Let's start at the beginning. Full veiling is not a religious requirement. This has been made clear by a number of knowledgeable Muslims and non-Muslims (too numerous to link to). Veiling is not even a social requirement in many Muslim countries. Because most Muslims in France are from North Africa, particularly Algeria and Tunisia, very few women are veiled and the problems is not as big as it is in Britain.
Is it a problem in Britain? In many ways, yes, and because it affects more women, a ban would not be a practical solution. I have no idea what would be a practical solution though I see no reason why work places or educational establishments should not make it a rule that people cannot cover their faces. After all, lads are not allowed (or should not be allowed) to sit around with hoods or baseball caps pulled down over their eyes to hide their faces. Motorcyclists are required to raise their visors when they go inside shops or pubs. It is simply not true that everybody is allowed to wear whatever they like wherever they like.
Let us not forget that there is still a ban on demonstrators wearing paramilitary uniforms. The reason is partly one of security but largely political. It so happens that the wearing of the burqua is political. The growth of that habit in Britain and, to a lesser extent, in France is a defiant statement: we do not want to integrate into the society we live in (and often claim benefits from) and we do not want to accept that society's view of women's equality.
In one of the discussions I have had recently on the subject I noted a comment that Muslims are slowly integrating into British society. Considering that most of them have lived here for two or three generations that is not particularly reassuring and I fully accept that the imposed multiculturalism by successive governments, local councils, civil service and well-paid quangos is very largely at fault in this as it is at fault in the sad state of the educational levels of Afro-Caribbean youngsters.
Unfortunately, there is evidence that far from integrating, far too many younger Muslims are, for whatever reason, moving away from that into some kind of fantasy world of Islam. Part of that is the growth of the veil-wearing habit. The creation of cultural ghettoes is not a good idea for any society.
Ah yes, but if the women want to wear veils, who are we to interfere with that, I am told by various liberals and libertarians, many of whom undermine their arguments by making it clear that they don't know that the veil is not religious or the difference between hijjab (headscarf) and niquab (full veil).
Here is an interesting debate on the subject between Yasmin Alibhai Brown, who is unconditionally in favour of the ban and Kenan Malik who thinks there is no place for the burqua in our society but it ought not to be banned as that, in itself, is an illiberal attitude.
Ms Brown's view is
The burqa is not a battle between anti-racists and racists, or liberty and oppression. It is between open and egalitarian Islam and obscurantism; human rights values and inhumane exceptionalism; integration and apartheid. Wahabis are spreading a singular, joyless version of Islam, wiping out diversity and our various histories. They use choice and freedom as weapons to destroy both. Muslim defenders of the burqa never support a woman’s right not to cover up. Instead women like me are branded “Western whores” who will burn in hell. Is the veil a declaration of girl power? No. Ardent veilers are proxy Taliban agents and have no conscience about their sisters in Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere – women who long to show their faces and wear whatever they want. We have them here too, those forcibly shrouded females, negated further in the narrative of choice. Some – victims of domestic violence whose scars can never be seen – turn up at my door. Even children too are cast as sexual temptresses, dressed in headscarves and long gowns, unable to play. What appalling freedom is this?Mr Malik, on the other hand, would like to see a slower development that would eventually integrate the groups in question and bring women out from behind the veil into our society:
But is a ban not necessary to protect women from being forced to wear the burqa? In countries such as Saudi Arabia or Yemen women have little choice but to cover up their face. That in itself is a good reason for liberal societies not to impose coercive dress codes. In democratic countries, the law already protects citizens from being harmed or coerced by others. It should go no further, especially as evidence suggests that in Europe most women wear the burqa of their own volition. As a recent French government report observed, the majority of women who veil themselves in France do so largely as an “expression of identity”, a “badge of militancy” or to “provoke society”.He is right to say that the burqua is a very visible symbol of the refusal to integrate and of the oppression of women and not the cause but symbols matter. If that were not so, why would the wearing of the burqua have grown instead of diminishing in Western societies. Incidentally, I disagree with Mr Malik when he asserts that the Catholic Church refusing to have women priests is the same as women not having the right to divorce their husbands or to see their children when their husbands divorce them or women's evidence being worth fifty per cent that of a man in a sharia court. There are many other aspects of oppression of women in Muslim communities that cannot be compared with the odd problem here and there.
The burqa is a symbol of the oppression of women, not its cause. If legislators truly want to help Muslim women, they could begin, not by banning the burqa, but by challenging the policies and processes that marginalise minority communities: on the one hand, the racism that all too often disfigures migrant lives, and, on the other, the multicultural policies that bolster conservative “community leaders” hostile to women’s rights.
The problem with so many soi-disant liberals and libertarians is lack of imagination. They seem unable to grasp that there are societies and communities where their own ideas are not even known let alone prevail. Families that put their womenfolk behind the veil do not consider it necessary to consult said womenfolk. It simply does not occur to anybody in such a family or such a community that the women can have a say in the matter. Therefore, to talk about free choice is meaningless. Sadly, such soi-disant liberals and libertarians have fallen for the same myth that the multiculturalists have accepted without any nay-saying. As a result they have abandoned the notion of genuine individual freedom for Muslim women.
So to ban or not to ban? And will a ban work? For once I am inclined to agree with Gerard Batten, UKIP MEP for London who says a ban is a good idea but the French have gone about it the wrong way:
Good for the French in banning the burka but they have made a mistake in making it illegal in the street and imposing fines. This will prove unenforceable and even the French police have said they will be reluctant to prosecute people.Well, OK, I wouldn't phrase it like that but I am not a politician. (I am also not sure the link will work but readers will get the general idea from that paragraph.) There are practical problems about banning burquas in the street, particularly in Britain where it would affect far more women. Would these women be even allowed out of the house if there were such a ban? Would the police, given recent stories of reluctance to interfere with "community politics", bother to enforce such a ban? I suspect the answers are "yes" and "no" respectively.
Nevertheless, the oppression of women in Muslim communities is not only a real problem, it is a growing one and the increased wearing of the burqua is a symbol of that. Therefore, something must be done if we do not want to live in a country where some people, namely Muslim women, are less equal in every respect than everybody else and cultural ghettoes grow and multiply.
As it happens, the French have shown the way in one respect. A few years ago they banned head scarves in educational establishments. Apparently, it caused no trouble and Muslim girls go to school and college bare-headed without any trouble. I would be reluctant to see something like that brought in, as girls and women can wear scarves for all sorts of reasons, not least medical. But a gradual ban on veils in work places and educational establishments could be a starting point. After all, we have to assume that Muslim women who work or study are, at least, thinking of integrating into Western societies.
I am sorry if this seems to be an irresolute posting. I am unconditionally against the burqua. It is not simply an article of clothing but a symbol of women's oppression, cultural and gender apartheid and, not unimportantly, a possible security threat. But whether an outright ban is the answer is a more difficult problem.
To be discussed.