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It’s Time to Ban the Veil: The Chilling Lesson from the Elizabeth Smart Case

Posted on November 15 2010 3:10 pm
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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Or, was the fact that another, older woman was with Mitchell and Elizabeth, probably day and night and certainly during public outings, the mitigating factor? Mitchell’s first “wife,” 57-year-old Wanda Barzee, collaborated with Mitchell. Thus, when the trio ate in diners, often free meals, witnesses said that Elizabeth could have run away or asked someone for help but instead she remained mute, faceless, brainwashed, perhaps terrified. She had a new “mother-wife” now, another female of the species who went along with the kidnapping. If another woman is involved, it had to be all right, yes? Women are kind to each other and to children, yes? Surely, Elizabeth was perceived as their child and what parents, especially religious parents, would harm their own child?

Sometimes, male sex fiends, maniacs, sociopaths, are helped by female accomplices. Some women actually marry men who have been convicted and imprisoned for life for having murdered their wives or for having sexually tortured and murdered many women. Ted Bundy found a wife and also managed to father a daughter before he was executed in Florida. The scenarios are often quite terrible. For example, in 1977 Colleen Stan was kidnapped while hitchhiking from Oregon to California by Cameron Hooker and his wife Janice. Colleen was kept as a sex slave for seven years and forced to stay in a coffin-like box under the marital bed. Christine McGuire, who eventually prosecuted Hooker, and Carla Norton, wrote about this chilling case in Perfect Victim. The Hookers raised two children and frequently entertained guests in their home—none of whom suspected anything.

But back to Elizabeth Smart and the precise way in which her kidnapper was able to keep her hidden in full view. He veiled her. It was as simple as that. And absolutely no one thought a veiled girl or woman was that unusual or that the state, or private individuals, had the right to question a man whose women are veiled.

Recall, the Smart kidnapping took place eight years ago. Only now, is Smart currently testifying against her kidnapper in court. Mitchell has been charged with child abduction, abuse, and rape.  He was not in the courtroom because he had been ejected for “singing.”

It boggles the mind. Step back for a moment.

Think about how non-religious men of evil—Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot–have gotten away with mass murdering millions of human beings, think about their willing accomplices, both male and female. Think about the mass murder of humanity carried out by religious madmen, who believe that God is ordering them to kill, think about all their willing accomplices. Think about what politically powerless high functioning male sociopaths do to their victims before they finally murder them? Think about the homosexual pedophile and cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, about Jack the Ripper and the Green River killer who preyed on prostituted women, presumably human “throwaways.”

Now, given the evil that exists among human beings and given our American and Western traditions of tolerance and privacy, our fearfulness of “getting involved,” of coming between a man and his female “property,” a man and a child in flight from him, or between anyone and their religion, what can we do when we might find ourselves up against such unfathomable evil?

At the very least, based on the Smart case alone, we should not allow women to be veiled in public. That much—that little—we can do.

I would also like to point out that I am not singling out any one religion for Mitchell’s crimes, not Mormonism, not Christianity, but am, rather, taking an approach very similar to the approach taken by the French law which banned the burqa, an approach which was religion-neutral and did not mention any particular religion, including Islam which is the only religion that face veils its women

I would very much like to thank Beth Gilinsky for reminding me of the Smart case and its relevance to my own work about the burqa.

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