The burka and us

A Woman wearing a full-face veil.  (Credit: Jewish News)
A Woman wearing a full-face veil. (Credit: Jewish News)

The Burka  is under attack!  Its assailants also.  With whom should we side?  Is it really offensive to compare it to a letter-box on legs?  Or to joke of its being an aid to the bank-robber or the terrorist? Or is it only offensive when its critic is thought to be pandering to the far right?

In Israel, an anti-Burka  bill was presented to the Knesset in 2010, but has not become law. This followed a spate of haredi women, taking to the Burka  out of tzniut (modesty), and some Breslav Hassidic men, covering their faces with cloth at Ben Gurion Airport, to prevent themselves from seeing “forbidden fruit.”   But the anti-Burka  legislator was not aiming her legislation primarily at the Jewish community…

Future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak once wore a burka  in Lebanon, when heading a commando operation.  It would not have been as effective, if burka s had not been available.

The Burka  has already been banned in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Italy, and Latvia.  The French ban was endorsed by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014.  Angela Merkel herself, the doyenne of Mitteleuropa matriarchy, has recently called for its banning in the Vaterland, if legally possible.

With the Burka , what many have failed to realize, is that there is a lot more going on beneath the surface, than meets the eye. Indeed, in Tennyson’s immortal words, “More things are wrought with the Burka , than this world dreams of.”  (Idylls of the King)

Examples of different Islamic dress for women (Credit: Jewish News)

For the Burka  is, from a traditional Jewish perspective, blessed.  Clothes were given to Man by the Lord himself, to hide our shame, after our sin of eating the original “forbidden fruit.”  What hides better than the Burka , and its mini-version, the veil?  The Good Book mentions veils and head-coverings at least 54 times. They prove the Burka  is both Blessed and Bountiful.

Because of the veil, our forefather Jacob, was blessed with four consorts, and a whole people as his offspring, the children of Israel. For Laban, Jacob’s future father-in-law, fooled Jacob into marrying Leah, by veiling Leah at the chuppah, and pretending she was Jacob’s beloved Rachel.   Jacob later married Rachel too. And the good Lord gave to Jacob his two brides’ maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, as concubine bonuses.  Jacob got busy with all four, and thus were born the twelve tribes of Israel.  It’s all in Genesis, and all down to the veil.

Because of the veil, our own ancestors were born.  One of those twelve tribes’ progenitors, Judah, eponymous father of the Jews, needed some consolation after his wife died. So he asked for it from a woman, whom he believed to be a courtesan.  Why did he think her a courtesan? The Good Book helpfully tells us: “because she veiled her face.” In fact, it was his daughter-in-law, Tamar.  They were rewarded with twins, our esteemed ancestors. It’s all in Genesis, and all down to the veil.

Paul, a pupil of Rabbi Gamliel, puts it pithily in Corinthians: “if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off”, showing the obligatory requirement of the veil or the sheitl (authorities disagree), as early as the first century C.E.., in Paul’s view.

We have been slow to acknowledge the Burka ‘s other virtues. It provides freedom of movement, unparalleled before the European Union Treaties, because you don’t have to wear anything underneath.  Like this article, it reaches parts that others do not.  It also allows the ugly, like me, to hide our ugliness, and timid pulchritudinous nubility, to look the same as everybody else.  And where would western culture be without the Dance of the Seven Burka s?

In Touareg society, in North Africa, it is the men, who cover their faces, while the women leave theirs uncovered. So men can wear the Burka .   [Optional addition: Boris Johnson should wear one –  it would enhance both his appearance, and consideration of others.]

Having dwelt upon the positive aspects of the Burka  above, we should be sensitive, nonetheless, to the differing beliefs of our non-European Brothers and Sisters. So, in all fairness, we should  note that burka s have been banned in Chad, Morocco, Tajikistan, and Turkey too.  That seems to have been totally ignored in the opprobrium heaped on the Burka ’s detractors.  But then who cares about facts today?  It’s so much easier to be ignorant, climb onto bandwagons and baloney campaign buses, and cover independently-minded plain speakers with mountains of politically correct ordure.

You’ve now read a balanced, multi-cultural, well-researched article on The Burka  from a lawyer’s perspective, which doesn’t insult (or even mention) other religions, or their followers.    Being balanced, I hope you will be persuaded by my own opinion. It is this.

Those in public life, who are quick to condemn others without checking the facts, themselves need a burka  to hide away their ignorance.  That also applies to the Political Correctness police.  Truth is often more complex and deep, than what we see on the surface.  What really matters, is what’s going on underneath, unseen.

  • The author is an international lawyer, inter-faith activist, and defender of free speech.


About the Author
Andrew M Rosemarine runs an international law office, has 3 law degrees (Oxford), is a former fellow of the Harry S. Truman Institute for Peace, is multi-lingual, and writes on the Middle East and Europe for various newspapers worldwide. His main hobbies are conflict resolution and solving problems for clients, colleagues and friends.
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