Sunday, May 26, 2024

Call for Banning Niqāb Highlights Problems in Moscow’s Turn to the East and Stress on Traditional Values, ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – Only a few years ago, few Muslim women wore the niqāb, a form of dress that covers all of their bodies except for their eyes; but now that has become commonplace and it is no longer a rarity to see Muslim women in Russian cities wearing even chadors which conceal the eyes behind a screen.

            Not surprisingly, this trend has both frightened and outraged many Russians including Valery Fadeyev, the head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, who says that Moscow should ban the niqab and even more extreme forms of dress not only because they are not traditional to Russia but are part of a dangerous radicalization of Muslims there.

            In his appeal, Fadeyev points to the growing interest in guns by Russia’s Muslims and especially migrant workers from Muslim countries as a threat to Russia’s stability and territorial integrity, a call that has sparked opposition from both Muslim leaders as not only untrue by counterproductive.

            Perhaps the most thoughtful response to this debate comes from the editors of Nezavsimaya Gazeta who place it in the context of larger trends in Russian public life and suggest that Moscow should see both the niqab and calls for its ban as warning signs about the consequences of the regime’s policies (

            Two of the most often proclaimed Kremlin policies are its turn to the east and its commitment to traditional values, the editors write. But these are not unproblematic as the debate about the niqab shows. The situation with regard to the niqab is especially indicative in this regard.

            Many now defending the niqab are relying on Moscow’s turn to the east and suggesting that any ban on this form of dress would undermine Russia’s relations with the east. But if Russia is to be sovereign, the editors continue, then it must be sovereign in both directions. And the regime needs to make that clear.

            “The same goes for traditionalism,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta says. It is an open question whether the niqab is in fact a manifestation of a commitment to traditionalism. Many experts say that in fact it is “a reaction to the extremes of progressivism and represent a completely post-modern idea of zels in the faith rather than to any memory of the past.”

            For that reason, the editors say, “the declaration of traditional values [by the Putin regime] should be clarified. Society needs to know exactly what the traditions of the peoples of Russi are and where the line is between health conservatism and religious fanaticism and between the memory of ancestors and radical obscurantism.”


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