Yisrael Ne'man lays out the main areas of contentious concerns involving final status negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, Abbas and Olmert. The problem the Israelis and Olmert face is that the Palestinians have gotten to where they are by breaking every agreement and understanding. Why change?
Secondly, the West will press Israel to make concessions not the Palestinians because the West wants/needs a near term resolution regardless of the long term implications that such might not hold. The entire Middle East was divided by Western powers without regard to long term implications and thus we have the problems we now face.
Furthermore, as Ne'eman points out Abbas cannot guarantee, from a military standpoint, anything because Fatah faded in the face of an Hamas onslaught so a future war could be in the making rather than peace.
Olmert is weak and needs a resolution in order to stay in power, something he dearly wants. Can he be trusted to protect Israel's security needs? Can a negotiating party whose every word has proven unreliable suddenly become trustworthy? What basis exists for believing so?
Fairly weighty matters and questions. (See 1 below.)
I have just concluded reading "The Lost Battalion" by Richard Slotkin. It tells the story of the pasted together ethically diverse WW 1, battalion which was led by white officers and how they were considered incapable of fighting because their patriotism was questioned. In every instance their training and equipment was inferior though their leadership, ultimately turned out to be quite commendable.
It also tells the story of how unprepared we were to enter the War because Wilson failed to take the necessary steps believing the War would not come and we would remain outside. In essence it proves once again how history repeats itself.
The book ends by telling the story of how the members of the Lost Battalion and its many heroes, who won Medals of Honor and Croix de Guerre (a black American soldier was the first,)were treated upon their return. In fact the German fascism they fought against was what they faced when they returned home. Our government dishonored their service by failing to assist them in finding work, postponed their bonus payments and on and on. Many who returned South were lynched and attacked by mobs fearing their military service and social acceptance by the French would make them seek "independence" and become "uppity."
It is another recording of our tragic history and a worthwhile read for those with a strong stomach.
Is something up from a military standpoint? Time is running out on GW should he wish to take military action against Iran. So far he has failed to prepare the nation for such and though he might be able to lay his case before the various Congressional and Senatorial Committees, as he did regarding Intelligence matters with Sen. Rockefeller, it all unraveled into partisan politics when informed Democrats subsequently sought political cover. (see 2 below.)
Be wary of a politician's denial and most particularly a weak one. (See 3 below.)
Herb Keinon expresses serious doubts and terms the Olmert-Abbas meeting a sideshow. (See 4 below.)
Diana West see hypocrisy in GW's latest weapons offer. (See 5 below.)
Daniel Pipes becomes a fashion editor? (See 6 below.)
1) A Guide to Mideast Peace 2007
By Yisrael Ne'eman
By this autumn Israel and the Palestinians are expected to begin permanent status negotiations within the framework of an international forum for peace in the Middle East. The two main players are to be Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman (President) Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. So how will this event be different than all the others, including the Oslo process? This time Israel and the Palestinians are to arrive at a final agreement first and only afterwards are the sides to discuss the step by step implementation. There are to be no more interim agreements, just the permanent or final status accords. The mechanism will then be built for implementation. The idea is that everyone will know the "price for peace" upfront and both governments will be able to prepare their populations for the "inevitable".
So what about UN Res. 242 (Nov. 1967), the Camp David Accords and Framework for Peace in the Middle East (1979) negotiated by Israeli PM Menachem Begin and Egyptian Pres.Anwar Sadat calling for Palestinian autonomy, the Saudi peace plan (2002), the Arab peace initiative (current), the Clinton Outline (Dec. 2000), the Bush Road Map (2003), the Geneva Initiative (2003), the Bush-Sharon exchange of letters and US commitments(April 2004), the Israeli security plan based on territorial compromise (known as the Allon Plan, 1967 and revised afterwards), the return of Palestinian refugees� UN Res. 194 clause 11 (Dec. 1948), Israeli settlements across the 1967 lines (continuing until the present) and the possible Hamas spoiler who reject compromise, recognition, peace or any dealings with Israel?
Without delving into all aspects of the above mentioned there are certain understood common denominators:
* There is to be no Palestinian refugee return? UN Res. 194 states, "that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return," and holding the governments and authorities responsible for the situation to be responsible for "repatriation, resettlement, compensation and rehabilitation" of the refugees. The Bush-Sharon exchange of letters and Congressional commitment of 2004 endorsed Israeli policy against Palestinian refugee return while the Saudi peace plan as expressed in UN Res. 1397 speaks of a two-state solution "within secure and recognized borders" and re-emphasizes Res. 242 (1967) calling for "a just solution of the refugee problem" (which here can be interpreted as both Arab and Jewish). The Clinton Outline and even the Geneva Initiative which saw possible symbolic return of a minimal amount of Palestinian refugees to Israel spoke of the necessity of two nationalisms firmly established in their two states living side by side. This is no longer the case today as refugees would only be admitted to the Palestinian state-to-be or rehabilitated with international funding elsewhere, most likely in the Arab world and especially where they already reside.
* Territorially all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) will be handed over to Palestinian Authority (later State) control. Gaza has no Jewish population as of late summer 2005 and all discussions and attempts at agreements indicate Palestinian control over the vast majority of the West Bank (90% or more). Since 1967 even the US government has constantly insisted on only minor territorial adjustments to be made on Israel's border with the West Bank, beginning with Pres. Nixon's Sec. of State William Roger's Plan (1969). Pres. Bush speaks of a "contiguous" Palestinian state in the West Bank with a road link to Gaza which was agreed upon by Israel in the discussions earlier brokered by Pres. Clinton at Camp David 2000 between Israeli PM Ehud Barak and PA Chairman Yasir Arafat. Even the Israeli developed security concept known as the Allon Plan envisioned a return of approximately 60% of the West Bank to Arab control (at the time Jordan).
Years later PM Ariel Sharon was known to accept the Allon Plan in principle (a security zone held by Israel to be on an average 16 kilometers or about ten miles wide along the Jordan River) but insisted on adding large Jewish settlement blocs close to Israel's 1967 lines into Israel proper. This was done beginning in 2002 by building the security fence east of those West Bank settlements. Somewhere between 6 and 8 % of the West Bank would remain in Israel. This area would contain 70% of all Jews living in Judea and Samaria. The fence is not complete hence we do not know the final demarcation. Holding the full territory as envisioned in the Allon Plan and the settlement blocs would still envision a withdrawal from some 55% of the West Bank.
In the international arena Israel is expected to relinquish over 90% of the West Bank but security necessities, Jewish demographics and a fair amount of consensus in Israel will not allow for such a large concession. The Palestinians of course will accept nothing less. Furthermore there are 250,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria. Even if "only" 30% needed to be evacuated that means 75,000 people would need to relocated their lives. Two years after the Gaza evacuation involving 8,000 residents no one is yet in permanent housing due to massive government planning and implementation failure. Who today trusts the government over issues of compensation?
* Jerusalem will be divided into two capital cities, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Today there are close to half a million Jews in Jerusalem alongside a continually growing Arab population of 250,000 which constantly gnaws away at the Jewish majority. National status is to be determined by whether the neighborhoods are Jewish or Arab. Jerusalem's municipal boundaries will be a checkerboard on its eastern side and questions of policing, border crossings and integrated city services need to be confronted. Much of these arrangements are technical. Israel always guaranteed access to holy sites for all but based on the behavior of the Moslem Wakf who control the mosques on the Temple Mount no one can expect this to be the case on the Palestinian side. Most importantly, is there any possibility of compromise on the Temple Mount? As complicated as the Jerusalem issue may be, control of the Old City and Temple Mount is further charged with religious, historical and raw emotional issues. This has been discussed time and again and is emphasized in the Clinton Outline. Although considered taboo by many in Israel all those discussing Jerusalem know it will be two cities (and in many cases already is), just like there will be two states.
* Security is dependent on whether the Palestinian forces under Abbas and Fatah are trustworthy. In Gaza they proved a paper tiger when challenged by Hamas, collapsing within a week. Massive endemic corruption makes them an easy target for payoffs and bribes for terror activities. The forces themselves are made up of different and often competing family factions whose loyalties are not necessarily to a Fatah dominated Palestinian State. And lest one forgets, the Hamas controls Gaza (where they are now being challenged by Al Qaeda). Hamas will challenge Fatah for control of the West Bank where they were also voted into power in the January 2006 parliamentary elections. Fatah must win for any agreement to succeed with Israel.
To sum up there is a fair amount of understanding concerning refugees and even the division of Jerusalem (excluding the holy sites and the Old City). As for permanent borders the question of the security zone along the Jordan Rift Valley (Allon Plan) is a major issue not only with the Palestinians but in the regional context since the area would be Israel's front line should Jordan succumb to a radical Islamic uprising whereby the next step could be a sweep through the West Bank, putting those Islamic forces 15 kilometers from the Mediterranean coast. It should be pointed out that now Defense Minister Ehud Barak as PM conceded the Jordan Rift at Camp David 2000 when negotiating with Arafat. Renewed Palestinian terrorism, uncontrolled by the PA security forces (or even abetted by them) could unleash ground and rocket attacks across the new agreed upon borders threatening Israel�s main population centers. Supposedly Israeli security forces would have the right to take up positions along the Jordan River in an emergency (discussed at Camp David 2000) and continue to exercise actions of "hot pursuit" after terrorists (Bush-Sharon letters 2004). But how are both of these stipulations interpreted when crossing the borders of an independent Palestinian State? A liberal interpretation in Israel's favor should not be expected.
Opposition by the Israel Right and religious can certainly be expected, but far worse will be the rise in Palestinian terrorism as a result of the negotiations. The Americans seem convinced that should the final outcome be known from the outset and then implemented in stages most opposition will fade especially if massive funding accompanies each step. The possibility of success is miniscule despite certain pre-understandings. One should not forget for a second that even should all go well between Israel and Palestinian West Bank Abbas/Fayad government, Hamas and their Islamist allies are sworn to undermine the process every step of the way.
2) Big US Armed Forces integrated Valiant Shield exercises simulate possible operation against Iran
The maneuvers beginning Monday, Aug. 6, in waters off Guam include the simultaneous deployment of three carriers and their air and naval strike groups: USS Stennis, USS Nimitz and USS Kitty Hawk, altogether 30 warships, 280 warplanes and 22,000 soldiers and sailors. The exercise is commanded by Adm. Robert Willard, Pacific Fleet chief.
Military sources report: This will be America’s last major combined sea-air war game before during Bush presidency which ends in Jan. 2009 and last opportunity for drilling large-scale combined units should the president decide on a military operation against Iran.
To indicate that outside eyes were not desired, foreign observers who attended the Pacific exercises last year were not invited this year. US military sources in the region said that invitations to officers of regional nations to watch the drills would have had to include Malaysia, which has close ties with Iran.
According to these military sources, the exercises will be held in conditions resembling as closely as possible those in Iran and practice assaults of the kind that may be executed against the Islamic Republic.
Admiral Willard may well be describing the realities expected to prevail in a real-life offensive against the Islamic Republic..
Valiant Shield, he said, will “include the complexities of operating three aircraft carriers in the same area while at the same time adding in the operations of another component – the fighters, bombers and tankers of the US Air Force.”
He said the exercise will not detract from the Navy’s “real world” missions in the Persian Gulf but help drill the Navy and its crews [for that real world.]
Valiant Shield’s commander’s words may have been meant to answer the sharp criticism coming from Persian Gulf governments.
“Washington may be sending the USS Enterprise Strike Group to the Persian Gulf. It has not yet arrived. The other two American carriers, Nimitz and Stennis, have gone to take part in an exercise far away in the Pacific.”
“So where does that leave us?” asked a Gulf military official. “Vice President Dick Cheney and Robert Gates promised three American air carriers to protect us plus naval, marine and air forces. Now all the carriers are gone.”
3)[Denial by Prime Minister's Office] Olmert considers land swap as part of future peace deal: Response To The Main Headline In Ha'aretz [copy below]]
In response to the main headline in this morning's Ha'aretz, we do not know
of any plan as described in the article. We would like to clarify that such
a plan has not been considered, nor is it being raised for discussion in any
forum. We express our amazement at this erroneous article, which was
published without any attempt being made to ascertain from us its accuracy.
Olmert considers land swap as part of future peace deal
By Akiva Eldar, Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is examining a new framework for peace in which
Israel will propose transferring to the Palestinian state areas equivalent
to 100 percent of the territories conquered in 1967.
Israel will suggest to the Palestinians to conduct negotiations for adequate
territorial compensation from Israel's sovereign territory, in exchange for
settlement blocs amounting to about 5 percent of the West Bank's area.
Israel is also examining various options of exchanging settlement blocs with
Arab community blocs within Israel, in agreement with the residents. An
agreement on this issue would enable Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor
Lieberman, to remain in the coalition.
The new framework was presented to Olmert by President Shimon Peres, a few
days after he entered the President's Residence. It includes a timetable for
negotiations for the final status agreement and implementing it, similar to
the framework of the Peres-Abu Ala agreement reached at the end of 2001.
Olmert has not yet decided on his position regarding all the plan's clauses,
but apparently has not dismissed its main ideas.
Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas agreed Monday that cooperation between Israel and
the Palestinian Authority would be expanded, in an effort to expedite
progress in their talks for the establishment of the Palestinian state.
"Exchanges between the two sides will become increasingly more substantive,
and will deal less with routine matters," a senior political source in
Jerusalem said Monday.
The three-hour meeting between Olmert and Abbas took place in two parts: a
private meeting just between the leaders, and a lunch with their teams of
Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said that the atmosphere at the
meeting was constructive.
Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO negotiating team, described Monday's meeting
between Olmert and Abbas as serious and detailed.
"Abbas did not come to the meeting with a magic wand, and neither did Mr.
Olmert," Erekat said at a news conference. "There is an agreement on a
series of meetings to discuss the issues, including the establishment of a
Abbas thanked Olmert for the release of 255 Palestinians held in Israeli
prisons, and expressed hope that the next step would result in the freeing
of more prisoners. The two decided to institute a special ministerial
committee, and that the Palestinian Authority will be represented by
Interior Minister Abd al-Razek al-Yihiye.
Israel also promised the Palestinians to reconsider the request of the
militants who were expelled after the siege on the Church of the Nativity in
"The negotiations on renewing the diplomatic talks between the two sides
have reached fruition," Erekat said Monday. "What we now need is decisions
by the two leaders. We do not need to do anything new for a regional summit,
but to clarify the existing initiatives and the signed agreements. We
support the Arab [League] initiative and the road map as the basis for this
Erekat also said that the two leaders would hold at least three more
meetings before the November summit in Washington.
Commenting on the Abbas-Olmert meeting, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said
that he did not expect it to produce any results.
After the tete-a-tete, Olmert said he and Abbas discussed issues fundamental
to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
"We have decided to expand the negotiations between us in order to advance
mutual understanding, and formulate the framework that will allow us to move
forward toward establishing a Palestinian state," Olmert said. "Our mutual
goal is to realize the shared vision between us and [U.S. President George]
Bush regarding the establishment of two states for two peoples, who live
side by side in security and peace. We want to achieve this as soon as
He said he had no intention of stalling.
During the expanded meeting, the Palestinians spoke of the resumed security
cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. They handed a
document to Olmert and his aides detailing the PA's steps to enhance
security in recent weeks, including the arrest of several members of terror
organizations, and captured munitions and explosives that was handed over to
4) Analysis: Nothing but a sideshow
By HERB KEINON
On the surface, it all looks so very important.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert drives down to Jericho, two helicopters hovering overhead, for the first meeting in the West Bank of an Israeli prime minister and a Palestinian leader since Ehud Barak met with Yasser Arafat before the violence of September 2000.
Dramatic? Historic? The main event? Forget it. Instead, pay close attention to a line former Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn said in an interview last month with Haaretz.
"There has to be a moment when Israelis and Palestinians understand that they are a sideshow," he said in a very telling comment.
And, if that wasn't clear enough, Wolfensohn piled it on for effect: "Israelis and Palestinians really should get over thinking that they're a show on Broadway. They are a show in the Village, off-off-off-off Broadway."
When Olmert and Abbas sat down in Jericho's Intercontinental Hotel over a traditional Arab dish of chicken and rice, they were talking about issues that effect us deeply - what are increasingly being referred to very vaguely as the "fundamental issues." But these issues, as fundamental as they might be, must be seen within the greater context of the overall tumult in the Middle East and the US effort to do something - anything - to contain it.
Olmert made two seemingly contradictory statements in Jericho.
First, when he arrived, he said: "I came here in order to discuss with you the fundamental issues outstanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, hoping that this will lead us soon into negotiations about the creation of a Palestinian state." And then, after he met Abbas for a 90 minute tête-à-tête, he said: "The aim is to achieve US President George Bush's vision which both we and the Palestinians share of two states for two peoples, living in security and peace side by side, and we want to do this as soon as possible." He added that this process must be based on the road map.
But there is an inherent contradiction between plans now to sketch out with the Palestinians an agreement of principles or a framework for an agreement, and the road map.
The road map was based on a step by step process. First the Palestinians stop terrorism, and then there are negotiations for peace.
While pledging allegiance to the road map, Olmert is now turning that step-by-step process around. Rather than first security, and then peace, Olmert and Abbas are talking roughly about how peace will look, believing that then security will be achieved.
Ariel Sharon spent a lot of time in 2001 and 2002 convincing both the Americans and the Israeli public of the need to achieve security first, and then to talk about an overarching peace agreement. But now there is suddenly no time, and the feeling in Jerusalem is that waiting for the PA to uproot the terrorist infrastructure, as spelled out in the road map, would mean waiting for ever, and in the meantime Hamas would not only have consolidated its hold on Gaza, but also made giant inroads into the West Bank.
Suddenly there is a new sense of urgency because of the fear that there is no time to wait, and that Hamas - and by extension Iran - will move on the West Bank if some kind of accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians is not reached.
And this is where Wolfensohn's theory about our being off-off-off-off Broadway comes into play.
The US needs progress here to try and consolidate a moderate Arab coalition as a counterbalance to the threatening Shi'ite crescent. And there is no better way to breathe life into this moderate coalition then to show diplomatic progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front.
he US needs a regional meeting in November no less, and probably far more, than either the Israelis or the Palestinians. The US needs this meeting to show the Iranians that there is a coalition of the moderate Arab willing who will some day stand up to them.
The US, at some point, will leave Iraq, but it is unlikely to do so unless it has assurances that there is a coalition of states that will not just let Iran march into the breach. It is in the US's interests to cobble this coalition together as soon as possible. At the regional conference, Bush wants to be able to say: "I created the moderate Arab coalition."
We're important, but we're just one brick in the anti-Iranian coalition the Americans want to form. It is not insignificant that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates accompanied Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her visit last week to Egypt and Saudi Arabia - but did not follow her to Israel. Right now, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries are the cornerstones of this coalition. Israel and the Palestinians, or rather a possible Israeli-Palestinian agreement, are the glue the US has in mind to stick that coalition together. •
5) Want to stop terrorism? Give in to its supporters
By Diana West
Boy, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, that Condi Rice and Bob Gates sure drive a tough bargain.
Visiting "the kingdom" (the grating, fairytale nickname for that oil-rich human-rights pit), the U.S. secretaries of state and defense delivered a blunt message: If you keep fomenting and financing global jihad; if you keep teaching and preaching the eradication or repression of non-Muslims; if you keep trampling human rights, women's rights, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech; and if you keep supporting Sunni insurgents in Iraq who are battling American troops, then the United States will be forced to act. Yessir, you can bet your bottom petro-dollar. You Saudis keep doing all that bad stuff and Uncle Sam is going to ... deliver $20 billion of cutting edge weaponry to you, ASAP.
That'll fix them.
Or will it fix us? It's easy to get things mixed up unless you remember the latest version of the Bush Doctrine: You're either with us, or we sell you smart bombs.
In the Bush administration, such appeasement counts as Grand Strategy. As the leading Sunni state, Saudi Arabia is supposed to serve as a counterbalance to Shiite Iranian terror-statism. Forget about Saudi Arabian terror-statism. And please don't wonder what happens if/when jihad revolutionaries, already thought to have infiltrated Saudi security forces, get their hands on our smart bombs. Inspired by the teachings of James Baker — practically an honorary Saudi princeling — Condi, Bob and George see the Saudis as Our Moderate Allies. Who cares if they promote jihad doctrine? Who cares if they sponsor Hamas? Who cares how many Saudis support (or belong to) Al Qaeda?
The Saudis and their fellow Sunni states, including Egypt and Jordan, are supposed to agree with the Bush administration that they have a stake in stabilizing Shiite-majority Iraq — which, in Bushland, is supposed to serve as a curb on Shiite Iran, and not simply turn into the natural ally thereof. It's in the Sunni states' interests, the Grand Strategy goes, to help stabilize Iraq and to support the so-called peace process between Israel and the Palestinians — or, rather, between Israel and "good" Fatah Palestinians, not "bad" Hamas Palestinians. Never mind that both groups' charters call for the destruction of Israel. And never mind Saudi support for Hamas.
The Sunnis aren't buying the administration's worldview, which, in politically correct fashion, ignores the $64,000 Islamic question: Why on Allah's green earth would these states want to staunch the bleeding of ideological enemy No. 1 in Iraq? Of course, these same states are happy to buy American guns and ammo. Which may make Condi, Bob and George masters of let's-make-a-deal politick. However, that's not saying much. But the Saudis have promised to open an embassy in Baghdad and come to peace talks with Israel, administration boosters will say. Well, not exactly. The Saudis said they will consider opening the embassy and consider coming to a peace conference.
Frankly, opening that Baghdad embassy makes Saudi sense (so much easier to supply insurgents in Iraq using the diplomatic pouch). But since when is the presence of a world-class human rights violator at a peace conference something worth groveling for? Answer: Since this week, when the United States, represented by Rice, signed a joint statement endorsing the Saudi's pet peace plan, the one that sends Israel back to indefensible, pre-1967 borders. What comes in return? Arab recognition of Israel. (Oh, joy! The retrograde human rights violators might possibly recognize the freedom-loving democracy!) This is one big booby prize. It also marks a momentous shift in American policy that proves one calamitous truth: Jihad terrorism works.
It's a dispiriting truth for a dispiriting time. American resolve has given way to American submission, and almost no one has noticed. Very little outrage over the Saudi sale has bubbled over, even in what could still be called the war camp. Israelis themselves have expressed little or no dissent. So far, with the exception of New Jersey Republican Rep. Mike Ferguson, the anti-Saudi support group seems centered in a small segment of the Democratic Left: New York Congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Anthony Weiner, Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, leftist writer Robert Scheer, and presidential candidate John Edwards.
Which leaves us where, exactly? Somehow, it seems appropriate to reply: wandering in the wilderness.
6) Ban the Burqa - and the Niqab Too
by Daniel Pipes
Once-exotic forms of Muslim women's head and body garments have now become both familiar in the West and the source of fractious political and legal disputes.
The hijab (a hair-covering) is ever-more popular in Detroit but has been banned from French public schools, discouraged by the International Football Association Board, and excluded from a court in the U.S. state of Georgia.
The jilbab (a garment that leaves only the face and hands exposed) was, in a case partly argued by Tony Blair's wife, first allowed, then forbidden in an English school.
Sultaana Freeman wanted her Florida drivers license to show her in a niqab, but an Orlando court said no.
The niqab (a total covering except for the eyes) became a hot topic when Jack Straw, a British Labour politician, wrote that he "felt uncomfortable" talking to women wearing it. If Quebec election authorities disallow the niqab from voting booths and a judge disallowed it from a Florida driver's license, it is permitted in British courts and a Dutch candidate for municipal office wore one. A British hospital even invented a niqab patients' gown.
The burqa (a total head and body covering) has been barred from classrooms in the UK, is illegal in public places in five Belgian towns, and the Dutch legislature has attempted to ban it altogether. Italy's "Charter of Values, Citizenship and Immigration" calls face coverings not acceptable. A courtroom in the United States has expelled a burqa'ed woman.
In brief, no general rules govern Islamic headwear in the West.
Some observers would ban hijabs from public places, but what legal grounds exist for doing so? Following my rule of thumb that Muslims enjoy the same rights and obligations as other citizens, but not special rights or obligations, a woman's freedom of expression grants her the option to wear a hijab.
In contrast, burqas and niqabs should be banned in all public spaces because they present a security risk. Anyone might lurk under those shrouds – female or male, Muslim or non-Muslim, decent citizen, fugitive, or criminal – with who knows what evil purposes.
Some examples (full details can be found at my weblog entry, "The Niqab and Burqa as Security Threats"): A spectacular act of would-be escape took place in early July, when Maulana Mohammad Abdul Aziz Ghazi, 46, tried to flee the Red Mosque complex in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he had helped lead an insurrection aiming to topple the government. He donned a black burqa and high heels but, unfortunately for him, his height, demeanor, and pot belly gave him away, leading to his arrest.
One of the July 2005 London bombers, Yassin Omar, 26, took on the burqa twice – once when fleeing the scene of the crime, then a day later, when fleeing London for the Midlands.
Other male burqa'ed fugitives include a Somali murder suspect in the United Kingdom, Palestinian killers fleeing Israeli justice, a member of the Taliban fleeing NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the murderer of a Sunni Islamist in Pakistan.
Burqas and niqabs also facilitate non-political criminal behavior. Unsurprisingly, favorite targets of robberies include jewelry stores (examples come from Canada, Great Britain, and India) and banks (Great Britain, Bosnia, and two 2007 attacks in Philadelphia). Curiously, in Kenya, street prostitutes have donned buibuis (which reveals slightly more of the face than a niqab), the better to blend into the night population and avoid the police.
Expressing the universal fear aroused by these garments, a recent Pakistani horror film, Zibahkhana (meaning "slaughterhouse" in Urdu) includes a sadistic cannibalistic killer figure dubbed "Burqa Man."
The practice of covering the face derives from tribal customs that build on Islamic law, not the law itself. For example, some tribeswomen in Saudi Arabia's Al-Kharj region put on the burqa at puberty, then never take it off – not for other women, not for their husbands, and not for their children. These family members typically see the woman's face only when viewing her corpse.
British research offers another reason to drop the burqa and niqab, finding that covered women and their breast-fed children lack sufficient amounts of vitamin D (which the skin absorbs from sunlight) and are at serious risk of rickets.
Nothing in Islam requires turning females into shapeless, faceless zombies; good sense calls for modesty itself to be modest. The time has come everywhere to ban from public places these hideous, unhealthy, socially divisive, terrorist-enabling, and criminal-friendly garments.