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. Obama’s statements triggered strong criticism among Arab intellectuals in France..
Reformist writer Abdelwahab Meddeb, a professor of comparative literature at the University of Paris X in Nanterre and author of 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. 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choice” was an illusion: “The moment [wearing] the veil is presented as a divine duty, the issue of free choice is no longer valid, [and] all Muslim women are exposed to [this religious] propaganda.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.