Thursday, January 21, 2010

Banning the Burqa

The wearing of a burqa is an issue which evokes extreme reactions across a spectrum. In democracies that pride themselves on a variety of freedoms, one might think that choice of clothing should not be a problem. On the other hand, many people find the burqa offensive. India Knight wrote an interesting piece in the Times a couple of weeks ago. She was discussing a potential law in France that would fine women wearing the burqa or niqab in public. According to her, the French government considers wearing a burqa to be an in-your-face action by extremists, rather than a religious prescription. Her response is that

"I find this whole subject uncomfortable because I don’t really know what I think; I change my mind constantly. I start off, as most people would, from the point of view that everyone should be allowed to wear what they like, regardless of how peculiar it might strike others as being, without being dictated to."

That seems pretty clear to me. What I may think the custom says about the lives of the people who observe it, e.g., oppression of women, is my opinion, but surely not any basis for enacting its prohibition. On the other hand, as Knight also says

"The bottom line, I guess, is that you have to fall into line with the country you’re living in. I was in Marrakesh a couple of months ago and, as ever, was treated to the sight of idiot tourists wandering around the souks half-naked, complaining loudly about unwelcome attention and taking photographs of the picturesque natives without asking first. So you could argue that banning the burqa is a variant on the same thing: stopping people offending the social mores of the country they find themselves in."

The thing is, I find it hard to be offended by an item of clothing. It's not like it is a yellow star or a pink triangle. On the other hand, I would rather be able to see people's faces if I am to interact with them. I have not had much interaction with burqaed women, though. Anyway, I'm afraid that this all has a lot more to do with the Western response to those terrorists who claim to be acting according to Islamic teachings. Of course it is important to try and stay safe. Laws governing clothing, however, aren't the way to go.

India Knight's article is here

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