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Syria bans full face veils at Universities
Tuesday, July 20, 2010 11:46:43 AM, Agencies
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Damascus: Giving anti-Niqab brigade a timely shot in arm, Syria banned the face-covering veil from the country’s universities to prevent what it sees as a threat to its secular identity.
"We have given directives to all universities to ban niqab-wearing women from registering," a government official in Damascus told The Associated Press on Monday.
The order affects both public and private universities and aims to protect Syria's secular identity, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
Hundreds of primary school teachers who were wearing the niqab at government-run schools were transferred last month to administrative jobs, he added.
The ban, issued Sunday by the Education Ministry, does not affect the hijab, or headscarf, which is far more common in Syria than the niqab's billowing black robes.
Syria is the latest in a string of nations from Europe to the Middle East to weigh in on the veil. Veils have spread in other secular-leaning Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, with Jordan's government trying to discourage them by playing up reports of robbers who wear veils as masks.
Turkey bans Muslim headscarves in universities, with many saying attempts to allow them in schools amount to an attack on modern Turkey's secular laws.
The issue has been debated across Europe, where France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands are considering banning the niqab on the grounds it is degrading to women.
Last week, France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on both the niqab and the burqa, which covers even a woman's eyes, in an effort to define and protect French values — a move that angered many in the country's large Muslim community.
The measure goes before the Senate in September; its biggest hurdle could come when France's constitutional watchdog scrutinizes it later. A controversial 2004 law in France earlier prohibited Muslim headscarves and other "ostentatious" religious symbols in the classrooms of French primary and secondary public schools.
Opponents say such bans violate freedom of religion and personal choice, and will stigmatize all Muslims.
In Damascus, a 19-year-old university student who would give only her first name, Duaa, said she hopes to continue wearing her niqab to classes when the next term begins in the fall, despite the ban.
Otherwise, she said, she will not be able to study.
"I cannot go without it", Nadia, a 44-year-old science teacher in Damascus said, "Wearing my niqab is a personal decision. It reflects my freedom."
In European countries, particularly France, the debate has turned on questions of how to integrate immigrants and balance a minority's rights with secular opinion that the garb is an 'affront to women'.
The niqab is not widespread in Syria, although it has become more common in recent years, a development that has not gone unnoticed by the authoritarian government.
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