By Ryan Mauro
On April 17, a refugee camp at Kohat in Pakistan was struck by two suicide bombers who disguised themselves in burqas. The attack, which killed 41 people and injured 62, is sure to heighten the debate in Europe about whether wearing burqas and niqabs in public should be banned. A parliamentary committee in Belgium has unanimously approved such a ban, with the final vote in the House of Representatives on April 22 expected to pass it. Movements to ban the burqa in Europe are growing due to concern that the Islamic veil can be used to disguise the identities of terrorists planning attacks like those that just took place in Pakistan and over the lack of assimilation of Muslim immigrants.
These concerns are not unfounded. Even though Islam frowns upon cross-dressing, male terrorists dressing up as burqa-clad women in order to carry out attacks is becoming more and more part of their modus operandi. This tactic has even been used by bank robbers and other criminals on many occasions, including in the US.
Terrorists have repeatedly donned burqas in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in the UK, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, India, Somalia and Mauritania. In the UK, one man who tried to set off a bomb in July 2005 in London was able to escape by wearing a burqa. The use of this clothing makes counter-terrorism difficult because female police, who are in short supply, must be used to search those wearing burqas. The police chief of Iraq’s Babil Province in August 2008 complained about this after two burqa-wearing females attacked Shiite pilgrims.
Daniel Bacquelaine of the Reformist Movement party in Belgium says that he supports the ban because it contradicts liberal democratic values. “There is nothing in Islam or the Quran about the burqa. It has become an instrument of intimidation, and is a sign of submission of women. And a civilised society cannot accept the imprisonment of women,” he told Time Magazine. The argument follows that the ban, therefore, does not violate freedom of religion since wearing burqas is more of a cultural practice than something mandated by Islam.