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Why Chad's Muslim Population Didn't Oppose the Country's Burka Ban

In June, the government announced that burkas, turbans, and other religious face coverings would be banned nationwide. Interestingly, local Muslims raised seemingly little outcry.

Illustration von Ole Tillmann

This article appears in the August Issue of VICE Magazine

On June 17, 2015, a day before the start of Ramadan, Prime Minister Kalzeubet Pahimi Deubet of the predominantly Muslim Chad announced that burkas, turbans, and other religious face coverings would be banned nationwide.

The motion was uniquely harsh, outlawing full-face veils everywhere (not just in state institutions), threatening dissidents with summary arrest, and sending cops to burn headscarves in the markets. Despite this severity, local Muslims raised seemingly little outcry.

The government issued the injunction to protect national security after bombings on June 15. The culprits, allegedly Boko Haram militants punishing Chad for fighting with a coalition against the Islamist group in neighboring Nigeria, supposedly used veils to hide explosives. In never-again overkill, Chad promptly bombed Nigerian Boko bases, launched a dragnet seeking local collaborators, and passed the ban.

According to Elisha Renne, an African veiling expert at the University of Michigan, other nations (like Nigeria) have had even more trouble with veil-smuggled bombs. But they haven't issued bans, perhaps because they fear sparking zealous backlashes over a rare threat. (Although in the weeks following Chad's ban, there have been renewed and serious discussions of a similar move in parts of Nigeria.)

Yet Chad avoided any such backlash. Lori Leonard, a Cornell sociologist with extensive experience in Chad, suggests this is partly because few locals ever wore full veils. More important, citizens are amenable to backing most actions the government takes to stem Boko terror.

Therein lies the irony of Boko sadism: Militants want to drive people toward conservatism. But they're so horrific that they can push a Muslim-majority nation to impose harsh anti-veil laws, and persuade citizens to swallow them, in the dim hope that this can help wipe out these twisted fuckers.

Update: Towards the end of July, the Muslim-majority nation of Niger (just west of Chad) issued its own ban on full-face veils out of fear that they could be used to facilitate bombings. Although the nation has suffered a number of Boko Haram-led assaults, the government seems to be issuing this ban as a preventative measure rather than a reaction to any recent veil-smuggled bombing. It is, as of yet, unclear whether reactions to the ban will be as tempered in Niger as in Chad.

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