Foreign Policy Blogs

In Your Face; Banning the Niqab in Syria

In the past week the Syrian Government has banned the Niqab, or full face veil, from school campuses.

The Niqab, or Full Face Veil

The Niqab, or Full Face Veil

While no formal announcement has been made, and enforcement has been spotty, word spread through Damascus as university employees wearing the full face veil were transferred out of the classroom. The ban would cover, or uncover in this particular case, students and school employees on school campuses throughout the country.

As evidenced by a recent trip to the University of Damascus campus, enforcement of the ban is still hardly uniform. However, if the recent public ban on smoking is any indication the Syrian government is perfectly capable of carrying out such mandates when it’s motivated to do so. Personally I find it perfectly reasonable to expect the ban to be progressively fazed in over the next 3-6 months.

The ban places in the Syrian government in interesting company, as France and Belgium have already passed such legislation, and the Spanish government considers similar measures. While the ban in these western states has been greeted by calls of discrimination and anti-Islamic intentions, the Syrian ban has met with little criticism, especially locally.

This ban must be viewed within the context of ongoing tensions between the majority Sunni Muslim population, and the ruling Alawite minority. Officially the government espouses a strongly secular ideology, however, many within the local population project a more Islamic outlook. The wearing of Islamic dress, especially the Hijab (or head scarf which leaves the face uncovered) and Niqab, has been on the rise of late and represents a strong statement of piety for some.

The Hijab, or Headscarf

The Hijab, or Headscarf

If recent reactions are any indication, many Syrians seem quite content with the ban. From my very unofficial and unscientific conversations with locals, I get the impression that many would actually call for stronger measures if they could. Most muslims I have spoken with see the Niqab as something that is outside Islam, describing it as an illegitimate form of religious expression.

I tend to agree with this view and see the Niqab as a dehumanizing instrument. However, anytime matters of religious observance are legislated by governments things can get a bit sticky. In spite of my feelings towards the Niqab I don’t think a governmental ban is the most effective way of handling the issue, regardless if that ban is taking place in predominantly Muslim Syria, or in European capitols. I’m interested to see how slippery this slope gets.



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.