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: