NYC congresswoman who wore burqa in 2001 speech tells of ‘heartbreak’ over Afghanistan

‘The scenes coming out of Afghanistan are horrifying, and the pervasive reports of political killings, sexual violence, and repression of women by Taliban forces are especially abhorrent,’ Carolyn Maloney says

Bevan Hurley
New York
Tuesday 17 August 2021 18:11 EDT

NYC lawmaker who wore burqa in 2001

A New York City lawmaker who donned a burqa to deliver a 2001 speech to the House of Congress decrying the “draconian” treatment of women by the Taliban says the situation unfolding in Afghanistan is “heartbreaking”.

Rep Carolyn Maloney gave the speech to the House on October 16, 2001, nine days after a US-led coalition had begun its campaign to remove the Taliban.

It was the first time a burqa had been worn on the House floor.

Rep Maloney, the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, said on Monday she intended to do everything in her power to “ensure that the human rights of all Afghans are protected during this tumultuous time” in a statement to The Independent.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is the Chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee

“I am especially fearful for the women and girls of Afghanistan, who have fought for 20 years to gain the basic human rights and dignity they deserve, and are now at risk of having that progress suddenly stripped away from them by the Taliban,” Rep Maloney said.

She added the US had a “moral responsibility” to ensure the thousands of translators and allies who had helped western military forces were able to leave Afghanistan.

“The scenes coming out of Afghanistan are horrifying, and the pervasive reports of political killings, sexual violence, and repression of women by Taliban forces are especially abhorrent.”

Back in October 2001, as Ground Zero was still a smoking rubble from the attacks on the Twin Towers by terrorists from Al Qaeda, a group given shelter by the Taliban, the image of a progressive Democrat covered head-to-toe in the Islamic veil to justify the US invasion of Afghanistan was met with a mixed response.

The Taliban’s harsh treatment of women had been used as a key justification by then-President George W Bush for the invasion, alongside the primary reason that they were harbouring 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden.

Referring to the burqa in her speech, Rep Maloney said: “It’s an expensive, heavy, cumbersome garment which covers the entire body. And it includes a mesh panel covering the eyes.

“The veil is so thick that it’s difficult to breathe. The little mesh opening for the eyes makes it extremely difficult to even cross the road,” she said, adding women could be stoned to death for leaving the house without wearing one.

She also praised President Bush for dropping “food as well as bombs”.

Some dismissed Rep Maloney’s actions as a “stunt”, saying it was an odd choice of attire while attacking the Taliban’s inhumane treatment of women.

Writing for Foreign Policy magazine in 2018, Muslim feminist Rafia Zakaria author called it a “theatrical” display.

“Maloney’s brand is American feminist exceptionalism, in which American women - intrepid and veil-free - are beacons of freedom with a duty to evangelize their particular brand of empowerment, even if it means using bombs,” Ms Zakaria wrote.

Writing on Twitter this week, Rep Maloney’s Democratic primary opponent for New York’s 12th Congressional district, Rana Abdelhamid, said the speech had reinforced the idea that her identity as a Muslim women had been “weaponized to justify American wars”.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in