Did it ever cross your mind that veils and guns have something in common? Of course they do: both are used for self-defense. The Islamic hijab is said to repel men, to make women feel more secure, and to enable them to walk around safely in the city. Whenever sexual attacks against women are carried out – like last New Year’s Eve in Cologne – you won’t have to wait long until a conservative Islamic cleric solemnly announces that women should simply keep men at a distance by improving their covering.
Guns have the same purpose of self-defense and the rhetoric with which they are promoted in America is similar to that of veiling in Muslim countries. Most spectacularly, this was done by Donald Trump when he announced that, had he attended the concert in Paris in the Bataclan in November 2015, he would have simply shot the terrorists because he always carries “a gun big like this” in his pocket.
Veils used to be worn by women all over the world. They were current in Greek, Roman, and many other cultures because everyday life – especially for upper class women – was unsafe. In “On the Veiling of Virgins,” Roman Christian writer Tertullian reports that most Greek churches and some North African ones "keep their virgins covered." Usually, peasant and working-class women did not cover and were therefore considered loose and fair game for assault.
However, as civilization evolved, life became safer and the interest in veiling faded.
In Muslim countries the dynamic seems to work the other way round. Whenever women are attacked by men – and even when this happens in a relatively safe place like Germany – the events are not followed by suggestions of how male danger can be neutralized and civilization be improved, but Muslim clerics link the problem to the victim’s lack of self-protection. When the ball is shot away from the camp of those from whom victims need to be protected, the causes of the danger will not be discussed. Instead, covering becomes a kind of fixation. The danger and its sources serve merely as premises from which conclusions about the necessity of self-protection can be inferred quickly and self-servingly. The reasoning turns around in a logical circle: protection will be recommended simply for the sake of protection. No matter how safe or unsafe the environment is, the need for self-protection remains constant. Or even worse: the increase of danger will be considered an advantage because it necessitates more protection.
Here, I see parallels with the weapon cult in the US. In the past, in probably most places of the world, it was preferable to have weapons to defend oneself. However, as civilization evolved, armed protection became unnecessary. Things are different in America because here the development of the arms-civilization relationship follows the logical lines of the veiling argument developed by Islamic conservatives. In American pro-gun statements, the lack of safety is not discussed as such but, absurdly, the victims are told that a better self-defense will protect them from danger. Donald Trump even wants to combat terrorist danger by distributing more weapons among the population. Critics point out that the number of times guns are used defensively is relatively small and that dangers even outweigh benefits. Logically, the decline of criminal attempts in the US since the early 1990’s should be accompanied by a decline of pro-weapon propaganda. However, the contrary is the case. This means that the suggestion to own weapons does not follow a pragmatic aim, but it is supported by an ideology considering gun ownership as an end in itself.
Like veils in Muslim countries, arms have become symbols carrying an identity message that transcends all practical reasoning. These measures of defense do not reduce the danger they claim to combat – just like the veil does not reduce male aggressions. What is worse is that they are not supposed to. In Egypt, about 90% of women say that they had been sexually harassed though the large majority is veiled. The security bestowed by both veils and guns is a fantasy. However, for proponents of veils and guns this does not matter because the meaning of those items is “religious” rather than practical.