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Banning the Burqa

Posted by Anthony on January 31, 2010

By Anthony J. Aschettino

In the post 9/11 world it has become increasingly common to link any and all visible manifestations of Islam to that of at least a passive support of terrorism or, at the very least, Islamism. Gone are the days in which a woman who chose to wear a covering across her face was viewed as a novelty in the West; today she is seen as being part of the vanguard for Osama bin Laden and his horde of mujahideen seeking to overrun the free world.

In France, a bastion of secular liberalism in the west, there is currently debate on whether or not to ban the wearing of a full face veil (the niqab), as it has been deemed a “challenge to the Republic”. Truly the burqa, often described as a tent-like garment draped over a woman, can be seen as alien to western, liberal cultures especially when coupled with the face-covering aspect of the niqab; to many women in the west, it represents repression, misogyny, and a backwards way of living for those women who don it.

Quite naturally there have been voices raised against such a ban, both in France and the rest of the world, and not all coming from the Muslim quarter. Determining what a woman cannot wear is in a way not much different than determining what she can wear. Many Muslim women take rather seriously the concept of modesty, and to them the seclusion afforded by exposing nothing but their eyes is indeed a guard against immorality.

Plus, so long as it is a free choice by the woman, there really is no harm in deciding to dress like that; if the freedoms afforded citizens in western democracies have taught us anything, it is that access to those very freedoms will result in portions of the population wearing a myriad of costumes in the public sphere, not all of which are entirely agreeable to the masses but which nevertheless have found their way into acceptable fashion.

Here in the United States, there have been some conservative voices who, surprisingly, wish to emulate their arch-enemies the French in banning the burqa and/ or the niqab in the public sphere. Put rather simply, this flies in the face of every right, whether enunciated or understood, upon which the United States was founded. One cannot simply ban a dress because it is strange, exotic, or misunderstood; neither can we, in good conscious as a nation, seek to portray average citizens as being among those who aid and abet terrorists simply because they happen to adorn themselves in a certain fashion. After all, Osama bin Laden sports a beard; should we then seek to enforce shaving among all men?

There will be, and must be, exceptions to this rule of course: in situations such as the issuance of a driver’s license or passport photograph, or in for example federal buildings where the identity of a person must be made unmistakably clear, the women must as a rule remove at least the facial-veil part of the dress. Yet aside from these, and few other examples, there is no reason a woman should not be permitted to cover her face in public if that is her desire.

At the end of the day, the success or failure of national security hardly rest upon the desire of a rather small portion of a minority population to dress in a certain style. In France, where conformity to an ideal that holds disdain for any obvert religious/ cultural identity exists, perhaps they have more of a justification for banning the burqa. Here in the United States, any such ban would do nothing but throw another cup of water on the sputtering flame of liberty.


2 Responses to “Banning the Burqa”

  1. J P Maher said

    In Islam the woman is subject to the man. The Muslim man must force the woman to do his will, if shedoes not, to beat her, run over his daughter with his car if she dresses “immodestly”, as in Arizona. What happened to that physician’s wife in Buffalo?

  2. Meredith said

    I agree that a woman should be free to make her own choices, even if other women see it as being oppressive. This includes everything from choosing to stay home with your kids instead of pursuing a career,to choosing to dress in a way that reflects your religion and/or culture. But that only applies if there is truly a free choice. A woman who is intimidated, coerced or browbeaten until she “chooses” to wear such apparel is not really free. There are too many examples of women who were targeted for NOT wearing such apparel to suppose that this does not factor into the “decision” — even if the threat isn’t overtly stated, it is implied, with every fundamentalist man becoming a potential assailant. The choice between wearing a burqa or being victimized isn’t really much of a choice.

    As for the ban on burqas — people are not entertaining thoughts of banning them because they are “exotic.” You know better than this. Muslims are free to wear symbols of their faith the same as any Christian is free to wear a crucifix. However, full face and body coverings, to the point where the people underneath and what they may be carrying are completely obscured, is a very real security risk, and it is the obligation of law enforcement agencies to minimize such risks. If someone were to walk down the street, or into a public building covered head to foot in a sheet, or wearing a ski mask, the authorities would absolutely stop them and ask them their business, and determine whether they were a threat. The same goes for women who are unwilling to remove their face veils for driver’s license pictures, as happened last year, I believe it was. The point of a photo ID is strictly for identification purposes. If one can not identify the person in the photo, the whole exercise becomes meaningless, not to mention another potential security risk. The fact that the burqa or niqab has cultural or religious significance is irrelevant if we truly believe in the principle that church and state are separate. Everyone must be the same under the law, in the eyes of the state, and treated accordingly. Otherwise, the state gives preferential treatment to some based on their religion, and that is unacceptable in a country where the line between government and religion is clearly drawn.

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