Monday, June 22, 2009

Don't Ban The Burqa

Nicholas Sarkozy is proposing to ban the Burqa, a move supported both by Letters From a Tory and David at A Tangled Web.

I think they are wrong. Not because the Burqa is a good thing and we mustn't judge different cultures and all that crap. I do not believe that- the garment is an ugly symbol of repressive values and a barrier to integration. It would be good if every wearer responded as the late Orianna Fallaci did when interviewing the Ayatollah Khomeni. However banning it isn't the answer.

Partly for practical reasons, how can you ban it without also banning every other item of clothing that conceals the face- be it Halloween costumes, motorcycle helmets or scarves worn in winter? Also the practical result of banning the burqa might just as easily lead to Muslim women who currently wear it when they go outside the house being prevented from leaving the house at all.

It's a bad idea in principle too, the idea that the state has a right to tell people what they can and cannot wear is completely unreasonable, what someone wears shouldn't be a democratic decision. I'd vote to prevent Sarkozy wearing lifts in his shoes and he wouldn't like that. Whilst a lot is rightly made of women who are forced to wear the Burqa, the fact remains a lot of wearers do so willingly. Forcing someone who doesn't want to wear a burqa to do so is the same in principle as preventing someone who does want to wear it from doing so.

Furthermore the burqa is a symptom of the status of women in certain Islamic societies, not the cause. If the burqa is banned then great we won't see any more BMOs on the streets, but the women themselves aren't going to be any freer from whoever was influencing them in the first place. If one removes one highly visible symbol of coercion without actually doing anything about the coercion itself then what is the point?

Lastly I don't buy the idea that it is an advance for secularism. Secularism should mean refusing to grant any special place in public life to religion or religious institutions, not actively preventing religious expression. We shouldn't protect the right to wear a burqa in circumstances wear concealing one's face would be otherwise unacceptable. but equally we shouldn't ban face covering only when there is an Islamic motive.

All of the above applies only to the idea of the state banning the Burqa on symbolic grounds, I have no objection to private institutions barring it. After all shops have every reason to demand that they can identify customers and should be able to treat the burqa in the same way they treat motor cycle helmets. There is also an argument that there are practical reasons for the state banning it in some circumstances as a security risk which seems implausible but is a legitimate reason to restrict it.

20 comments:

Infidel753 said...

the idea that the state has a right to tell people what they can and cannot wear is completely unreasonable,

I'm inclined to agree with you, but the fact is that it's a universal practice in the Western world. All Western countries, as far as I know, have laws to the effect that women cannot appear with their breasts uncovered in public, nor can anyone leave the genital area uncovered. Those laws, too, are ultimately based on nothing but a taboo, probably religious in origin, which is widely shared -- that is, most people would find public nakedness offensive, just as most people in many Muslim cultures would find deviations from Islam's far stricter dress code offensive.

I don't believe the state should be empowered to enforce any dress code at all, incuding the ones it routinely does enforce right now -- but as long as it does, I see no reason to object to banning the burqa on that ground.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Banning the burqa qould :-
a) Make terrorism and crime harder - lots of attacks in Islamic countries and cities using the Burqa. A jewellers shop in Birminghamstan was recently robbed.
b) Would send a very good message -
"This is not a Muslim country and never will be".

JuliaM said...

"as long as it does, I see no reason to object to banning the burqa on that ground."

There's a fair argument that doing so would be counterproductive, though...

TDK said...

Forcing someone who doesn't want to wear a burqa to do so is the same in principle as preventing someone who does want to wear it from doing so.

Your case relies on this being a moral equivalence. However from a philosophical point of view this may not be the case - one may be morally worse than the other.

To take a harder example. In principle I have no objection to people mutilating themselves. However I recognise that FGM is rightly banned because the loss of liberty can be judged a lesser imposition than the toleration of girls being forced to undergo the procedure.

Your interventionist usually justifies his or her actions by saying that in certain cases the law must change before attitudes. Foot binding being another example.

So given that, you really need to weigh up the positives and negatives and argue from that rather than assume an equivalence.

Now paradoxically I actually agree with you. I have had this argument several times and I think the problem is not the burqa per se but the fear of being seen to be racist. In other words, in a normal society we would say to the woman that she was ridiculous, that she harboured a submissive personality etc etc. That we shouldn't bend over backwards to accommodate odd behaviour. However a couple of generations of deliberate non-judgementalism has confused us into thinking that anyone who does criticise those who dress outlandishly, is invariably a bigot.

I'm not arguing for streams of abuse: think of the way nuns no longer dress in traditional garb in public. Society has sniggered at them to the point where they changed themselves to fit in.

asquith said...

I expressed a very similar view to yours in the comments section- gave up after a while though! Fortunately JuliaM has got a bit more stamina than me. :)

PS- I obviously agree FGM, wife-beating, "honour" killings etc should be outlawed & these laws strongly enforced. Who doesn't?

Sue said...

Yes, let's keep it. It will do wonders for racial harmony and freedom for women!

James Higham said...

He'd be better off forcing them to wear it in mid-summer.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I don't mind women wearing a burka, provided they cover it up with something decent.

David Vance said...

Fair argument Ross, and I do understand your point. My compromise is to allow the Burqa and ban Islam.

Ross said...

"In other words, in a normal society we would say to the woman that she was ridiculous, that she harboured a submissive personality".

TDK- yeah, I saw a programme on the Burka a while ago and one of the wearers was saying to an anti Burka speaker "I don't have a problem you do", and the obvious point to have made was "You are wearing a potato sack of course you have a problem!".

Ross said...

"My compromise is to allow the Burqa and ban Islam.".

Your wllingness to find the middle ground and comprimise is an inspiration to us all.

banned said...

Lets ban goth clothing too because it's aggresive and ugly plus saggy trousers because they are indecent.

sobers said...

I am against bans on principle. So I would not be in favour of a total govt ban on burqas. But it would be good for the govt to pass a law expressly permitting public and private bodies to ban it if they so wished, and not fall foul of the law on racial or religious discrimination as a result.

So if shops, banks, restaurants, employers in general, wanted to ban burqas they could with no fear of some racial awareness officer from the council jumping up and down and screaming 'racism!'

Gladys Pew said...

No it should be banned across Europe. I am a woman and am directly threatened by this ISlamic cult.

alison said...

I wasn't able to complete that ATW thread at the time but you are wrong Ross. I don't have time to get into a debate with you here right now but I will at some point when I feel better and can write up a post in answer to you here.

"how can you ban it without also banning every other item of clothing that conceals the face- be it Halloween costumes, motorcycle helmets or scarves worn in winter?"

That's silly. Can you tell me how those items you mention relate to the French principles of liberty equality and fraternity. Can you relate the burqa to those principles and see what it is Sarkozy is correctly maintaining because it the burqa (niqab) instantly negates all three. This is understood by him, the government and the people so it simply is not wrong, nor does it fly in the face of reasonable approved government intervention. They are not a libertarian state and never founded themselves as such.

"Secularism should mean refusing to grant any special place in public life to religion or religious institutions, not actively preventing religious expression"

Not necessarily. What do you know of how French secularism operates in relation to its principles and republican set up and it's current handling of this in public life. Why would you assume it is simply about actively preventing religious expression. I don't know where you get that from?

Ross said...

"But it would be good for the govt to pass a law expressly permitting public and private bodies to ban it if they so wished, and not fall foul of the law on racial or religious discrimination as a result.".

Yes or just making a statement to that effect.

"Can you tell me how those items you mention relate to the French principles of liberty equality and fraternity. Can you relate the burqa to those principles and see what it is Sarkozy is correctly maintaining because it the burqa (niqab) instantly negates all three.".

Banning an item of clothing is certainly not an advance for the principle of liberty.

"Why would you assume it is simply about actively preventing religious expression. ".

I'm not talking about French secularism in general, but in relation to this particular proposal.

alison said...

"Banning an item of clothing is certainly not an advance for the principle of liberty..."

It is actually. It is an advance for women's liberty and the advertisement of it to others. It is certainly valid in France. Government spokesman Luc Chatel:-

"If it were determined that wearing the burka is a submissive act, and that it is contrary to republican principles, naturally parliament would have to drawn the necessary conclusions," he said. When asked whether that could mean bringing in legislation to ensure an outright ban, Chatel answered: "Why not?

He is overwhelmingly supported across both Left and Right on this issue. That's how their set up works.

OK re secularism. In which case you (and Peter) need to make that clear distinction because French equality and secularism are inextricably linked and should be on this issue. It was also the French who raised this issue and in that context I have been referring to it.

This issue crosses all party lines in France. Republican principles of equality and secularism are so deeply grounded in the French mind that they belong as much to the Left as to the Right.

That such a debate is taking place again reveals the sturdy health of secularism in France wholly supported by the population with the largest Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe.

Similar debates seem impossible in Britain.

Gregg said...

I think women like Margaret Beckett should have to wear the burqa if they want to go out in public.

Ross said...

"This issue crosses all party lines in France. Republican principles of equality and secularism are so deeply grounded in the French mind that they belong as much to the Left as to the Right."

I don't see how banning one sex from wearing a specific garment is about equality, it seems highly unequal.

Von Spreuth. said...

"how can you ban it without also banning every other item of clothing that conceals the face- be it Halloween costumes, motorcycle helmets or scarves worn in winter?"

Not read the Town police clauses act 1847 recently have you?

Any person who, after thee hours of darkness, goes abroad (meaning out of their dwelling) with the face masked or disguised, commits an offence.

Therefore EVERY burkha wearer commits an offence if the go out after dark any way.

So why have we seen no prosecutions?

And try getting into a bank with a crash helmet on.

Von Brandenburg-Preu├čen.