Pakistan: Schoolgirls in Pakistan threatened for not wearing the burqa

National newspaper's editorial considers the imposition of the veil and responding to fundamentalisms.
Girls at a government secondary school in Mardan are finding it hard to pursue their education. In the last two months, the school's administration has been asking them to don the burqa in response to anonymous letters threatening to destroy the school if the girls do not adhere to 'Islamic ways' of dressing.
The school initially shut down after receiving the letter but then restarted classes, except that it began asking girls to veil themselves - and many are unhappy about it. One sympathises with the school administration which clearly felt that if it ignored the threat, it would be jeopardising the students' safety. This explains why the majority of parents have agreed to comply; they are equally fearful of the militants, aware of the kind of damage these elements can cause.

However, giving in to the extremists is no solution. But because the administration caved in, the militants have been emboldened. According to a report on Sunday, girls' schools have received similar threats in Peshawar. This is a disturbing development that calls for the government's immediate attention. It cannot allow a group of thugs to take the law into their own hands in the name of religion.

The district nazim [elected representative, ed.] of Mardan says that the police and the intelligence agencies have been unable to trace the men behind the threats. This may be true but if the school is being provided security, as is claimed, then there is no need for the girls to be forced to wear the veil. The nazim denies that anyone is being forced to wear the veil but girls say they are fined if they do not wear the burqa. It is important that the administration refuses to be browbeaten into succumbing to threats. The veil is a matter of personal choice and even religious scholars will agree that it cannot be forced on anyone.