In his June 4, 2009 Cairo speech, U.S. President Barack Obama emphasized that Muslim women in the U.S. are free to don the hijab. He said: "...Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it."
Obama's statements triggered strong criticism among Arab intellectuals in France, where for the past few years there has been an ongoing debate about the permissibility of wearing the veil in public.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
Following are excerpts from some of their reactions:
Reformist writer Dr. Abdelwahab Meddeb, a professor of comparative literature at the University of Paris X in Nanterre and author of the books The Malady of Islam (New York: Basic Books, 2003) and Counter-Preaching (Contre-Prêches, Seuil, Paris, 2006) wrote: "Obama's pertinent speech in Cairo was wrong in at least one respect. Let us say [for the sake of the argument] – though I find it difficult to do so – that women should be free to wear the veil. [Still, Obama] should have added that they must [also] be free to remove it."
Leila Barbès, a professor of religion and sociology at the Catholic University of Lille, also referred to the hijab issue, though not in direct response to Obama's speech. She explained that, in the context of the veil, "free choice" was an illusion: "The moment [wearing] the veil is presented as a divine duty, the issue of free choice is no longer valid, [and] all Muslim women are exposed to [this religious] propaganda. How can we pretend they have a choice when they are told that [their] religion obligates [them to wear a veil]? The women [who wear] a full veil [i.e. a niqab, which covers everything but the eyes,] do so in order to comply with what is requested and expected of them by their husbands or their sect."
Source: MEMRI (English)