Oppose The Burka Ban
A secular state must protect the rights of citizens to free expression; once the door has been opened for the state to decide what we wear, our basic freedoms of expression and association are curtailed.
Here in the UK, many people are calling for the same unjust legislation, often fuelled by islamaphobia and racism. Clearly, the decision of the French government plays into the hands of the far-right fascist movements in France and elsewhere.
As an Atheist and secular humanist, I’m most concerned that each person should have the freedom to develop their intellectual abilities, cultures and ideas: those we disagree with are open to our public censure under the same freedoms and human rights legislation that, on the whole, strikes the right balance. I am thus as much against those forces that might insist on religious garments as I am against those who would ban them.
The argument concerning ‘security’ is also mostly spurious as any disguise good enough to hide or change the face is as effective. The crazy argument that suicide bombers won’t be recognized is simply laughable; why would they wish not to be recognized? The costs of having extra women staff to check IDs at ports and airports? What about the costs of taking women to court and policing the ban?
In addition to my ethical and political objections to the ban, there are considerable practical points too; one example might be how one deals with elderly burka wearers.
Consider an older single woman living alone, perhaps in her 60s, 70s or 80s, who has never appeared in public without wearing her burka. Is she expected to suddenly change her habits of a life time and feel almost naked in the street? The chances are she will not go out and have to arrange for all her shopping and to be done for her. Her social life will have to take place at home and she might become so isolated that her life becomes unbearable, never mind the threats to her physical health; lack of exercise, not shopping regularly for fresh food and so on – it is forced disablement.
As for the supposed ‘right’ to see people’s faces and the idea that seeing the face is somehow crucial to communication and recognition – what rubbish. Blind people can have excellent and fulfilling relationships like the rest of us. If we are sighted, we can recognise the Burka wearing woman (if she is a close friend) pretty instantly by body language, style, gait, voice, height and weight and so-on. If she is not a close friend then seeing her face is not at all important anyway.
The sense of outrage displayed by those in favour of the ban seems to me to be misplaced at best and, at worst, just another way of undermining women.
If you wish to provide support for those against the ban, there are Facebook pages and the site started by Rachid Nekkaz. I think support from Atheists might carry some weight as many think it is only Muslims who object.
I’m at a loss to understand the perspective that in France, or other secular countries, women are mostly coerced into wearing a full veil. While I don’t know of any statistical analysis, I have previously lived in an area with a very high Islamic population for 7 years and when meeting staff at the Islamic drop-in centre (on environmental business) I was as likely to be greeted by the receptionist wearing a burka as wearing jeans and a T shirt – the same woman incidentally. The majority of Muslim women I worked with were indistinguishable from their non-Muslim colleagues and some often chose to wear either a veil or a full Burka when not at work outside the home. This freedom to mix and match is extremely common in other areas I know well with high Islamic populations. Undoubtedly there are cases of coercion in secular countries but the Muslims I have known have come to the west to escape coercion elsewhere as well as for economic reasons.
As for the repeated arguments supposedly in favour of women’s rights, I can only say that it is already illegal for adults to coerce other adults in to doing anything (unless they are the police or equivalent) and laws regarding domestic violence should be upheld. Fining a man a paltry sum for coercing a woman to wear what he chooses, in cases where that happens, undermines existing laws. What about the man who coerces his spouse or partner to wear a bikini in public under threat of violence? Are we to fine him a paltry sum instead of prosecuting him for intimidation with threats of violence?
Finally, if the French state, or any other, wishes to make serious improvements in the lives of coerced women perhaps it might be better to put greater effort into enforcing the existing laws designed to protect women from domestic violence; there’s hardly a lack of evidence for those crimes amongst non Muslims. As Tracy Chapman sang, “last night I heard the screaming, loud voices behind the wall, it doesn’t do no good at all, to call, the police, they always come late if they come at all.”
Lets get our priorities right.