Should the burqa be banned?
France sure thinks so; President Sarkozy is backing moves to make it illegal in his country, and according to this article, Britain should follow suit. Saira Khan is a devoted Muslim woman who says the burqa not a religious tradition, but rather an ultra fundamentalist practice originating in Saudi Arabia that has no place in modern society. She believes these outfits are a type of female oppression, robbing women of their ability to interact with society and alienating them. Even worse, the practice has caused some women to develop rickets (a softening of the bones due to a lack of vitamin D) due to a lack of exposure to sunlight.
Many of my adult British/Muslim friends cover their heads with a headscarf – and I have no problem with that.
The burqa is an entirely different matter. It is an imported Saudi Arabian tradition, and the growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of creeping radicalisation, which is not just regressive, it is oppressive and downright dangerous.
The burqa is an extreme practice. It is never right for a woman to hide behind a veil and shut herself off from people in the community. But it is particularly wrong in Britain, where it is alien to the mainstream culture for someone to walk around wearing a mask.
I’m normally uncomfortable with the idea of banning anything; it doesn’t really set a precedent I’m too happy about (after all, what’s to prevent people from banning other religious symbols and practices, or even non-religious ones), but in the case of burqas, I can understand why it’s necessary. After all, although I’m sure many Muslims claim the decision to wear them is entirely up to women, we all know the ‘choice’ to do so was never theirs to begin with. The burqa has come to symbolize the fundamental incompatibility of conservative Islam with modern society, and is a repressive tool to control and segregate women.
I think it’s important to mention not all forms of traditional Muslim clothing are being targeted here: just burqas. The custom has no place in a country where women are treated as equal members of society. Banning anything isn’t something we should take lightly, but we cannot allow an obviously sexist and demeaning tradition from taking place on our soil. Being tolerant of religion does not mean we must accept every single tradition and ritual of any religion. We don’t allow many voodoo ceremonies for both health and animal cruelty reasons. Forcing women to completely veil themselves and act in a submissive manner towards men does not reflect the values that define our modern society. There are plenty of places where this sort of thing is allowed; to those who object to the burqa being banned, might I suggest relocating there.