The Veil: Banning the Face Veil in West Africa


While the word is focused on the Syrian conflict and Daesh, there has been a steady rise in West Africa concerning Islamic extremism and terrorism. The most well known of these groups is the Northern Nigerian based Boko Haram, also known as Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyyah (Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad) that has been creating a path of fear, death, and terrorism across Nigeria and neighboring countries. To counter radicalization and terrorism many West African countries have banned the face veil as it is seen as a sign of radicalism.

The first country to do this was Chad after Boko Haram carried out suicide bombings in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. To be specific Chad banned the burqa, the veil that covers most of a woman’s body, face, and eyes. This means that security forces have the right to go into markets and confiscate all burqas being sold and burn them. As for the women wearing them, they can be arrested, tried, and sentenced after proceedings. The argument for banning the burqa and other face-veils is that terrorists have used the articles of clothing to disguise themselves while carrying out attacks. Others argue that by banning face veils it will be easier for security personnel to identify possible terrorists.

After Chad banned the burqa and with growing terrorism in West Africa, many other West African nations followed Chad’s example by banning face-veils. While many countries take up Chad’s argument on banning face-veils, that by banning face-veils it will be easier to ID potential terrorists, other West African countries also make the argument that the face-veil is un-African (it is more common in the Gulf States where it originated) and has never been valued by West African Muslims until recently. Others associate the face-veil with Boko Haram and extremism. While others  point to the correlation of the rise of puritan Islam (Wahhabi Islam) in West Africa and the face-veil’s rise in popularity as some West Africans abandon their traditional Sufi (mystical Islam) beliefs for puritanism that is being exported by Saudi Arabia. As for Wahhabist Islam, it is a recent phenomena in sub-Saharan Africa in that it has only showed itself in the past few decades as traders and students travel to the Gulf States while Saudi Arabia invested in Islamist institutes and mosques that preach Wahhabi Islam.

While West African countries try to battle extremism by banning the face-veil, and in some cases the hijab, questions have to be posed concerning the out-come. One such question that kept popping up in my mind while I read The Economist article on the subject (while waiting to broad a flight to DC at the Atlanta airport) was, “Won’t this feed ammunition and give wight to terrorists who want Islamic states?” And, “How will this affect women who will become the center of the anti face-veil initiative?” Both concerns can play into the hands of West African terrorists if not done carefully.


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