Thursday, July 22, 2010

Banning the Burqa

This is quite a hard one to call.  The burqa is an instrument of oppression.  However, it’s pretty oppressive to tell people they can’t wear one.  So what to do?  Well, one important thing is that people who wear burqas shouldn’t get special rights that nobody else does.  If nobody is allowed to cover their face in public, it should include Muslim women.  I’m a little uncomfortable at the idea of bringing in laws to prevent people covering their faces, though, because nobody else really wants to cover their face, other than the occasional motorcycle courier or bank robber. 

The main objection to a ban is that it would interfere with the wearers’ rights and this is what the objectors pounce on.  What they seem to forget is that enormous numbers of Mulsim women are allowed virtually no rights at all.  They have to be chaperoned everywhere.  They can’t drive, become educated or work.  They can’t talk to men who are not close relatives.  They don’t get to choose not to be pregnant.  They aren’t allowed to go out without their face covered. 

And yet the one right the anti-banners seem to be worried about is the right for women to cover their faces.  Something seems very wrong with this.

As against, in general, as I am of banning things, if I had to vote for or against a ban on the burqa, I’d have to come down in favour.  Of banning it, that is. But it wouldn’t be for dubious reasons of anti-terrorism or public safety, it would be to help end an instrument of oppression.

But I’d much rather go in a different direction to a somewhat arbitrary ban.  I’d resist any partial adoption of Sharia Law for Muslims in countries that don’t already have it, and campaign to abolish it in countries that do.  I’d support efforts to encourage Muslim women to report abuses of their rights and to protect them when they need it.  I’d support drives to educate Muslim women and to help them achieve the means to support themselves.  I’d support initiatives to educate Muslim men into new ways of thinking and behaving.  I’d do what I could to demolish the macho components of Muslim society that lock female enslavement into culture. 

If Muslim women aren’t allowed to cover their faces, it’s going to piss a lot of people off.  I’m not against pissing people off, but I’m not sure what it’s likely to achieve. 

Is it just going to mean that lots of Muslim women won’t be allowed to go out at all?

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