Dr. Asma Barlas, professor of politics and director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity at Ithaca College, came to Bates last week as the final speaker in the College Lectures Series for this year. Her lecture, “Gender, Islam and the War on Terror,” linked the perceptions of gender roles in Islam to racism in foreign policy.

“The Western construction of Muslim women justifies anti-Islam feelings,” she said. “With the Bush administration, the war on terror is partially to liberate burqa-clad women.”

Barlas began her lecture with an examination of the Western fascination and preoccupation with veiled Muslim women, and its implications in the War on Terror.

Apologizing for what she called the “simplicity” of her analysis of the issues, Barlas explained that not only was she still considering many of her arguments, she had also decided to “err on the side of caution” with her assumption of her audience’s familiarity with Islam.

Many European nations, including the Netherlands, France and Turkey, have banned Islamic dress such as burqas, veils and headscarves, defining them as religious symbols that interfere with the secularism of government and schools. Barlas says that the veil is being banned because “Westerners want a difference cleansed of its mystery.”

“It is by legislating Muslim women’s dress that the secular state has begun to intervene in religious affairs,” she said.

She identifies the “Western preoccupation with the veil” as “one of the oldest motifs of Orientalist thought,” and says that frustration with it stems from a medieval fear. When Muslim women wear veils or scarves, she said, “it renders Islam more visible, more present in the Western world”¦ it stirs up old fears.”

Barlas links the European bans on Islamic dress to the Bush administration’s perspective on Muslims. She says that the administration divides Muslims into two categories: the militant fundamentalists and secularized modernists, and that the burqa belongs to the former.


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