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Jul 26 2011

Why I Oppose Banning Burqas

This is not the problem.

And no, my reasoning has nothing to do with racism or any other ism!

Belgian lawmakers recently passed a bill that, if approved in their senate, would make it illegal to wear burqas in public. This comes on the heels of France’s

When justifying banning burqas or similar Islamic garments, people typically make two points–one, that burqas represent and facilitate the oppression of women, and two, that they pose a security risk.

I’ll address the oppression issue first. Some women do indeed wear burqas because they’ve been pressured into it by their culture or by specific men in their lives. But other women do it out of a genuine desire to observe their religion in that way. Some even see it as an empowering gesture. It is fundamentally unjust to oppress the latter group in the name of protecting the former.

But even if I’m being completely naive, and even if not a single Muslim woman willingly chooses to wear a burqa, I conveniently have a second argument. For those women who are being oppressed by the burqa, would banning it really help? The obvious answer, I should hope, is no. In this case, banning the burqa is the legal equivalent of slapping a band-aid over a knife wound–and of treating the symptoms rather than the disease. The disease being, of course, large-scale societal oppression of women. Not something that can be fixed with a single magical law. To use an analogy that’s even closer to my personal experience, banning burqas to promote feminism is like banning suicide to promote mental health.

Not only would banning it not help, but it would probably backfire. If these women’s husbands or fathers are pressuring them into wearing the burqa, they would probably keep right on doing it despite the new law, thus placing these women in a prime position for facing charges, jail time, or plain ol’ harassment by the police. After all, they would be the ones paying the price for breaking the law, not men.

As for the whole security issue, I don’t have too much to say about that because I’m honestly not an expert on the subject, but I’ll say this–Israel has no burqa ban, or any sort of ban on Islamic head coverings, and yet has an incredible security force that manages to stop virtually all potential terrorists within the country’s borders. They don’t release these statistics to the public, but all the time in the Jerusalem Post, you see another story about security guards catching a would-be terrorist. Maybe the security authorities in these European countries should have a big pow-wow with Israeli ones and see what they’ve been missing.

I think it’s very tempting for people (and governments) to believe that issues like the oppression of women by organized religion can be fixed by something as simple as a law banning burqas. But ultimately, you can never really know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. What looks like oppression to us may not feel that way to the women in question. Or maybe it does. In any case, banning burqas won’t help.

I’ll leave you with my favorite cartoon on this subject:

6 comments

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  1. 1
    bloggerclarissa

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed that from my blog but I’m a supporter of a ban on burqas.

    I understand your arguments, and they make a lot of sense. They don’t, however, touch on the objections I have against burqas. I come from Montreal where the burqa-wearing population is far more numerous than in any other North American city where I have been. The issues surrounding burqas that come up on a daily basis are numerous. How do you deal with a burqa-clad student in class? I had one and literally didn’t know what to do. During the final exam, students have to offer proof of identity. How do I explain to them why one person is allowed not to? How do I know who’s sitting there writing my exam, covered from head to foot? How am I to prevent the rest of my students from appearing completely covered during an exam? I had nothing to respond to the students when they asked me.

    How do you deal with the fact that burqa-clad women enter a formal protest against Lamaze classes (government-sponsored) where women bring their male partners? They claim it violates their modesty. So what do you do?

    What do you do when women in burqas organize a massive protest in the Medicare office because they refuse to get their photos taken for the ID card?

    My objection to the burqa is not that it oppresses the women who wear it. I have no need to act as their unsolicited savior. They know what they are doing and it’s not up to me to judge if they are oppressed or not. My problem with the burqa is that it oppresses me. I want to live in a place where female subjection is not demonstrated to me on a daily basis. I have seen women led on leashes in the streets of my city. I don’t want to see it. Am I wrong not to?

    I hope you don’t mind long comments. If you do, just say a word and I’ll try to be more concise. :-)

    1. 1.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I don’t mind at all; thanks for the great comment!

      I didn’t really touch on this in the post, but I would actually support a ban on burkas in settings where face-to-face contact is necessary, such as universities. As you probably know, several countries have such laws.

      As for the protests you mention, I am a hard-ass and would probably say, tough titty. They wouldn’t let me take an ID photo with a plastic bag over my head, so they shouldn’t let them take ID photos with burkas on. End of story.

  2. 2
    hifzan shafiee

    Dear Ladies,

    In Islamic Law, our woman are required to wear hijab which mean to cover all parts of bodies, except face and hand. This is clearly narrated by our prophet in,

    From Abu Dawud, “Book 32, Number 4092:Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands.”

    This rules is not new to Abraham Laws, which Jews and Christian also follow. If you can see from Bible, Mary also wearing a hijab, same as nuns and most Jews woman wearing hijab. It just different fashion of hijab only.

    But for Burqa (covering face), some scholar especially who from Iraq and Iran clearly stated Burqa is a must. Because they follow what Muhammad (pbuh)’s wife wearing Burqa, following what our prophet wife do.

    But some scholar also not agree with this (Burqa), but ALL scholar are agree that hijab is a must.

    In term of you picture above is too much exaggerate, even to wearing a bikini / naked in public also condemned by all religion and society.

    Just respect what others believe and respect what their response.

  3. 3
    takingbacksingle

    I agree with bloggerclarissa. A lot of people I have met in the US have never actually seen these women, and theoretically, it may be nice to think of burqas as freedom of expression, but that’s not the way they play out in many countries in Europe. I think freedom of expression is good, but women so covered you can’t even see their eyes do not have a place in Western democracy. Modesty is one thing, but the fact that in radical Islam it is okay for women to be covered head-to-toe literally, while men can walk in jeans and a T-shirt is simply not okay. I also know of times, as bloggerclarissa mentioned, where there have been concerns of cheating in school. How do we know who is under the burqa when we can’t even see their eyes. Wearing a headscarf I understand, but a burqa, no I don’t get it. Some say it’s a woman’s choice, maybe in a culture where this is normalized, yes, but this is the same to me as saying that women in Saudi Arabia choose not to drive. They are forced into it by the male-dominated culture, and while they might not protest, it is simply because it is society’s messed up standards, not because it is ok.

  4. 4
    hifzan shafiee

    Dear Takingbacksingle,

    Actually it was easy, Burqa is wearing at Iran/ Iraq, right? It was a desert for a long time, even a male also wearing Burqa, to cover from sand and wind.

    The rules is simple cover from head to toe, except hand and face. You can wear anything as long it cover all these criteria, and when I see it it, I can recognize that she is woman. (wearing man clothes for woman, and wearing woman clothes for man is also forbidden)

    Back to Burqa, it is also our prophet’s wife clothing. We need to respect that. My statement stop there.

    But is University problem regarding cheating, plagiarist, recognizing face. I like to highlight that in our country (Malaysia), wearing a Burqa is uncommon. Wearing a Burqa is only for devoted woman who everything in his life in so devoted from A to Z and it not just devoted to clothing only.

    One case in Malaysia, reputable University Islamic College (preparing for degree and master in Islamic Studies) is ban their for wearing a Burqa. This is a huge issue in Malaysia at that time, but with a basic understanding which student them self not devoted to what they wearing . (This mean during class, they wear Burqa, outside the class the remove Burqa). This call not devoted, and a University has give a rule, who even want to wear must write to University that she is devoted and this permission were given to individual basis.
    Devoted also mean all rules of Islam must be follow, that mean complete praying 5 times and always pray a mosque, not cheating, not do harm to others and many others etc.

    And other rules, Be good to others in Quran 4:36. Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious;- ”

    So in this problem, where in UK or US, where cultural of wearing Burqa is seem like not welcoming and odd. Muslim them self should bring rules of “rukshah” (an exception to general Law) to adapt to local culture, and follow the fundamental, not bring other country culture to others country. Be good and respect others problem is more Islamic as per above verse.

    As we know student is youngster who are rebellious for people who against them. Go to reputable Islamic Scholar, give my statement, and I think they understand what I mean. As sometime, public do not understand the religion, and take a common practice in others country to become religion, and its call culture.

  5. 5
    Tim

    I think it’s a pretty straightforward issue.

    Blackstone’s Formulation (upon which several key ideas in western justice hinge): Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffers.

    Whether any of us understand it or not, there are people who want to wear burqas. In my mind they get grouped with anti-prophylactic Christians — rare, but genuine in their very very odd beliefs.

    It’s better that they are free to worship and maintain their modesty as they choose than that we liberate the women for whom it isn’t a choice. Yes, they are innocent too, but there are other ways of helping them and as you’ve pointed out, criminalizing burqas doesn’t even accomplish that.

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