Symposium: Hate Behind the Niqab 1

By Jamie Glazov

What impulses engender the desire to cover a woman with a full black body covering -- with only a small slit opening for the eyes? To discuss this issue with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests are:

Read the original Symposium here

Nonie Darwish, author and founder of She grew up in Cairo and Gaza, the daughter of a high-ranking Egyptian army officer. She now lectures around the country to civic organizations, universities, churches, and synagogues. She is the author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.

Brigitte Gabriel, a journalist and news producer who started her career as an anchor for World News, an evening Arabic news broadcast throughout the Middle East , for which she reported on critical events in the Middle East . As a terrorism expert and the founder of the non-profit organization, Brigitte travels widely and speaks regularly on topics related to the Middle East . She is the author of Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America.

Dr. Nancy Kobrin, a psycho-analyst, Arabist, and counter-terrorism expert.

David Gutmann, emeritus professor of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.

Abul Kasem, an ex-Muslim who is the author of hundreds of articles and several books on Islam including, Women in Islam. He was a contributor to Leaving Islam – Apostates Speak OutBeyond Jihad: Critical Views From Inside Islam. as well as to

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Phyllis Chesler, an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York , a psychotherapist, and the author of thirteen books including, Women and Madness, The New Anti-Semitism, and The Death of Feminism in which she describes how Islamic gender apartheid has been penetrating the West. She has written about her captivity in Afghanistan for Frontpage Magazine. She has a blogsite and may be reached through her website:

FP: Dr. Nancy Kobrin, Abul Kasem, Nonie Darwish, Brigitte Gabriel, Dr. David Gutmann and Dr. Phyllis Chesler, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

We have gathered here today to discuss the Niqab, the Muslim women's full black body covering, which extends from head to toe - with only a small slit opening for the eyes. We are seeing more and more of the Niqab in many of our Western cities.

I would like to discuss the psychology of the Niqab. Why would a culture want to cover the female from head to toe in this way? One angle is the hate (and self-hate) that the men behind this ideology have in terms of trying to put the female gender out of sight and mind. But another angle is also the women who wear it voluntarily (and many do not of course). Their psychology is also very interesting in terms of how they look down at the unveiled women. This is a form of discrimination that is almost never discussed in our society.

It is very intriguing – and disturbing -- how our culture frames this debate. The Left is always teaching us that we must have tolerance for those Muslim women who want to wear the veil. But the real question is: how about those Muslim women who do not want to wear the veil and who face violence and discrimination in their own communities and families if they do not wear it? Where is the Left’s outrage about that? Where is the Left’s defense of these Muslim women? And how about the Muslim men and women who despise and look down at the Muslim and non-Muslim women in our society who are not veiled? Where are the sensitivity courses for them that the Left should be setting up if it really believes in multiculturalism and tolerance?

Dr. Kobrin, let’s begin with you. What would be your opening remark on the Niqab -- in terms of some of the themes I have introduced -- to start our discussion?

Kobrin: Thank you Jamie. I am honored to participate in such an important discussion and pleased that FP has created space for it.

The discussion of the veil, the niqab is complex as it can be approached from many different perspectives – religious, cultural, psychological and even linguistic.

The word, niqaab (sing.) and nuqub (pl.) in its Arabic root means to bore, to pierce, to make a hole. The sexual nature of the root should be apparent. In Hebrew and Aramaic the same root meaning exists. In Modern Hebrew there is the word nikBA, which means ‘tunnel’ and more importantly, the very word for ‘female’, nekeVA comes from this root. Yet today there is no veiling remotely comparable to what is going on within the global umma.

Why do I start with this comparison? The contrast illustrates how two Semitic peoples diverge in their customs and practices yet can share so much linguistically and culturally. One has modernized and the other has remained stagnate. Arab Muslim culture remains a shame honor culture. The shamed self always hides but in different ways. In this case, the male is so ashamed that he is born from a female and dependent upon her that he must then repudiate her.

The veil is about control/domination vis-à-vis submission of the female and her subjugation. The headscarf is the beginning of the slippery slope of subjugation that slides into the burqa and/or the niqab. Because it is such a sexually repressed culture, men shroud the female to avoid being sexually aroused by her essence. When exposed they feel not only highly aroused, but threatened and vulnerable, an emotional state not to be tolerated in Islam except in the presence of Allah. (personal communication, J. Lachkar)

It is baffling when we think there are fundamentalist Muslim women who claim that they should have the right to wear the niqab, and in some instances become more jihadi than the male. Perhaps some of these women have a false sense of being protected by it and compensate for their inferior status with passionate bravado.

But why? One may speculate that the internalized male hatred of the female leads to self-hatred and dissociating. It leaves these women out of touch with a healthier sense of self. Their passionate bravado masks profound humiliation and their terrors.

But what are these women’s terrors? My hunch is that it is quite simple but deadly serious – they are terrified of being murdered by their own because they live under a death threat. To master such a difficult situation they embrace the dress code with a vengeance.

Putting on the niqab is like cutting off one’s finger to feed the gods. They do it with the hope of keeping male murderous rage at arms’ length. The niqab is a nonverbal communication of a culture cut off from life and its senses and terrified of them.

FP: Brigitte Gabriel?

Gabriel: The tragedy of wrapping a woman with the Niqab is the conscious effort of rendering women as invisible shadow lurking in the background of existence. What started as a symbol of oppression has become now a cause and a fashion statement which women especially in the Islamic world are pressuring other Muslims women to wear lest they be accused of being unholy or unworthy of marriage.

Since in the Islamic world most women are not allowed to work, their reputation and honor in the community will be the deciding factor in their marriage prospects. A woman's value in the marriage market will increase the more her Islamic practice is abided by. A woman wearing a Niqab is a desirable symbol of obedience and complete submission to her religion and its teaching which makes her a perfect servant to a man. Most women will face more pressure from their female family members to wear the Niqab than from the male members of the family. Today with the rise of Islamism throughout the world the Niqab, Hijab, Burka or the head covers have become a fashion symbol flashed by Muslim women in the West as well to show their pride in their Islamic heritage.

When a woman is deprived of any worthiness by her religion such as the case with Islam, she hangs on any symbols which give her respect in her society as a good woman. There is a saying in the Arabic world to a woman: "Allah Yustur Alaiki" May Allah cover your shame. Her existence as she is created by God is shameful and needs to be covered first by a veil then by a husband. The Niqab is the answer to that prayer.

Darwish: A woman’s body according to several Islamic hadiths is Awrah, Arabic for pudendum, the external genitals and a thing to be ashamed of, especially of the female. She must cover her shame. But instead of civilizing men and elevating his animal side teaching him self-control and respect for a woman’s body, Islam burdened the woman with his responsibility. Thus, when the man’s uncontrollable lust makes him sin, it is the woman's fault. Sharia Islamic law caters to men at the expense of women by requiring her to cover her body for his sake. In the radical Hambaly-Wahhabi school, she is required to be in a ghost-like garment covering every inch of her body.

The devout Muslim woman cannot reject Sharia because rejecting it is like rejecting Allah himself. Her solution to have respect and power in society is often “If you can’t beat them, joint them.” Thus, many Muslim women have found power and respect in becoming as radical -- if not more radical than men -- and her radicalism is most prominently expressed through her garment. By choosing to wear an extreme dehumanizing, even scary, outfit she proves to herself and others that she is worthy and holy as the wives of Mohammad. She now can demand the respect of Muslim society for her sacrifice.

As to Muslim women who choose to wear Niqab in the West without family pressure, I believe they are militant Muslim women who want to tell the West they are for Sharia law. I once asked a woman wearing Niqab, why? She said it is “my form of jihad.” When I once visited a mosque in the early 80’s we were told: “Do not assimilate in America.” And I believe that the Niqab is the ultimate message in defiance to Western freedoms and gender equality.

Gutmann: The Niqab brings to mind the conformation of the bedouin tent, designed for mobility, concealment and protection. Thus, even as the traditional Arab woman walks abroad, she remains shrouded, confined within her "house".

Even within the traditional Arab home, the women of the house do not encounter men from the outer world.

These are met and given hospitality by the men of the house in a kind of transitional zone - the Diwan, the room for receiving guests - and the women are only muted voices sifting through from the distant "feminine" spaces of the dwelling. Wearing the Niqab as she ventures forth the Arab woman remains an extension of her closed domestic space, which she carries with her.

The Niqab then functions as a kind of immune system, one which maintains the inner world, the domain behind the fabrics, in a stable, predictable state. Even as the Arab woman ventures out into a world characterized by flux and change, she carries within her Niqab -- a token of the stable domestic world.

There is not much that a traditional Arab woman can control. Not surprising then that a large number value the Niqab for the illusion of control that it provides to the wearer.

FP: Sort of like the illness of obsessive compulsive disorder (ocd). They say that a large number of people who suffer terribly with this illness do it because, in its deepest roots, they are engaging in something that is “theirs.” They have been so violated and their boundaries have been so enmeshed on one or more realms, that they have their ocd, and even if it brings them great harm, it is “theirs,” their own thing that they themselves can control. So for instance, even with other illnesses, let us say anorexia: when an anorexic woman starves herself, she is starving herself, and noone else is starving her, so it is a statement of independence and autonomy, something she never had on a realm that was vital to her, etc.).


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