Following the French government’s effort to ban the niqab and burka in public premises, it must come as particularly surprising to many that Syria appears to be following in the footsteps of France (and Turkey) by restricting the use of the niqab.
Based on recent reports in the international media, it appears that “Syria has forbidden the country's students and teachers from wearing the niqab”.
The Syrian government, grounded in secularism, seems intent on keeping what it sees as “extremism” in check. Perhaps not so ironically, we have not heard much of an outcry against Syria from religious zealots and various misguided liberals, as we did when this issue in the French context first became widely publicised.
I am curious if the religious zealots and even pseudo-liberals will also jump on the case of the Syrian government and accuse it of being anti-Islamic. Perhaps the pseudo-liberals and religious extremists do believe that Syria, whose population is well over 85 percent Muslim, has a government that is anti-Muslim?
If I were a betting person, however, I would bet that we won’t find a hue and cry in the Islamic world about Syria’s recent action to ban the niqab and burka as we did when the topic happen to make the headlines in the case of France.
It is understandable that religious zealots would invariably have an issue with secular principles. However, it is deeply disappointing indeed when so-called liberals jump on the same bandwagon with religious bigots to condemn secular governments such as France when it seeks to elevate and preserve secularism.
It seems that pseudo-liberals have a problem when a secular country such as France seeks to preserve its identity as a secular nation, but become tongue-tied when predominantly Muslim countries such as Syria or Turkey act in a similar vein to affirm their commitment to secularism.
Too many liberals are quick to latch on to simplistic claims about xenophobia, anti-Islamism, and such without appreciating the more subtle and nuanced elements of such means to preserve the distinction between religion and a secular system of governance.
We’ve seen all too well what tends to happen when a secular government begins to indulge - and then over-indulges – religion, and especially self-professed religious experts.
Despite all its flaws and shortcomings, hats off to the Syrian government – a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference - for understanding the need to preserve religion in the private sphere.