The office of the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has denied that the EU boss was forced to wear a hijab at meetings held in Iran alongside Mohammad Javad Zarif, her Iranian counterpart.
Though the meetings were criticised by some for Ashton’s failure to acknowledge Iran’s ongoing state-sponsorship of terrorism, others have also noted that Ashton’s ‘choice’ to wear hijab at the meetings, in deference to a custom which is argued to oppress Muslim women.
The incident comes just over a month after Italy’s foreign minister, Emma Bonino, was reported to have been ‘forced’ to wear the hijab at meetings in Iran. Iranian press reported that after Bonino’s plane landed in Tehran, an official carrying three head scarves boarded and asked Bonino to put one on before getting off the plane.
Jahan News said that the official failed to convince Bonino and phoned Zarif, the foreign minister, and asked him to speak directly to Bonino. Haaretz reported: “Zarif refused to do any such thing and told the protocol chief that if Bonino didn’t agree to cover her head, she wouldn’t be allowed off the plane. She would be forced to do a volte-face right back to Rome.”
When asked as to whether Ashton encountered a similar situation, her spokesperson told Breitbart London, “Catherine Ashton isn’t forced to do anything. She wore a headscarf out of respect to her hosts. The media likes to write about things that aren’t terribly controversial, but that’s life”.
But the headscarf is quite controversial to many women’s and human rights groups, who argue that the head covering is not Islamic, but rather a way to oppress women. Lelja Kuric, writing on the Left Foot Forward website, said of the face veil (niqab or burqa), which is a step beyond the hijab:
Ashton’s ‘respect’ for her hosts is unlikely to endear her to women’s rights campaigners, much like the case of former Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey. When Foreign Minister, Calmy-Rey wore a headscarf to meet with then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
While Calmy-Rey dismissed the incident as simply an observation of ‘local customs’, sources indicated that “without wearing a headscarf, [Calmy-Rey] probably would not have been able to have her meetings with the Iranian leadership”.