In the perilous swamp of global speculations about the Muslim faith, the French have stolen the march by preventing women from being victimized. The wearing of the hijab and the niqab has nothing to do with Islam, and is an insult to men, women and children everywhere. The French government's refusal to allow this medieval symbol of repression to flourish in its nation is an undeniable act of courage.
The primitive tribal cultural mores of concealing a woman's form and face to deter the rise of another man's avarice or lust has no place in this century. No one has gone to war over a woman since Helen of Troy. The new wave of faith-perverted fundamentalism has succeeded in dumbing down legions of Muslim women who are coerced into believing that this act of so-called piety gives them a special status - that of bringing them closer to God.
As a Canadian woman who was raised in a Sunni Muslim home and familiar with all aspects of my liberal faith, I identify completely with the French outrage and hope that this new French revolution spreads like wildfire.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern secular state of Turkey, had pronounced a similar ban. He routinely hounded mullahs from their mosques, and encouraged theological debate in the Turkish national language, not Arabic. He dismantled the orthodoxy of the Ottoman Empire in short and brutally swift strokes, and created an exemplary modern state.
Concepts of modesty and chastity abound in cultural ideals. Covering one's head in a house of worship leads back to a time in history when hair, the crowning glory of a woman, was considered to be capable of inducing sexual arousal in a man. The person at fault here was clearly the woman. What place does this thinking have in our modern world? Who are these women who still believe that the revelation of one lock of hair will result in instant sexual assault?
The most recent theological debate at the Council of Islamic Ideology, created to ensure that all laws in Pakistan conform to Islamic principles, concerned the rising importation and use of padded and colourful bras. The council's singular recommendation? "Padded bras are Devil's cushions." The comic absurdity of this hints at the sexual obsession of the self-appointed clergy about women they can't ever hope to attain.
An honest appraisal of the spirited revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa will reveal that the confinement, disenfranchisement and regimented veiling of disadvantaged Muslim women are equally as important as toppling autocracies and monarchies.
But the call to arms is to the progressive and secular Muslim women of Canada. They need to publicly applaud the government of Nicolas Sarkozy and, in private, relentlessly challenge the notion upheld by some of their sisters that the hijab and the niqab are requirements of the Muslim faith.
Nazneen Sheikh's latest book is Moon Over Marrakech , a memoir.