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Ban the Burqa?

Today, France banned the burqa. To be precise, they made it illegal to wear clothing that covers the face, which includes the burqa, a solid covering over the body with a semi-transparent mesh over the eyes, and the niqab, which covers everything but leaves a small opening for the eyes. The hajab, which covers the hair and neck but not the face, and the chador, which covers the body but not the face, are not illegal. Forcing a woman to wear a burqa or niqab is also illegal.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, the ban is clearly aimed at Muslims, so it is religiously intolerant. On the other hand, there are precedents for banning certain types of clothing. For example, in the US, it is illegal for women to go topless, but not men. Is that sexual discrimination? We also have laws against marijuana, even though members of the Rastafarian religion claim that this discriminates against their religion.

Interestingly, a Pew survey in several countries found that many Europeans favor banning the burqa. The ban is supported by 82% of the French. and majorities in Germany, Britain, and Spain. However, a majority of Americans (67%) oppose banning the burqa here.

The French parliament approved the ban by 246 to 1, with 100 abstentions. When the measure was introduced, the French government declared:

Given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place.

How do you feel about this? Would it be ok to pass a law against wearing clothing that obscures most of the face? Is forcing women to wear the burqa itself sex discrimination? Is this a discrimination issue or a religion issue? How would the law deal with people wearing masks as part of a costume?



  1. Falkelord wrote:

    Well you said it yourself, the law deals with clothing covering the face. Masks technically do not count as clothing, nor are masks forced as part of religious practices. That’s not to say that masks are not part of religions, but a country like france, with a deep history of celebrations involving masks (a tradition that moved over here to New Orleans with the advent of carnival) would probably tolerate masks but not burqas.

    On that subject, the idea that islam would go from using burqas to a mask-variant is preposterous, because the tradition has existed since the 1st century AD and they wouldn’t just change their practices for one single law, especially in a country such as France, the farthest from the middle east you can get.

    Personally, I think it’s a good move. The language is clear in the whole bill and it isn’t so much targeted at muslims. Take the similar law from 2004 it mentions. You can’t display overt religious symbols in schools. This includes head scarves, but also crosses, stars of david, and any other symbols of religious affiliation. I think allowing the chador and hajab to still be worn in other public situations is a good move by the French government because it shows that they do wish to allow women to follow their religious traditions but not to be subjugated severely.

    Besides, why live in France and face a fine/prison if you’re going to force your wife to wear a burqa when you could just as easily move one country over (either direction) and enjoy the freedoms they once enjoyed?

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 1:14 am | Permalink
  2. Brandon wrote:

    One benefit of the ban is it makes it harder for criminals to avoid being witnessed. I doubt there’s an epidemic of female criminals hiding behind burqas so they can commit crimes, but there you go. That clearly wasn’t the intent of the ban, though.

    I’m torn about the ban itself. There are a lot of things you could do to yourself that are banned in public. It really depends on whether you interpret the burqa as a traditional garment or as a set of manacles.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 2:11 am | Permalink
  3. Jeremy wrote:

    I’d think the pure act of “forcing” anyone to do anything should’ve already been banned. A man walks around with only eyeholes to see and he’s going to commit a crime. A woman does the same and she’s obeying a religious tradition? Ban it all.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 4:28 am | Permalink
  4. Jeff wrote:

    You have to look at the cultural meaning of the burqa. If it were a sign of sexual discrimination or alienation of women, I would be all for banning it. However, it’s not.

    The original idea behind the burqa was that it was supposed to be a sign of respect for the woman. It was meant to cover her in a way so that only her husband would be allowed to see her as she truly is, and that was an honor for a married couple, not just anyone on the street.

    The burqa is a cultural symbol, a mark that the person wearing it should be respected. It’s not supposed to be a sign of discrimination as many Westerners believe. The act of banning it just shows ignorance, in my opinion.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink
  5. H. Rider Haggard wrote:

    Do a Google search on “suicide bombers in burqas”. 6,280 results.

    Ban them.

    I’m reading a good article, “The Suicide Bomber as Sunni-Shi’i Hybrid” in The Middle East Qaurterly.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 7:37 am | Permalink
  6. ebdoug wrote:

    I find this a very ironic position as to cover your body is illegal in France but to “bare all” on nude beaches is accepted. I, myself, would take the cover all before the nude.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  7. il08 wrote:

    I think burqas ahould be outlawed for everyone except Sarah Palin who should be obliged to where one all the time.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 8:06 am | Permalink
  8. starluna wrote:

    I personally see this as nothing more than religious intolerance. The effect of the law specifically targets a single religious group, indeed a subgroup within a larger religious group. Very much like poll taxes were not explicitly directed at any specific group but the known effect of the poll taxes was to disenfranchise African Americans and poor whites.

    Further, there is no consensus around the “meaning” of the burqa. There is a really good book that I highly recommend in which Moslum women defend their cultural norms (including the headscarf and burqa) against Western notions of feminist oppression. The book is, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”.

    What I find funny about this is that French society often congratulate themselves on their tolerance. I remember meeting a French graduate student who told me that there are no “races” in France. They just don’t believe in that sort of thing there, she stated, implying that because they don’t see race, racism does not exist. A few months later, the race riots in the poor African immigrant and Moslem sections of Paris broke out.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink
  9. il08 wrote:

    And everywear!

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink
  10. Hassan wrote:

    So basically in France government can regulate your clothing? Thank God I live in America.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  11. Bert and/or Ernie wrote:

    @H Rider Haggard, if you’re going to commit suicide, it doesn’t matter if anyone can identify you.

    If you want to hide, there are always medical bandages.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink
  12. skjaer wrote:

    Burqa is not really a religious thing though. It’s more cultural. In the qur’an it doesn’t say that women should cover themselves completely, that is more of a conservative msuslim thing that has caught on. Maybe a wahabi influenced thing. Hijab isn’t banned, so I don’t really see the big deal.

    I do remember reading something that said that women could be deported if they are caught wearing a burqa or niqab though and that seems a bit over the top

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  13. H. Rider Haggard wrote:

    Bert and/or Ernie, try to picture hiding 50 pounds of explosives under medical bandages. And pretending to be a harmless woman at the same time. I’m thinking Monty Python.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  14. Ruth wrote:

    As with so much that we in the West automatically assume is “Muslim”, this practice cultural rather than religious. It so happens that the tribal cultures which practice the wearing of the burqa or the niqab have also embraced Islam. Technically, the ban isn’t restricting a religious practice but a cultural practice affecting individual members of those cultures. Either way, I have qualms. Perhaps the compromise could have been a requirement to remove the face coverings and show identification when asked and to remove the robe for search when security measures are tight.

    As Ben Franklin wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  15. ZJD wrote:

    For those of you claiming that the wearing of burqas is cultural and not religious, I think you’re underestimating the degree to which Muslim culture is influenced by the religion of Islam. And I have a question: did you immediately notice the phrase “Muslim culture” in the previous sentence? Did you immediately find the juxtaposition of those two words conflicting or misleading? I’d be willing to bet that you didn’t. While I hate to make generalizations, the fact of the matter is that saying “Muslim culture” is far more politically correct than saying “Christian culture” or “Jewish culture,” because so many Muslims view the world through a religious lens and inform their behavior based on the tenets of Islam.

    As for the burqa-ban, I’m torn on the issue. While my first reaction is to object to any government limiting the expression of its citizens (such as what they’re allowed to wear), I think I understand the motivation of the French government. From what little I’ve read concerning the issue, this seems to be a reaction to the intrinsic conservatism of France’s Muslim population, which has failed to assimilate sufficiently and embrace the laws and customs of France. To put it more bluntly, France seems to have a ‘Muslim problem.’ While it seems like simple religious intolerance to say that, there is no denying that the growing influx of fundamentalist Muslims is having negative consequences in that country. I’ve read that around 70% of the incarcerated in France are Muslim; there definitely seems to be a clash of cultures.

    I see the burqa-ban as a political attempt to enforce some soft-handed reform on Islam in France, to reduce the inherent misogyny of that religion and culture. I’m just not sure I agree with the government’s role in that reform.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink
  16. Nevor wrote:

    I am French and the truth is that this law is not as white as it seems.

    First thing first, we have a right-wing government that is totally incompetent and accomplishes nothing but failures or controversies. In 2009, there was the InfluenzaA and the France has taken some preventive actions however it was far overestimated.
    In summer 2009, the controversy of an overrating of this flu has begun and they might have some other problems with the government (it does mistakes so often) so to not drown, the government has to do a misdirection. The easiest thing to do was to surf on the bigotry and intolerance about muslims in France, the burqa problem was born. It must be noted that burqa concern about only hundred people or less in France. So some right wings ministers has fought to create a law to forbid burqa because it was not good for “women dignity”. Which is true if the wearing is forced but we have far more important problem in France.
    Also, in France, because of the human rights, it is forbidden to tell people what they can or cannot wear and it also forbidden to target a particular group of the population, so they came with the “hiding face” thing that would be for security purpose in public building to dodge the human rights.

    This whole trickery has been a success in its aim by shadowing the other problems of the summer 2009 in the media and by bringing people of extrem-right-wing into right-wing.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  17. ZJD wrote:

    Thanks for weighing in, Nevor. I appreciate hearing from someone with first-hand experience concerning the issue. But it seems odd that your parliament passed the measure with a vote of 264-1 (with 100 abstentions). If this really is just a ploy by the political right of your country to stir up prejudice and distract from other problems – which at first seems plausible, since the political right in the U.S. does that regularly – how did the measure pass virtually unanimously? Is your entire government really that extreme?

    Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  18. Nevor wrote:

    It’s because only the right-wing took part in the vote, and they tend to be very united on controversial laws. Not mentionning the government in which when a minister or “deputy-minister” does’nt follow or disagree with the majority/president, he is kind of lynched.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010 at 4:24 am | Permalink