Although the United States destroyed the most secular government in the Middle East with its genocidal invasion and occupation of Iraq, Syria still remains as a last lonely outpost of religious moderation among so many racist and theocratic rogue-nations like Israel and Iran, and while the recent French initiative to ban the burqa was denounced by liberal pundits from Weston-Under-Lizard to Honolulu, Syria quietly liberated hundreds of thousands of muslim women from the miserable mask-gag-muzzle-suffocation of the niqab.
Syria has banned the niqab, the Islamic head scarf that covers the face and leaves an opening for the eyes, from its private and public universities in an effort to protect the country’s secular identity, a Foreign Ministry official said Monday. The ban does not affect the hijab, the head scarf that does not cover the face, which many Syrian women wear.
“Syria is adamant about its secularism,” says Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “If the next generation is going to be raised to embrace the strict Islamic values for which the niqab is the expression, it will undermine the project Syria is trying to build, of secularism and coexistence of religions. “
And as revolutionary as this ban may appear to repulsive misogynists masquerading as “Islamic scholars,” it nevertheless recalls one of the most glorious episodes of emergent Syrian nationalism in the Twentieth Century.
In 1920, a 21-year old girl from Damascus defied tradition and took off her milaya (traditional, full-length veil) when volunteering to fight in the Syrian army against the invading French army. She paraded through the streets of Damascus unveiled, with a rifle strapped on her shoulder, creating shockwaves throughout conservative circles of the Syrian capital.
Moderates and seculars hailed her as the Syrian Joan of Arc while she defended her action saying that she was off to battle, defending her homeland from occupation – the noblest deed on Earth – and not unveiling to attract or seduce the opposite sex. The wives of the Prophet Mohammed, she reminded her critics, had participated in battle with him unveiled.
This was Naziq al-Abid, and her story didn’t end with a “wardrobe malfunction” in Damascus.
She fought at the infamous battle of Maysaloun on July 24, 1920, where the Syrian Army was crushed, and tried but failed to heal the wounds of General Yusuf al-Azma, the minister of war who was killed in combat. Faysal promoted her to the honorary rank of general in the Syrian Army. She was the first woman to attain such a title.
In 1921, she became President of the Syrian Red Cross and in 1922, founded her own organization, modeled on the international Red Cross, and called it the Red Crescent. In 1925-1927, she took up arms in the Syrian Revolt against the Mandate, living the life of an outlaw in the Ghutta orchards surrounding Damascus. In 1928, Abid was pardoned, returning to Syria to co-founded the Damascene Women Awakening Association.