A ban on the Muslim burqa and niqab has been proposed for many years in some countries, and was passed through the legislatures of France, Belgiam, and Quebec in early 2010. Fines have been leveled on women wearing burqas in Italy. A ban is seen as a way to preserve gender equality and the non-abusive treatment of women. This is predicated on the assumption that the burqa comes from fundamentalist traditions in Islam that severely limit women’s rights, in parallel with forbidding them from exposing any skin and “seducing” men. While some women do choose to wear the niqab on their own, others are forced against their will. Additional concerns surround the security implications of women (or men) being able to hide their identity under the burqa or niqab. This is relevant in the context of both terrorism and crime. And, others worry about the implications while driving a car, as the full facial veil limits peripheral vision, presenting some traffic safety issues. But, religious freedom advocates tend to support the right of women to wear the niqab and burqa as an expression of their beliefs. Banning the burqa could create major issues as individuals feel that their religious beliefs are being violated by the state. And, what happens when many women engage in civil disobedience, wearing the outfits irrespective of a ban? Will they be thrown in mass into paddy wagons or slapped with fines? Will bans incite mass protests, riots, and civil strife? Are these potential costs worth it? The pros and cons are examined below.
The burqa places a range of limitations that categorically put them at a disadvantage to men. They lose their visible identity in society, which often means they are unemployable, but also means they are largely unfit to engage in most healthy forms of social interaction in society, on the street, at parties, and generally anywhere where visible identification is important. It makes it impossible for them to exercise, and deprives them of adequate sunlight. All of these things place them at a huge disadvantage to men.
“The ban would apply to the full-body veil known as the burqa or niqab. This is not an article of clothing — it is a mask, a mask worn at all times, making identification or participation in economic and social life virtually impossible.” This places these women at a huge disadvantage economically and socially, threatens their success in life, and generally undermines their ability to climb socio-economically. This is certainly unfair and unequal.
“In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity … The burqa is not a religious sign, it’s a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement — I want to say it solemnly, it will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”
Women that wear the burqa say they are making an “independent choice,” but this choice is heavily commanded by a fundamentalist religio-cultural context, in which they are made to believe that wearing the burqa is a requirement by God. Nobody comes to these conclusions “independently”, just as nobody discovers a religion or a culture on their own. They come to it because a muslim preacher, their community, or family tells them that it is the “proper” interpretation of the Quran and God’s will. These religio-cultural contexts originate from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Jordan, where burqas are almost universally worn and in which the worst violations of women’s rights on the planet occur. This is where women are not able to leave the house without their husband’s permission and with a burqa on, and where they are often not allowed to work, drive, and engage in socially meaningful lives. These fundamentalist contexts are what drive the “choice” of women in the West to wear the burqa. Trying to separate these oppressive contexts from the “choice” is naive. Women are making the “choice” because they have been taught to believe that it is God’s will to live as second-class citizens under the control of men and that somehow the burqa is “modest”.
“France’s secretary of state for urban affairs, Fadela Amara, a Muslim woman of Algerian descent, has strongly supported the ban in France. […] Amara, a prominent women’s rights activist in France is the former leader of a feminist organisation that defends rights of women living in low-income urban communities in France, many of whom are Muslim immigrants becoming increasingly vulnerable to the pressures of Islamic fundamentalism in their communities.
Under no scenario would men accept this burden. This alone makes it clear that the burqa is part of a gender-biased culture, and unfair to women.
“Those who say they are defending women’s rights have it exactly backward: They are violating fundamental rights to free expression and religious freedom. They are also exacerbating the very problem they say they are worried about. Muslims, including the devoutly religious, are in Europe to stay. Banning their customs, their clothing or their places of worship will not make them more European. It will only make Europe less free.”
“under the principles of secularism promoted in Europe, it is illogical to take away women’s freedom concerning their way of dressing based on the assumption that a certain dress can hinder a woman’s freedom in different walks of life. […] outlawing the burqa merely trades one form of compulsion (you must wear this) for another (you may not wear this).”
“On sexual equality, women would be better protected by the enforcement of existing laws against domestic violence than by the enactment of new laws forcing them to dress in a way that may be against their will.”
“We share this abhorrence for such clothing: The burka signifies the notion that a woman is a piece of male property, which must be packaged and caged. […] Still, banning burkas is not the right way to battle the sexist ideas that burkas symbolize. In our society, women have a right to wear what they want, assuming they choose to do so of their own free will.”
“I wonder how many niqab-wearing French citizens Nicolas Sarkozy has sat with and talked to. I imagine not many. Because if he had, he could not with a clear conscience say that ‘the burka is not a religious sign (but) a sign of subservience, of debasement’. […] To whatever extent a Muslim woman chooses to practise it, modesty is a central concern within the religion (for men as well, although this is often ignored). Everyone I spoke to who wore Islamic dress did so because this issue of modesty is sacrosanct…”
“Everyone I spoke to who wore Islamic dress […] felt liberated not being judged on their appearance. And those who choose to wear the niqab are doing that to an extreme.”
The wives of the prophet wore the burqa. And, so many see the burqa as a way of emulating them, and further expressing their faith.
“In the bitterly, painfully cold Toronto winter cold snap we had last week, I found myself thinking that a piece of fabric designed to cover the face could actually be a great idea. In saying that, I don’t mean to trivialize the issue, but instead to say that covering one’s face, as with many experiences, can have multiple meanings, and might even be to one’s advantage at certain times.”
“If the recommendations on the full veil become law, it will become illegal to wear it in state venues such as hospitals, public buildings, and on trains and buses (though streets are not off limits). Its supporters see it as consistent with the head-scarf ban, but at least with that Muslim girls had a choice to go to a religious school. If the burqa is banned, what’s the choice for the women who wear it? Stay imprisoned in their neighborhoods?”
“Even if Sarkozy is correct (and there’s good reason to assume he isn’t) the most glaring problem is that a ban on of the burqa would likely prompt women to cling to it tighter, to hang on to a material representation of a persecuted immaterial identity.”
“The fact that people are prohibited from strolling down Fifth Avenue in the nude does not constitute an attack on the fundamental rights of nudists. Likewise, wearing headgear that fully covers the face does not constitute a fundamental liberty.”
“in both France and the United States, we recognize that individual liberties cannot exist without individual responsibilities. This acknowledgment is the basis of all our political rights. We are free as long as we are responsible individuals who can be held accountable for our actions before our peers. But the niqab and burqa represent a refusal to exist as a person in the eyes of others. The person who wears one is no longer identifiable; she is a shadow among others, lacking individuality, avoiding responsibility.”
Some crimes are being committed by individuals wearing burqas (documented in section below). Terrorists have also dawned burqas as a disguise (documented below). Those that wear burqas while driving also present a risk, given the limitations on range of vision. These risks are born by other citizens, and could be considered a violation of their rights.
Why are nudity and prostitution banned? There is no direct “damage” to other citizens and their rights, so why? It is because a society has judged that something is indecent and possibly immoral about them. The same can apply to the burqa. If it is concluded that the burqa is indecent because it is a symbol of the oppression of women and for other reasons, than it is not out of the question to ban it on these grounds.
The burqa generates anxiety among those that fear Islamic terrorism. It also generates frustration and concern for those that see it as representing the oppression of women. Non of this is justification alone for a ban, but it is a cost.
“French Muslim leaders have noted that the Koran does not instruct women to cover their faces, while in Tunisia and Turkey, it is forbidden in public buildings; it is even prohibited during the pilgrimage to Mecca.” If there is no religious need, than there is very little freedom-of-religion justification.
“The most important question here should be: What does it matter whether it is in the Koran or is considered to be prescribed by Islamic law? Religious freedom does not mean having to tolerate things that are so inhuman or undemocratic, just because they were required 1400 years ago by the founder of a religion and his ideological disciples, and are still seen by orthodox Muslims as exemplary (sunna). In a secular, European state, universal human rights are the basis of our mindset and our laws. Blind obedience to Islamic rules is not appropriate.”
“As an Arab woman raised in the West, I fully understand the importance of keeping to cultural traditions and religious beliefs, but I have also learned the importance of assimilation. It is understandable that immigrants seek to preserve the old, but they must also embrace the new. And if the new happens to conflict with their own beliefs, then they might as well remain in their original homelands where they might feel a better sense of belonging and acceptance.”
“The wearing of the full veil is a challenge to our republic. This is unacceptable. We must condemn this excess.”
“In the United States our basic attitude is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear.”
“A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab.”
According most laws nowadays, everyone has a right to control his or her own body. The choice of a woman to wear a burqa or niqab on her body is part of that freedom.
Neo-Nazis freely go around with t-shirts that says ‘Heil Hitler!’ and with old-Nazi uniforms with swastika symbols on them. Laws protect their right to do so. And, certainly, a burqa is no more threatening than “Heil Hitler”. It should be protected as well.
“The mutual tolerance approach works well in this country. But some nations that require ultraconservative Muslims to accept constant exposure to immodest attire think modern Westerners should not have to put up with the clothing choices of ultraconservative Muslims.”
“Should Mr Sarkozy ban the burqa from France? Definitely not. Because bans are undemocratic and an unqualified attack on individual freedom. Should we however use this opportunity to question the efficacy of the burqa, the chador, the veil or what you will? Definitely yes. Specially since the burqa isn’t just another piece of cloth but has a lot of ideological and cultural connotations to it. The French President himself has termed it a symbol of subservience which has no place in a secular state.”
“European governments are entitled to limit women’s rights to wear the burqa. In schools, for instance, pupils should be able to see teachers’ faces, as should judges and juries in court. But Europeans should accept that, however much they dislike the burqa, banning it altogether would be an infringement on the individual rights which their culture normally struggles to protect. The French, of all people, should know that. As Voltaire might have said, ‘I disapprove of your dress, but I will defend to the death your right to wear it.'”
“The burqa does not fit comfortably with Western sentiments. It’s closed; Westerners are open. They want to see people’s faces. It’s also viewed as a prison for women – even if Muslim women are free to choose it. And it symbolizes fundamentalist Islam, which conjures up images of terrorism. […] But sentiments shouldn’t be confused with bedrock freedoms, including the right to practice one’s religion. Being uncomfortable with another’s faith or even dress – and encoding that discomfort in law – puts one on the slippery slope to official discrimination. Will Sikh turbans be next?”
“judgments about cultural values are very subjective. Who decides if particular items of clothing fit with French values? Can we trust politicians and bureaucrats to make these decisions for us? […] Secondly, where do you draw the line? Are turbans, yarmulkes, saris, salwars and long skirts next? Many groups, including some feminists, assert that crucifixes and crosses are examples of patriarchal oppression. Would a government ban on jewelry containing crucifixes be justified? This is a slippery slope. […] If we support a burqa ban on the basis that we dislike the clothing, or that it offends our notion of freedom, or that it makes us uncomfortable, we would then be opening ourselves to all manner of compromises on the many unpopular personal choices that we make in daily life.”
The idea that, in modern society, men are lustful creatures stalking women, and that women must, therefore, be protected by completely smothering their identity is ridiculous. In societies without the full veil, there are no problems adequately protecting women with existing measures and laws, and by the education of men on proper behavior and conduct, and through severe punishments for sexual harassment, molestation, and rape.
Burqa cultivates an attitude that women are possessions, or “jewels” to be protected for a man’s own use. This attitude, and the sexual repression that comes from an environment where men can’t even see women until they are married to them, creates a dangerous combination that fosters abuse, sexual harassment, molestation, and even rape.
There is a clear correlation between countries where the burqa is prominent and countries where the worst violations of women’s rights occur. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudia Arabia, the three countries with the highest prevalence of women wearing burqas, all also have the worst records in the world of the oppression of women. This includes, with only slight variation, forbidding women to leave the home without supervision, forbidding them to drive, work, go to social gatherings, swim, etc. The burqa is intimately tied-up with these horrendous human rights and women’s right violations. Attempting to justify the burqa outside of this context is intellectually irresponsible.
“I would also like to make clear that I am not implying one needs to shed his/her identity in another country. In fact, when not taken to extreme measures (as is the case with the niqab), the hijab covering the hair can make a positive statement about celebrating religious beliefs or cultural traditions as is the case with an Indian wearing her flamboyant silk Sari or a Pakistani wearing her traditional Salwar Kameez.”
“Islam allows women to work, seek knowledge, engage in business, testify in court, uphold the ties of kinship, visit the sick, and so on, but it has set limits in order to protect them and to prevent hooligans from harassing them.”
“The veil, we are told, is a symbol of oppression imposed on women by husbands and other male relatives. Could be. But how do the critics know? The same thing can be said about surgically enhanced breasts in Europe and the United States.”
If the burqa is primitive then does that mean that those who say that women can be used as an object of lust in the form of models, girl friends, fashion shows on bill boards etc are modern and not primitive. Remember that primitive people covered themselves with very little dress as many so called liberated women wear.
“In contrast, burqas and niqabs should be banned in all public spaces because they present a security risk. Anyone might lurk under those shrouds – female or male, Muslim or non-Muslim, decent citizen, fugitive, or criminal – with who knows what evil purposes. […] One of the July 2005 London bombers, Yassin Omar, 26, took on the burqa twice – once when fleeing the scene of the crime, then a day later, when fleeing London for the Midlands. […] Other male burqa’ed fugitives include a Somali murder suspect in the United Kingdom, Palestinian killers fleeing Israeli justice, a member of the Taliban fleeing NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the murderer of a Sunni Islamist in Pakistan.”
“This face covering poses a serious safety problem at a time when security cameras play an important role in the protection of public order. An armed robbery recently committed in the Paris suburbs by criminals dressed in burqas provided an unfortunate confirmation of this fact. As a mayor, I cannot guarantee the protection of the residents for whom I am responsible if masked people are allowed to run about. […] The visibility of the face in the public sphere has always been a public safety requirement. It was so obvious that until now it did not need to be enshrined in law. But the increase in women wearing the niqab, like that of the ski mask favored by criminals, changes that. We must therefore adjust our law, without waiting for the phenomenon to spread.”
While it is possible that security officers could ask women to lift their veils in specific security-related situations, this is insufficient. Many countries are set up with video cameras, for example, designed to be able to track the identity of individuals who may pose a risk. The veil compromises this entire system, and lifting the veil upon request obviously does not solve the issue. Nor, does it solve issues like individuals wearing the burqa in order to commit a crime.
“That so few Muslim women in Quebec wear the niqab or burqa –we are told only a couple of dozen go along with the custom –makes the new law even more appropriate. It will cause no widespread disarray or discomfort.”
In 1975, a number of European towns banned the wearing of ski masks and motorcycle helmets in public, specifically because they covered the face, and so posed a security and crime risk. The same logic applies to the burqa. So, the ban on the burqa and niqab should be considered part of a broader ban on all face-covering masks in public, particularly in and around crowded areas and in public transportation.
The focus of the burqa ban is usually on forbidding the wearing of face-covering veils in public, but not necessarily in private. The reason is purely that of security.
“The anti-burqa cause is sweeping Europe. In addition to Belgium and France, Italy and the Netherlands are considering bans. Yet the targets of these measures are virtually nonexistent. Mr. Bacquelaine estimates that a couple of hundred women in Belgium wear a full veil. In France, one study estimated that there are 1,900 burqa wearers in a Muslim population of 5 million. […] The idea that this poses a criminal or cultural threat is ludicrous.”
“On security, women can be required to lift their veils if necessary.” This allows for the burqa and niqab to be worn, but while providing adequate measures and exceptions when security matters are at hand.
While it may be true that some criminals are exploiting the burqa in order to commit crimes while concealing their identity, the women that have legitimate reasons to wear the burqa are not actually the ones committing these crimes. It is unfair to, therefore, target these women with the burqa ban for crimes that they themselves are not committing.
“It’s also claimed that covered faces are a security threat, since criminals have donned burqas in a handful of instances. Veils can be put to sinister uses — just as scarves, ski masks and sunglasses are often worn by camera-shy bank robbers. We don’t ban those, and absent compelling evidence of an epidemic of burqa-enabled felonies, we shouldn’t ban veils.”
The concern over wearing burqas on public transportation seems to surround fears about suicide bombers using them to conceal their identity before detonating a bomb. But, suicide bombers have never needed to or really wanted to conceal their identity before committing their act. Rather, they simply strap on explosives under baggy clothing, go to crowded places, and blow themselves up without concern about getting caught and punished because, clearly they will be dead. So, a ban on the burqa will do nothing to prevent a determined suicide bomber from committing their act. Therefore, a burqa ban does little to help counter terrorism and ensure national security.
“Targeting individual rights not only flags a warning sign for each one of us, but encouraging discrimination provides genuine extremists with an excuse to attack.”
“A majority of Canadians likely endorse Quebec’s decision (Bill 94). Some will call it racist, unfair and even unCanadian to ban face coverings for women and feel it should be a matter of individual choice. […] While worthy of debate and discussion, what the new Quebec law is not, is racist. Rather, it is an effort to promote or enhance racial and gender equality.”
“Obviously, if this ban was about harassing Muslims — and not the security-related need to see the faces of people going in and out of schools — the hijab would’ve been banned too.”
“Criminal activity, such as the Miranda burqa robbery, only strengthen people’s fears of the unknown under the burqa. If crime featuring the burqa rises it won’t take long for a widespread paranoid culture against burqa wearers to develop. This then leads to a massive public push to ban the burqa but for the totally wrong reasons.” In the meantime, it could create alot of fears of Muslims and those that wear that burqa, niqab, and even the hijab. This would undermine relations with Muslim communities. (See also The Economist, “Running for cover”, May 2010.)
“I am a Muslim woman and I do not wear the burka or the headscarf. The constant reference in liberal media to those women who choose to wear it has made it increasingly difficult for countless Muslim women such as myself to express our discomfort with it. […] The reality is that many women have reason to dislike the garment even when they do not harbour any Islamophobic sentiments. The fact is that the burka is often imposed on women by hardliners — in parts of the Middle East, state authorities force women to wear it in all public places.”
“the deputies [of Belgium’s parliament] managed to achieve near-unanimity this week on one pressing issue: discriminating against Muslims. A law passed by the lower house would ban the wearing of full Islamic face veils in any public place — and exacerbate what is becoming an ugly European trend. […] Like many of its neighbors, Belgium has a significant minority Muslim population — about 3 percent of a population of 10 million. Like those neighbors, it has done a poor job of integrating Muslim immigrants, and many cluster in ghettos that can be breeding grounds for extremism. This is a serious and complex problem. But too often the response of governments has been bigotry directed at immigrants or Muslims as a whole — which serves only to further alienate even non-devout members of the community. […] Belgium’s burqa ban is a good example.”
“The war against the niqab is just the beginning of a war on different aspects of Islam. The state, which is supposed to be Islamic, should go back to Islam, not fight it.”
“the law would only serve to expose the Muslim community to scorn and ridicule and to further heighten the serious ethnic and religious differences in French society.”