A French parliamentary committee has recently recommended that a partial ban be put in place regarding women wearing Islamic face veils in public places. Over at the BBC website they have raised the question as to whether a similar ban should be implemented in the UK. I have to say that I am of two minds on this one. As such I thought I would lay out my current thinking on the issue and leave it up to you lot to sway me one way or the other.
The most obvious argument that springs to mind is one of security. Now I want to make it clear that I am not making a “all Muslims are terrorists” argument here and I do not in any way think that is the case. No, my argument is a simpler one than that. When you go to a supermarket such as Tesco they require that your face is visible. You can’t wear motorbike helmets, hoodies or Jedi robes. And yet an exception is made when it comes to the Muslim niqab. If there is a legitimate reason why facial coverings are not allowed in places like shops and banks then those reasons should apply to everyone, no matter the reasoning, religious or otherwise, behind the particular form of facial covering.
The wearing of niqabs and burkas clearly singles the wearer out as different and is a form of religious separation. Now while the members of the religion may see this as a good thing it does foster a “them and us” attitude on both sides. It also opens the way for religious discrimination, be it discrimination against those wearing the burkas or against women who refuse to do so or who do not belong to the Muslim religion.
It can be argued, and fairly legitimately I think, that burkas and the like discriminate against women directly for being women. The idea that it is some how the woman’s fault if men see a bit of leg and suddenly can’t control themselves and so rape her is only one example of the mind numbing “logic” behind the burka. The burka comes with all the baggage of a male dominated religion where women are seen as second class citizens and as the properties of the men in their lives. Being made to cover themselves lest they inflame the lust of a passing man and to show that they are subservient to their uncovered male counterparts is a clear and obvious form of sexual discrimination and oppression.
It can, again I think legitimately, be argued that banning the burka is itself a form of religious discrimination. Why single out this one public display of religious belief? Are they planning on banning Sikhs from wearing their own distinct head gear? How about Christians who proudly flaunt crosses and “Jesus loves You” t-shirts? In France they banned Muslim headscarves and other “conspicuous” religious symbols from being worn at state schools. If there is a plan to ban religious clothing in this country should it not be equally all encompassing?
Some women like wearing them. Many Muslim women say that wearing a burka makes them feel closer to their God and gives them a sense of belonging that they do not have otherwise. Is it not equally a form of discrimination to tell these women that they can’t wear something that is, while not to many of our tastes, not directly offensive and in which they feel comfortable?
Are the reasons we have for wanting them banned truly justifiable or is it just an extension of the western world’s general discomfort regarding anything Muslim? I have no problem admitting that the fact that I personally find burkas and especially nigabs unattractive and somewhat sinister is in no way a good reason to have them banned. Just because many other people may share this feeling with me doesn’t make the reasoning behind it any more valid.
So there you go, let me know which side you come down and if you have any better arguments either for or against.