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Burqa ban: National security issue or Islamophobia?

By Norah Shen and Manasa Sriraj Apr. 28, 2021

Ivan Zhu Art


On March 12, the prime minister of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, signed into the law the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), outlawing burqas: a veiled, outer garment covering the entire face and body with a mesh screen over the eyes. Burqas are worn by women in some Islamic sects, such as followers of the conservative fundamentalist Salafi movement. As justification for his decision, Rajapaska claimed that the coverings promoted religious extremism, thus posing a direct threat to national security.

This is not the first time the government has banned burqas. After several bombings linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) killed over 260 people on Easter Sunday in 2019, burqas were temporarily outlawed, despite lack of evidence confirming that the bombers wore veils.

UN experts and other world leaders have sharply criticized the ban.

UN experts and other world leaders have sharply criticized the ban. Ahmed Shaheed, a United Nations freedom of religion rapporteur, noted that the restrictions fail to comply with international regulations guaranteeing religious freedom. Other activists for women’s rights have also condemned the law, claiming the ban as an Islamophobic move to target the Muslim religious minority in Sri Lanka.

“The ban comes from a belief that Muslim traditions and beliefs are ‘wrong’ and need to be ‘corrected’ in order for Muslims to assimilate into the rest of the country. Regardless of the reasoning the government may give against ‘religious extremism,’ it is Islamophobic and morally reprehensible,” Senior Samantha Chiotellis said.

The PTA not only prohibits burqas, but also enables the government to detain anyone accused of instigating violence or creating tensions between certain ethnic or religious groups for up to two years. Critics argue that the law is overly vague, allowing the government to detain virtually anyone for making any remarks about race or religion that officials disagree with, limiting free speech.

Some opponents believe that the legislation is part of a discriminatory agenda to segregate the country by its religious demographics.

Some opponents believe that the legislation is part of a discriminatory agenda to segregate the country by its religious demographics. Specifically, of Sri Lanka’s 22 million populace, nine percent are Muslims, with the majority—75 percent—of the people being Sinhalese-Buddhists, reports Associated Press. In the eyes of Sri Lanka’s citizens, especially those from Muslim backgrounds, recent actions only serve as an attempt to appease the Buddhist majority and systematically discriminate against the Islamic minority.

Consequently, Sri Lanka is not the only nation that has banned burqas recently. On March 7, Switzerland controversially passed a law banning all full-face coverings worn by Muslim women in public, including burqas and niqabs (a veil similar to burqas but without the eye mesh covering), on the basis of religious extremism with a slim margin of 51.2 percent of the vote. Denmark also has a burqa ban and has fined women for wearing face coverings. In 2018, when a woman refused to take off her niqab after being asked, she was fined 1,000 Danish kroner, or $155.

"The ban on burqas in Sri Lanka and other countries infringes on the religious freedoms of the Muslim population, reflecting these governments’ belief in the false stereotype that all Muslims are extremists. It is disturbing that countries like France—that are considered progressive—are violating their citizens’ liberties,” Freshman Vishal Makaram said.

The PTA bill has not yet been passed, but it is expected to receive approval from the cabinet of ministers and parliament. Despite protests from Muslim women and human rights groups, this wave of Islamophobia—disguised as a concern for national security—continues to threaten the livelihoods of Muslims all over the world.

 

About the Contributors

Norah Shen

Staff Writer


Norah Shen is a freshman at Leland High School and is a new staff writer. She likes to read, listen to music, and relentlessly tease her younger sister.










Manasa Sriraj

Staff Writer


Manasa Sriraj is a freshman at Leland High School and a staff writer. She is a STEM, puzzle, and geography freak and loves torturing her friends by spamming and "Rickrolling" on group chats. Her hobbies include listening to music, playing basketball and the guitar, experimenting with snack recipes (which usually result in messes), and building Rube Goldberg machines and gadgets out of Legos and other regular household objects.

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