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.
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