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The burka ban – a good ban or a bad ban?

This week France banned women from wearing a burka or niquab in public– they haven’t banned headscarves but the full face coverings, a niquab leaves the eyes visible, a burka covers the face entirely.  From reading the coverage it seems that this is a measure that, chattering classes excepted, is popular across France.

Politicians from both sides have been supportive of the ban.  Fadela Amara, an Algerian-born former housing minister in called  the burka “a kind of tomb, a horror for those trapped within it”, and André Gerin, a Communist MP who headed up the commission who looked into whether to implement a ban or not, described it as “the tip of an iceberg of oppression”.

And yet in Britain, Thereas May, the Home Secretary, ruled out implementing a ban because “it would be out of keeping with our nation’s longstanding record of tolerance”.

The logic around the debate seems muddled, are we saying that a ban is needed because the veil oppresses women and that most women who wear a veil are forced to do so?  That the ban is therefore a tool of freedom for women?
But how is this any different from suggesting that all women have to bikinis between July and September? 

And what about if women are not being forced to wear the veil but are doing it out of choice?  What then of a ban that overturns their choice?  What does that say about their right to self expression and self determination?

But also is there a fine line between choosing to wear a veil as a statement of one’s faith and choosing to wear a veil to minimise the unwanted comments and behaviours of others?  At what point does it become a choice rather than a compulsion? 
Or perhaps the French are trying to, in the light of their secular society, to reduce this very visible sign of difference, Jack Straw described the veil as a ‘visible demonstration of separateness’.  And yes in a modern Western society it is strikingly different, but is it more of a statement of separation than facial tattoos or piercings or vividly dyed hair?  Is banning it then an attempt to create conformity, to force through integration?

But by actively attacking the right to wear the veil are we not giving publicity to people who want to empathise the differences, might we not be giving ammunition to the ‘they don’t understand us’, the ‘they want to attack our way of life’ groups?  May a ban on the veil not minimise the potential for religious fundamentalissm but actually increase the likelihood?

I’m still wrestling with whether this is a good or a bad ban – even more so I’m wrestling with trying to work my way through what is a minefield of issues surrounding this seemingly simple idea.

What do you think?

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23 comments to The burka ban – a good ban or a bad ban?

  • I am pretty much against the ban. Isn’t it mostly about the fact that wearing the burka makes these women ‘look different’ and the French come up with a good excuse for not making them wear it about that they can’t be identified by the police. I reckon that it is simply not up to Western cultures to say what these women can or can’t wear in public.

    • Muddling Along

      Exactly – it feels wrong to dictate what people wear

      And similarly in France they seem to have tried to blur the messages about whether its the veil itself that is wrong, the face covering or the Islamic element

      In schools all religious items are banned from headscarves, crucifixes and skullcaps, I would have thought that if they were to take this step it needed to be all encompassing or nothing

  • Like you say, i wonder about the women that *want* to wear it and how they feel about it. Do some women want to or is it only a tool of oppression? and the women forced to wear it by domineering men in their lives, is their life going to be better or will they just be forced to stay home and be allowed out only when vital? If the men have enough control to say what they can and can’t wear, do they have the control to stop them going out in public all together?

    I feel I don’t know enough about it all to say if it’s good or bad. But it does bring up a lot of questions.

    • Muddling Along

      Exactly – a lot of questions and the realisation that this isn’t a clear cut issue

      Will be interesting to see what happens

  • This is a pretty interesting video about the issue http://youtu.be/RtLd6AKiTfs

  • Interesting post. In my opinion this is not about Islam, this is about cultural identity and these women (or the men making them wear a burka) expressing a solidarity with their brothers and sisters in faith.
    I do not have a problem with women being fully covered if they so wish but disagree with covering the face. It is like saying you are not a person, be not heard and not seen. I read a while back that a cleric in Saudi wanted to have women to have only have one small hole for the eyes in their burka since they were using make up to make their eyes look nice (that being the only part of their body on show, and the cleric being a prime example of misogyny).
    Also I think that if you look back to the 60’s and 70’s places like Iran, Afghanistan and Lebanon were centres of cultural diversity, with educated, emancipated women. They were not westernised and had to maintain modesty but not by wearing a burka. Then with the spread of Saudi based intolerant Wahabi principles, the wearing of the burka has spread beyond the middle east. Why was it ok not to wear a burka then? The religion has not changed, people have.

    • Muddling Along

      Interesting point – I do wonder if the current stance might perhaps be a swing back from the westernisation in the 60s and 70s

  • I think that the ban on the burqa needs to come from the Middle East first and then Europe and the rest of the world can follow.

    My worry has always been for the ‘oppressed’ woman who are forced to wear it by their male relatives or husbands, have they not been driven further underground, are they able to leave the house at all now? Also surely it’s as oppressive to tell someone they can’t wear something as it is to tell them to wear a garment. Double standards!

    Fundamentally there are far too many people who want it banned because it’s a symbol of Islam nothing more, most people couldn’t give two hoots about the oppression of women, which saddens me greatly.

    • Muddling Along

      Good point – telling someone not to wear something is as bad as telling them to wear something

      And yes, I do think that there is an element of anti-islamic sentiment here which does worry me – if that’s the case then surely we should expect an Islamic backlash

  • I really can’t decide. I’ve read a lot about the subject because a few years ago we were facing a move to a country where women are expected to cover up when in public, and I was surprised to hear intelligent, articulate and well informed women explaining that they liked the freedom that taking the veil gave them, and rather than it being oppressive, it was liberating.

    • Muddling Along

      I’ve also read about the freedom aspect, especially in the context of an Arab country (my parents lived in Dubai for 12 years) and I keep coming back to the fact that part of this ban seems to be based on not letting women decide on what they want to wear – it feels awfully similar to suggesting that we need to legislate because people are incompetent and my liberal side screams that this is a thin end of a wedge

  • Annicles

    I find it hard to know what I think. On the one hand, making a judgement about what is worn by people of a different religion seems wrong to me. What makes this doubly hard to argue reasonably is that a Muslim friend of mine is adamant that the burka and the niq’hab are not Islamic, they are a reflection of old Arab, tribal customs.

    I also have a feeling that if people emigrate to a new country they have a responsibility to accept the culture they move to. If they don’t feel comfortable in that culture it is not right of them to demand that the culture changes, they need to find somewhere they do feel comfortable. Yes, there needs to be acceptance and give and take but in the West it is important to have eye contact. It is one of the most important ways in which we communicate.

    I will be interested to see how this plays out in the next months and years.

    • Muddling Along

      It is going to be interesting to see how it develops and whether it turns out to be a storm in a teacup or not

      As a liberal one of my concerns is that whilst we ask that people respect our culture and mores that we also need to respect others culture and traditions and that something like this undermines that by effectively saying our way is the only way

      • Annicles

        I would never suggest that respecting the culture and mores of the culture you move to would proclude wearing saris in London or mini-skirts in the middle east. I think is it possible to have a multi-cultural society and by that I do not mean a homogenous society where everyone looks the same. However, moving to a culture but refusing to accept the cultural norms is disrespectful. My husband is Jewish. His ancestors came to this country over 100 years ago. It is Jewish law that the laws of the country over-rule jewish laws except where they are in direct conflict – so murder remains tabbo, even if it were hypothetically permitted. It is possible for two cultures to live side by side within one family or person.

  • Shafeena

    Being a muslim and being originally from India and living all my life in the middle east, i would say i have a pretty decent idea of how everyone here is reacting to the ban. Having a lot of french and western friends, i automatically find myself defending them as i hear slogans of, “French go to hell… ” etc. I thought it was just the fear of not knowing who it was under the veil that was trying to ban it. If it the fact that they are trying to bring out the oppressed women, They are so wrong ! I mean don’t get me wrong, there are many out there who are forced into it ! But a large part of them, especially those who live in the west, who do it by choice. They find it liberating because you are not subject to the scrutiny of everyone who sees you, and so are not judged by looks but by thoughts. The wearing of burqa is indeed islamic. Though a stricter sense of it! I also disagree that people have to adopt the cultures of a country if they move there, if this was the case, i would never see indian saris in london, or see mini skirts in the middle east ! But i do ! If women are oppressed into doing something, be it burqa or be it washing clothes, they shouldn’t and it is our job as fellow women-kind to better their situations ! But if it is by choice, is it right that the choice is taken away from them? Their reaction is similar to if a body conscious woman was forced to wear a bikini forever ! I Agree with muddling along mummy that there is a HUGE backlash to the west from the entire muslim community, from those who don’t wear headscarves(like me) to those who wear burqa , about a CHOICE being taken away !

    • Muddling Along

      This is exactly it that removing a choice seems like a bad thing to me and that I cannot believe that the majority of women wearing the veil are not doing it out of choice. Yes there may be a small minority pressured into wearing it but legislating against a larger group just feels wrong

      Your point about removing scrutiny so that you are judged by thoughts and actions is really interesting and something I’ve been thinking about – women in the UK do seem to be assessed primarily by appearance and their achievements or actions very much a secondary consideration

  • ThePosieParker

    The Burka is a protest against the West, we see this in modern day Iraq where more andmore invisible women appear everyday. This garment is a political statement. It is a trophy for the tee shirt wearing man to show his wife is modest and good, and for the woman it is [really?] to protect her from the sexual advance and gaze of men. To say a woman wearing the Burka is free from judgement of her appearance is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. She’s judged from half a mile away, the judgments are ‘this woman hates the west, thinks she’s better than me, oppressed, stupid, religious, worth less than a man, ‘ etc , Now these judgments may not be true, but they are made.
    These garments are not fitting for a Western country, we don’t have sand storms, these Garments are not cohesive, they are divisive to communities . Muslims need to look inward to discover why conflict follows them nearly everywhere they settle….

  • ThePosieParker

    Have to add, how have we arrived in modern day Britain where a woman feels more ‘free’ by walking around in a tent? Seriously…this is about men and how we have allowed women to be objects of sexual desire, ffs… What on earth makes a woman in a supposed Islamic country feel more free? Are men there so sexually predatory and vile that a woman has to become invisible to be safe

  • I’m against the ban. I find it very radical. The vast majority of women who wear it do so out of choice, and even if this choice comes about by underlying issues of women’s oppression (which is of course debatable), a ban does not tackle these.

    I’m all in favour banning some outfits of youngsters in Glasgow (and surely other places) on their Friday night out by the way. Strangely, that suggestion is countered by arguments of women’s lib that women have a right to choose what to wear without facing any danger of abuse. Yes I agree with this in principle, yet do young women actually make a free choice or do they follow bizarre female role models of barely dressed yet highly sexualised forms of self expression, where the only self expression available to young women/girls is that of being sexy and a sexual object? Just another version of a uniform.

  • ThePosieParker

    Cartside….either way we are sexual objects, by being hidden or exposed.

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