This week, Chinese state media reported that Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region had approved a ban on the wearing of the Islamic burqa in public spaces in the city of Urumqi. Xinhua News Agency reported that the garment, which is worn by some Islamic communities and covers the face and body, was being banned to target "growing extremism" in an area inhabited by many Muslim members of the Uighur minority.
As Xinhua noted, China's move comes after some national bans on the burqa in Western Europe. In 2010, France passed a law that banned burqas and other full face coverings (including another item of Islamic dress, the niqab) in public places. Soon after, neighboring Belgium passed a similar measure. Regional bans that prohibit Islamic garments, like the one that was approved in China, exist in areas of a number of countries, including Italy, Russia and Germany.
It's tempting to see a trend in restrictions on Islamic attire like burqas, niqabs, and hijabs, but there's conflicting evidence. Research by WorldViews finds a number of countries have dropped their bans on Islamic headgear in recent years: Turkey, where religious attire was abolished long ago in a move toward secularism, lifted a ban on head scarves in government offices in 2013. In 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reversed a ban on teachers wearing the full Islamic veil he had implemented less than a year earlier. And in Australia, plans to implement restrictions on the burqa in parliamentary buildings were reversed after controversy.
Then there are also countries which have laws in place that enforce female modesty. Laws in both Saudi Arabia and Iran requires women to cover themselves. In many countries in the Middle East and North Africa there's a strong societal pressure for females to cover themselves, even if there's no actual law.
When French lawmakers banned full face coverings, they cited concerns about security and a desire for French citizens to "live together." However, while most Muslims do not support the wearing of the burqa or the niqab, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks the subject has gained new prominence: Some wonder why the free speech that allowed the satirical newspaper to draw the prophet Muhammad does not also allow a Muslim woman to wear a veil if she wants.
In Xinjiang, the ban on burqas comes after a variety of other restrictions placed on Islamic culture. The Chinese government says these measures are taken in a bid to prevent terrorism related to extremism. However, as The Post's Simon Deyner has reported, often the war on terror looks like a broader attack on Islam – and it often appears to lead to a hardening of Islamic values.