created last fall in the German town of Dresden.

PEGIDA (the name is a German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) was founded by a convicted burglar-turned-graphic designer who planned a protest against the opening of 14 refugee centres in his city. It has risen rapidly, gathering more than 20,000 people at its peak and provoking warnings and denunciations from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

That has done little to stop its global growth and there are now branches across Europe, in Australia, Britain and the United States. There is also a national PEGIDA Canada group as well as a branch in British Columbia.

“The incompatibility of Islam with the west is flagrant and that’s the reason that PEGIDA and the Western patriots are rising up. It’s not just to counter Islam but to say that if Islam doesn’t reform itself, Islam needs to get out of the west,” Asgard, 33, told the Star in the group’s first interview ahead of a controversial march planned for this weekend.

Though the group is still in its infancy it has already been denounced on the floor of the House of Commons in Ottawa and condemned by members of Quebec’s national assembly for promoting hatred and fear at an already sensitive time for Quebec’s Muslims.

“Its actions are directly targeting the Muslim community. Among its supporters, we find Christian fundamentalists and adherents of the (National Front of Canada), a movement that is clearly against immigration and ferociously anti-Islam,” wrote Québec Solidaire co-leader Françoise David in an letter published in Montreal’s Le Devoir.

A protester holds a sign at the Hendrik Conscienceplein during a protest by the Belgian branch of the German group PEGIDA earlier this month.


A protester holds a sign at the Hendrik Conscienceplein during a protest by the Belgian branch of the German group PEGIDA earlier this month.

The rally, which PEGIDA is already touting as its North American grand opening, will start on the outer edge of Montreal’s “Petit Maghreb,” home to a number of the city’s North African — largely Muslim — businesses and residents. From there, Asgard said, it will head south with a planned stop outside the Islamic centre run by Adil Charkaoui, a man formerly accused of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent.

Charkaoui has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that a number of the seven young Quebecers who recently fled the country to join the ranks of the Islamic State had attended his Islamic dogma and Arabic-language courses.

“We intend to make a stop there (at Charkaoui’s mosque) and, with the loudspeaker, it will send a message,” Asgard said, adding that the police have already given the group a permit for the march.

A number of other groups, including one describing itself as anti-fascists, are planning a counter demonstration.

Earlier this week, former Bloc Québécois MP Maria Mourani, now an Independent who intends to represent the NDP in the next federal election, asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to send a message that would “unequivocally urge the people of Quebec not to take part in this.”

“Although people are free to take part in demonstrations, we encourage them to abide by the rules of democracy,” replied Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.

In a Facebook exchange with the Star another of PEGIDA Quebec’s administrators explained that the group is a reaction to last October’s back-to-back terror attacks in Ottawa and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., as well as a perceived failure of the provincial government’s failure to crack down on Muslim fundamentalists in Quebec.

“It is all of those events as well as (Premier Philippe) Couillard protecting and consulting the fundamentalists instead of protecting us, so we must now do his job,” said the administrator of the Facebook page, who refused to provide his or her identity. None of the other organizers could be reached for comment.

Asgard said that a group of five people came together in January to start PEGIDA Quebec. For the most part, the leaders of the group were previously administrators of other Facebook pages that are critical of the Islamic faith.

Plans for Saturday’s rally began taking shape only in the last few weeks with a March 14 dinner meeting, where great attention was paid to security and secrecy. Attendees were required to provide a telephone number and personal photograph before they would be provided with details on the meeting spot.

Asgard said there have been more than 100,000 visits to the group’s Facebook page and between 300 and 400 people have shown an interest in attending the Saturday rally. He said he would be happy if even 100 showed up.

So far, the group appears to have gathered several dozen individuals ranging from sovereigntist supporters who have displayed their loyalty to the Parti Québécois, to fans of skinhead punk bands, to others whose social media profiles make reference to the Roman Catholic Crusaders of the Middle Ages.

Beware Stephen Harper’s crusade against unfamiliar clothing

A few years back I attended the annual Robbie Burns supper on Parliament Hill. The event was a welcome opportunity for all MPs to do something collegial while celebrating Scottish heritage. To make the event memorable I decided to go in full Highland dress, a kilt and all. Peter MacKay and I presented the haggis and we all enjoyed the poetry of that great Scottish bard. I learned about a culture different than my own but one inextricably linked to our wider Canadian identity. This is the Canada I know, this is the Canada I want to preserve.

The reaction to my tartan attire, which was once banned by the Dress Act of 1746 in an attempt to suppress the Scottish culture, was one of great amusement as I was, naturally, also sporting a turban. My children enjoy the pictures to this day. To me that image is also a fun encapsulation of our shared mosaic: distinct cultures coming together to create something uniquely Canadian. Yet there are those who seek to turn our differing beliefs, our choices of dress, into tools for political division.

In the early 1990s, Stephen Harper and the Reform Party were leading the charge in a campaign against a young RCMP officer who wanted to wear his turban while in uniform. Mr. Harper used inflamed rhetoric and encouraged the impression that part of Canada was being lost by changing a national symbol. At the time the Reform Party called it a “needless concession to a Canadian minority.” In my view, they seemed intent to sow an “us” versus “them” mentality.

Now, uniform-appropriate turbans and kilts are worn unremarkably by police officers and by members of the Canadian Forces. Yet, the same Stephen Harper finds himself again on a crusade against unfamiliar clothing. Mr. Harper is appealing a Federal court ruling that overturned his ban on wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies.

Mr. Harper and his government seem intent on whipping us into a frenzy by claiming that allowing minor exceptions for religious beliefs in public life threatens our very way of living. Members of his caucus, including Ontario’s Larry Miller, have questioned whether someone can even be Canadian while wearing a niqab. All this comes from the same government that introduced the Office for Religious Freedom. What purpose does this serve? How does this strengthen the fabric of our society?

By playing his latest edition of “What Not to Wear” Mr. Harper is attempting to leverage the unease some Canadians feel about Islam. But the message heard by Muslim women in Canada in 2015 will be the same heard by young Canadian Sikh men in the 1990s and as was heard by Scottish Highlanders back in the 18th century: there are those who do not want you here and are willing to do anything to fight the threat they perceive.

Mr. Harper’s contemporary target has shifted from observant Sikh men to Muslim women but the consequence is the same: dividing Canadians.

I believe that Canadians see the strength of our shared diversity. Individuals like the young women who took to Twitter with #DressCodePM to express their displeasure with the idea of undue restrictions on religious expression, or fashion, remind me of that.

As a father of two daughters I know the kind of Canada that I want my children to grow up in. I want them to grow in a Canada where we celebrate our differences and teach a better understanding and encourage an acceptance of other cultures. Whether you’re a Sikh in a kilt or a Muslim in a niqab, your prime minister should be building a better country, not telling you how to dress.

The Hon. Navdeep Bains is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management and the Liberal candidate for the riding of Mississauga-Malton.