I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A ban on full veils?

I believe that everybody, as long as they don’t disadvantage or damage other people, should be able to say and do what they want. That’s why I am in favour of reforms like those aimed at legalising drugs and at extending the validity of marriage contracts to homosexual couples. On the other hand, in what might be considered a sign of intolerance, I am in favour of preventing women from wearing in public full islamic veils.

At the time of writing, the Australian Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition (Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott) agree that [some] Australians find the burqa (see figure 1) confronting. But neither leader is prepared to support a ban (and forfeit the votes of the growing muslim population). Obviously, although in Australia the debate is centred on the burqa, the same applies to the niqāb (see figure 2). For simplicity, in the rest of this post, I will use the term burqa to indicate both the actual burqa and the niqāb.

Figure 1: Two people in burqa(1)

Figure 2: A person wearing a niqāb(2)

A couple of days ago, a judge in Western Australia asked a woman wearing a burqa and intending to give testimony in a court case to reveal her face. This made her feel very uncomfortable, but in such cases Islam allows even the most conservative women to remove their veil. Therefore, strictly speaking, the argument that the burqa must be banned for legal and security purposes is not a valid one. People have to remove their integral motorcycle helmets when entering a bank, and the same rule applies to fully veiled women. Still, despite the fact that the law requires it and Islam does not forbid it, I expect that few bank employees, if any, would be prepared to ask a veiled woman to show her face. A general ban would solve the issue.

A terrorist could use a burqa to hide an explosive vest and then detonate the bomb in a crowded place. Australia is not [yet] a target of terrorist attacks, but the question is justified in principle. But if we ban the burqa in all crowded public places, fully veiled women could only walk in desolated back alleys. We might as well ban the burqa in every public place and be done with it. At the very least, it would make law enforcement easier.

But let’s face it, the banning of the burqa is more than just a security issue. From a security point of view, it might even be argued that, by banning the burqa in Australia, we might encourage the very same acts of terrorism that the ban of the burqa is meant to protect us from.

In fact, I would like to see the burqa banned in Australia because it is a tool of repression, used for centuries to subjugate women. The imposition of the burqa goes together with keeping the women away from schools, stoning them to death when they are accused of being unfaithful to their husbands, mutilating them to remove any hope of sexual pleasure, and effectively consider them like cattle. The women who wear a burqa in Australia can go to school, are not mutilated, and neither are they stoned to death. Therefore, it could be argued that we don’t have the right to force them to abandon their traditional dress. Aren’t we being arrogant in thinking that we know what’s better for them? What if they don’t want to be “liberated”? Further, if we want to progress as a tolerant and open society, shouldn’t we accept the burqa as the manifestation of religious beliefs? Is there really a difference between wearing a golden cross around the neck and covering the face? I believe there is.

During an email discussion about the burqa, somebody once asked me whether I was in favour of banning prostitution and pornography as well. He argued that they demeaned women perhaps more than the burqa, implicitly suggesting that I was just being conservative and intolerant. In general, I believe that prostitution and pornography are demeaning for the people who do it, whether they are women or men. And as in the case of the Burqa, some (or many) of them have no interest in being "saved". But the sex industry and the burqa are two different types of issues, because the existence of prostitution is rooted in our biology. There have been men prepared to pay for sex in all cultures and probably even before money was invented. What we must do is to ensure that nobody is forced into prostitution and that people who work in the sex industry are protected from racketeering and violence. I know. It is difficult to decide who is forced and who is not. But concerning the burqa, how many of the women who wear it in Australia would do so if they had not been conditioned from birth?

As far as I know (please correct me if I am wrong) women of all other cultures use the most diverse techniques to make themselves attractive to the healthiest, strongest, and most successful men. This is not demeaning. It is natural. Exactly as men find most attractive the women who are shaped to be good child-bearers. The complete hiding of the female body is therefore unnatural. It is the result of a culture in which women change hands from fathers and brothers to husbands as if they were objects. It is not surprising that the Taliban want to keep them ignorant to the point of illiteracy.

Many laws exist to protect the weaker elements in our society from abuse. I see the banning of the burqa as one of those laws. I know the argument of the “slippery slope”: if we start syndicating what people are allowed to wear, what do we ban next? We must be vigilant, but I still believe that the burqa has no place in a modern society.

For the record, there are already laws that limit the way we dress in public. For example, try to walk into a shopping centre wearing a hat, socks, shoes, and nothing else. You can rest assured that you will be arrested and fined. Some people would feel uncomfortable sitting in a bus beside a naked woman, but why is it enough to justify the banning of nudity? I don’t find banning the burqa more restrictive than banning nudity.

In a truly free society, women should be allowed to wear what they want. But today there are still men who impose unnatural rules on their daughters and wives. I consider it a duty of our legislators to stop such practices. Hopefully, one day, these pockets of medieval mentality will disappear, and women and men will finally be able to work side by side as equals.

(1) Freely downloadable from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Burqa_Afghanistan_01.jpg
(2) Freely downloadable from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Muslim_woman_in_Yemen.jpg


  1. OK, but what about that:
    Or this one:

    A lot better:
    Or this one (Woof!):

    Yvan Bozzonetti

  2. OK. I changed the title of the post. Now it refers to full veils only...

    Should I understand from your comment that you don't agree with what I said?

    You wouldn't be the only one!

  3. At raw level, I am against the bruka, yet I think the problem is not so simple. In some countries it is a tradition liked to the religion, I am against all religions. Yet, some people feel they are discriminated in some countries and react by the use of religious signs. The burka is one of them. Now, tere are some other people that use that possibility as a way to get some power on other.
    Who is the most responsible? The woman using the burka after a full life of conditioning in the familly, the community, the environment or the preacher that use it as a way to impose it power on a frail person?
    For them, a law against what they tell may be a very good thing: The back reaction would bring to them far more women, so it could be best not to pass a law and turn the burka into a ridiculous thing. Why not a prize for the most sexy burka?
    May be with a openning at the sex level...

  4. For each woman who will feel uncomfortable without a burqa, I am confident that there will be many who will welcome its disappearance. I believe that we shouldn't tolerate a medieval tool of repression even if some women will need time to adjust to its absence.