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.

Comments (12)

  • avatar

    LB

    As much as I deplore the repressive practices of any religion, a legal ban is the wrong way to go. I’m always wary when laws are passed banning personal practices that have no direct impact on anyone else.

    The battle has to be won in the hearts and minds of the oppressed and as such, we cannot impose a behavioral standard on them. I believe that a ban like this would only cause the Muslim community to feel more isolated and cause them to further retreat from the society. Instead we should allow them to experience the world as it is and hopefully open up a few minds at the same time.

    As tempting as it is to use the big stick approach to social engineering it will always have unintended consequences. Those of us who wish to change society need to learn to play the long game and let our ideas gradually seep in. I’m not saying we have to be quiet, just that we need to let our views compete in the marketplace of ideas.

  • avatar

    Jemaleddin

    Coming at this from an American perspective (still the only country with a guaranteed right to freedom of speech – booya!), I disagree. Clothing is a form of expression, and shouldn’t be infringed upon. The tube-top does as much to keep women oppressed, and nobody is looking to ban that. (Except Reel Big Fish, for some reason.)

  • avatar

    Spector567

    While an out-right ban may not be the right way. Removing it as a reconized symbol of religion could be.

    Yes you can wear it when you want but if your asked not to for a good reason you can’t claim religious persicution.

    some religions require children and adults to carry a knife where they go. That obviously doesn’t work in all school and most work places. Our society as a whole values this.

    Our society as a whole values being able to see someones face, as proof of identity and relating to people. The burka disrupts this.

  • avatar

    nem0

    I hate to use the slippery slope fallacy in an argument, but this seems like the kind of situation where things really could start getting out of hand. You’re right, banning one religious symbol could lead to all sorts of bans. Emphasis on could — maybe it wouldn’t, but it does open a door that can’t easily be kept shut afterward.

    Maybe social pressure would work better, kind of like how Britain tried to ban the hoodie a while back. On the other hand, preventing women from going out while wearing the burka is probably going to result in them not going out at all.

    It’s a crappy situation all around. Hopefully the social backlash will start a revolt, but after so many years of oppression, I don’t know how effective a revolt would be.

    Bah, this shit is depressing…

  • avatar

    Infinite Monkey

    Eh…you could try a completely logical arguement-Identification. When in a burka, everyone looks exactly the same. Thusly, a random person could don a burka to commit a crime, and dressed in a burka, you wouldn’t be able to tell much of anything about this person-including gender.

  • avatar

    Karla

    I’m sure the whole rickets thing is seen as a positive – if you’re weak and can’t move about easily, then you’ll just have to stay home. Of course, the poor woman’s ill, but honor is really being preserved! And that’s the important thing. Gah, fundamentalist ANYTHING drives me bananas & the tangled web of politics and policy that enabled it will never be sorted out, I’m afraid.

  • avatar

    Roxanne

    It is extremely oppressive! Every time I’ve seen some woman wearing one I’ve wanted to rip it off them and run away with it.

  • avatar

    choice joyce

    One problem with banning the burkha is it might put some women in the even worse position of NEVER being allowed to leave their house. Although I despise the burkha and what it stands for, I’m uncomfortable with going so far as to ban it, except in certain situations where facial identification is necessary (i.e., security checks at airports, photos for passports/drivers licenses, etc.). I might favour an official public education campaign against the burkha to help discourage its use – like an anti-smoking campaign – as long as it doesn’t cause women wearing burkhas to be publicly harassed.

  • avatar

    CybrgnX

    I hate it when the ‘holier then thou’s ‘ try to make something illigal (banned) ‘for my own good’. I think the burkha is a stupid, repressive pile of BS used to control the hated and feared WOMEN!!!!

    But I feel some sympathy for them as well, at least in Iran where stoning is still a fine art. But in this country any woman who wishes to and REALLY wants to can throw it off because they can get protection, of a sort, here. As joyce above notes banning could lead to other problems.

    All we can do is give encouragement, education, and support for those who really try to de-burkha.

  • avatar

    Aspentoll

    How do you know there isn’t a guy under there carrying 3 uzzis, 10 grenades, a sawed off shotgun,and enough explosives to bring down the London bridge?
    Clothing like that on a hot day would be bad enough on a
    bus full of people. Yeechh!
    Why should the people of a country have to change all of their values to suit a few new comers? If we went to their country your wife might be forced to wear a burkha and then what?

  • avatar

    LB

    @Aspentoll

    You could say the same about a bookbag or briefcase. You can’t be safe from everyone all the time. In a free society, shit happens.

    And we’re not suggesting that people change their values. Mainly that we need to acclimate disparate communities to bring their values more in line with the society they inhabit. The American Muslim community is a prime example of what good integration and lots of time can do.

  • avatar

    Johan

    We should all beware of the state. The fact is that all countries in the world today are limiting the freedoms of it’s peoples, and banning clothing is a stupid, no, really fucking stupid idea. I geel mentally raped just thinking about it.

    The government should stay the fuck out of our lives.

    @Jemaleddin: Are you serious? You can’t even say “fuck” or “cunt” on radio in the US. At least where I live, in northern Europe, I can say whatever the fuck I want. But we have an oppressive socialist government here too. Damn, take my socialize medicine from me, by all means, if I can get my liberties back.

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