Afternoon Inquisition

AI: To burqa or not to burqa?

Ok, kids, a bunch of us are in Minneapolis at the moment, at SkepchickCON so I’ll be watching this AI from a distance. So play nice, please! :)

Nicholas Sarkozi thinks that burqas are inherently demeaning to women and says they are not welcome in France.

What do you think? Should legislation be passed banning certain types of clothing because it’s inherently cruel or a sign of subservience?

 

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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59 Comments

  1. No. Ban burqas suddenly every woman will want one.

    Come to think of it, wouldn’t that be a great way to thumb our noses at Islamic sexism? Get women to start wearing them: gaudily accessorized, sheer burqas, mini burqas….

  2. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Not having extensive awareness of the Islamic culture, if the statements are true that it is little to do with religion and more to do with relegating women to a lesser class, I totally support the ban. Come to think of it, even if it is a religious tradition, I feel religious tolerance is far less important than human rights.

  3. The “demeaning to women” argument makes me think of another touchy subject, at least among Americans:

    Porn.

    I’ve studied French and French culture for a number of years, but they still sometimes manage to weird me out.

  4. On an emotional level, I support the idea. On a rational level, I don’t like any sort of legislation like this.

    Of course, as an American… um. Go France! Let’s see what happens! ;)

  5. Hi. Long-time-if-intermittent reader, first time poster.

    What a can of worms to start with, hm?

    Here’s what gets up my nose with cleats on; burkas ARE oppressive. They are yet another example of requiring women to police/be responsible for male desire. As a woman, I find that maddening. Were I man, I imagine I’d find its implication insulting (ie: men are base and brainless animals that will be driven to slavering rape by the appearance of an earlobe). The fact that this is religiously mandated oppression adds a massive layer of annoyance to the whole thing.

    But on the other hand, making them illegal seems like a fine example of reductionist thinking writ large.

    So apparently, my answer is, “I don’t know.”

  6. I’m in favor of banning the burqa. However, I think pulling the “demeaning to women” card isn’t the way to convince the masses. Burqa allow for a person to go, for all intents and purposes, incognito.

    When a person wears a burqa, observers can’t tell age, gender, hair color, or any distinguishing features, like birth marks, tatoos, or scars. Its assumed it a woman, but, how can you be sure. If a man robs a bank, wearing a burqa, then flees in a car, to another car somewhere else, how would the witnesses identify them? How could they use images from the security camera? How could the police find this person and bring him to justice?

  7. I absolutely do not think clothing should be banned. It’s not the government’s business what clothing people wear (barring indecent exposure, I guess). I hate to use the dreaded slippery slope argument, but if they decide to ban burkas, what else could they choose to ban? Other religions require women – and men – to dress certain ways, too.

    infinitemonkey – How is that different from wearing a ski mask or some other kind of face covering?

  8. @infinitemonkey: “When a person wears a burqa, observers can’t tell age, gender, hair color, or any distinguishing features, like birth marks, tattoos, or scars.”

    This speaks more to rules or laws barring certain types of clothing for certain situations, but not an outright ban.

  9. It would violate the French Constitution, Article 2, section 1 (All religions shall be respected equally.) as well as the 2 articles of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, which is claimed in the most current constitution (1958) to be legally binding.

    Article IV: Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights…

    Article X: No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

    It would also violate Articles 9, 14, and 18 of the European Convention on human rights. AND Articles 1, 2, 3, 7, 12, 17.2, 18, 19, 22, 29.2, and 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Protecting liberty includes the liberty of people I profoundly disagree with. Such a law would be dangerous, stupid, unethical, and illegal.

  10. Yeah, I’m jumping on the “no burqa ban” train. I dislike what they stand for and what not, but I cringe at the idea of banning clothing. The women are going to be most hurt by this. I feel like being forced to go in public without all the covering up is going to feel akin to the rest of us going grocery shopping in a bikini-exposed, indecent and like you’re being leered at even when you’re not (although I would love to be able to grocery shop in a bikini in this weather, ugh). I think this ban is actually going to restrict these women even more because they will feel the need to stay inside and out of the public eye to comply with their beliefs.

  11. For me it’s not the burqa itself that is that is demeaning to women, but the fact that in some cultures women are forced to wear them. If a woman chooses to wear one, why shouldn’t she be able to? I had a friend in high school who told me she chose to wear the hijab because it was a symbol that she’s muslim, something she’s very proud of.

    Men who force women to cover themselves will tell you that they are protecting their modesty, Sarkozi wants to protect these women from being demeaned. There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the two view points – let us protect you, it will only cost your freedome of choice.

  12. @truthwalker:

    It would violate the French Constitution, Article 2, section 1 (All religions shall be respected equally.)

    Not that they all have to be respected, just that they have to be respected equally. That’s my philosophy – lack of respect regardless of particular breed of insanity.

    I don’t think that a ban on clothing should be enacted. A ban on forcing people to dress in certain ways, now…

  13. For as long as persons wearing any clothing that prevents positive identification are not attempting to:

    – drive a vehicle;
    – board an airplane/train;
    – enter a courthouse or any federal building;
    – notarize their signature;
    – obtain credit/loan/mortgage;
    – enroll in a public higher education school;
    – apply for a professional license;
    – cash a check;
    – etc.

    they should be allowed to wear whatever they want.

  14. The only clothing that should be banned is something that is definitely in the confines of indecent exposure. Granted, this is a gray area, especially since I’m libertarian. For example, a skirt that is a little to high is not something to ban, but if a male teacher walks into a public school wearing nothing but a thong, then that’s a definite problem.

    But burqas? No. Having been in Saudi Arabia for a slightly extended time (6 months), I’ve had first hand experience since my mother had to wear one. For some reason, the religious police said she looked Iranian (she’s French/Canadian) and would harass her until she showed her passport. However, some women wear them because they are forced and some would wear them regardless (e.g., a couple women on the return flight home kept theirs on even though other women took them off and even if they were not traveling with their husbands). That’s the real issue: whether women are free to wear clothing.

    Here’s another problem. Define burqa. Just black dress from shoulder to ankles? Do you have to wear the scarf in addition in order to be considered a burqa? Note: Western women in Saudi Arabia usually just have to wear the robe part of the burqa and may benefit from covering their hair. (My mom found it better to wear more than required just to be left alone.)

  15. No.
    It may, to us, be degrading to women or appear cruel or be a sign of subservience, but I think that banning any sort of clothing is a bad idea. If I get to ban burqas, then why can’t you ban high heels or miniskirts or pants for women? I hate to use the “slippery slope” argument, but I don’t think it’s the place to start.

    I think it is perfectly reasonable to ban face-obscuring clothing when posing for government documents or even when driving or perhaps when testifying in court. There are certain scenarios where people need to see your face (or you need to see!) and religion does not trump that.
    Granted, in my opinion, pretty much everything trumps religion, but that’s just me.

  16. The argument for banning burqas is an argument that shoots itself in the foot. We don’t like burqas because they’re a symbol of a ruling authority forcing a restriction onto women because the women aren’t respected enough to be allowed to decide for themselves. So, what would ban on burqas be? Uh…That would be a ruling authority forcing a restriction onto women because the women aren’t respected enough to be allowed to decide for themselves.

    ….oops…..

  17. I know many cities have tried to pass, and some actually have passed, legislation banning people from wearing pants so that their underwear shows. As much as I absolutely detest that particular “fashion”, I was never for banning it simply because it’s not the city’s business what people wear.

    There is a city near New Orleans that recently passed a law requiring all city employees to wear underwear, apparently because of butt crack issues. o_O Surely they had more important laws to worry about?

    In summation, no burqa ban. But I LOVE @mikespeir: Get women to start wearing them: gaudily accessorized, sheer burqas, mini burqas….

    Maybe not enough to COTW you, but then again, why not!

  18. @ekimbrough: lol!

    Yeah, I agree that it’s kind of like banning YFZ women from wearing their crazy-assed prairie-in-1987 look..

    On the one hand, I agree with the security issue (and as far as I know, if you’re walking down the street wearing a balaclava in non-freezing weather, the authorities don’t really look the other way, so..), but yeah, what are the options for women who feel too uncomfortable to walk around sans burqa?

    Devil’s advocate (with a fairly weak argument) mode: in the places where the burqa is required/the norm, I’m pretty sure that a woman wearing a miniskirt and heels would be arrested and stoned to death (after being gang-raped by the authorities, after being gang-raped by passersby who were unfairly tempted by her Jezebel-ish antics)…so…

    And AFAIK, “burqua” means the garment where you can’t see ANYTHING including eyes.

    I remember reading about a study that seemed to confirm that in the more covered up women were, (as a whole…not the individual woman), the hornier the men got..I recall something about Poland in Winter vs. Summer or something. Anyone know what the hay I’m talking about? (Stands to reason…fantasy is pretty powerful)

  19. A couple of points as an actual french person :p

    Minor nitpick : who’s “Nicholas Sarkozi” ? The very link to the article correctly spells it as Nicolas Sarkozy :p

    @truthwalker:
    There are no sections in the constitution of the 5th republic, only titles and articles, as far as I know. Also, article 2 reads (my rough translation) : “The language of the republic is French. The national emblem is the three colored flag, blue, white and red. The national enthem is ‘La Marseillaise’. The motto of the republic is Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. Its principle is : government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

    The one and only mention of the word ‘religion’ in the constitution occurs in article 1 : ” France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. It insures equality before the law for all citizens regardless of origin, race or religion. It respects all creeds. Its organization is decentralized.”
    (considering how heavily centralized the 5th Republic is, that last bit is particularly amusing).

    More to the point, since “ostentatious religious symbols” are already banned by law in schools and administrations, I have a hard time seeing how a ban on the burqua would be unconstitutional. Just because all creeds are “respected” does not mean they have a free pass and, as seen above, the republic is above all “secular” (“laique” in the original text, which appears to have no exact translation into english).

    This isn’t to say that I agree with the idea. Although I’m fairly sure that it is indeed, even in the “best case” of being self-imposed, a sign of religious oppression, I disagree with the ban. I would like to see it disappear (although to be truthful, living in a fairly upper class suburb of Paris, I have never seen one on the streets).
    However I think the best way to achieve that is through education. Getting our views across (individual freedom and responsibility, freedom from religion or patriarchy) seems like a much more effective solution; this ban, in compromising these ideals, would be self defeating and would push these women further outside of society.

  20. @infinitemonkey: What the hell? What kind of police state are you suggesting here? A place where all people must be identifiable at all times?

    Anyway, banning the burq is not going to make the issue of women’s oppression in some islamic cultures go away. Without the burqa they probably won’t be allowed to leave the house at all.

  21. Many women are run over trying to cross the road wearig those stupid things. They cant see! So not only are the demeaning they are a hazard. They also catch fire really easy while cooking. I think it is a good idea.

  22. I think atheists and free thinkers need to be at the forefront of defending religious freedom.
    That means if people want to wear the burqua then they get to wear the burqua.

    Europe as whole seems to be embracing this censorship of unpopular speech. Once you open the door to criminalizing hate speech then freedom of expression means nothing.

  23. @annan

    Don’t worry about the slippery slope here, France is already going down it themselves. It started with banning any religious apparel from schools, even if the religion mandated it. Now they’re banning burqas entirely. Momentum is picking up, so we really should be worried about where they might go next.

  24. @Bethor

    Yeah, after I read your article I checked out the translation I was using. It’s terrible. (There is no authorized English of the Fifth Constitution, but this morning, I found the translation put out by the government press department.) I meant Article 1! Sorry, I have insomnia. I exhausted but can’t sleep. It’s a lot like being really drunk, and the really crappy translation it translated all sections, subsections, etc, pretty much any paragraph division as “articles”.

    However the 5th Constitution does says the 1789 rights of man are binding in the preamble and the other references are right. France is violating her own law on these anti-religious laws.

    And it is still a profoundly bad idea.

  25. I can completely understand really, really wanting to ban them, but you can’t…for reasons everyone seems to know already. Knowing that many women wear them because they have been indoctinated to the point that they agree with their oppression or is simply given absolutely no choice is incredibly frustrating but a ban won’t change their mind or help their situation.

  26. The problem as I see it is this: Sarkozy is completely right that it’s a symbol of male domination and oppression of women and that free-thinking liberal societies should disapprove, etc. But banning the burka will not make that go away. The men who force women to wear burkas now will simply find other ways to dominate them – like refusing to let their daughters and wives leave the house if “immodestly” dressed.

  27. An all out ban would not be accetable. However even in this country there are exceptions. Any bus driver can refuse service based on dress. Even company dress codes are a bit of a grey area.

    I don’t support a ban, but I would accept a refusal of services to someone wearing a burqa.

  28. I think these discussions always comes off as patronizing. I mean, we’re all of us saying, “It’s demeaning, but they should be allowed to do it.” or “It’s a symbol of oppression, but they should be allowed to do it.” or “they need to be identifiable.”

    Where are the voices of the actual women who are affected by this? No links? Do we all just assume Muslim women have no voice because we’ve bought into the Western idea that they’re all oppressed and helpless? That Islam is such a backwards religion, any self respecting woman, who understood her position, would instantly want to become a “liberated” Western woman?

    There are a lot of issues in Islam that women face every day, but usually they are about Sharia law disenfranchising them, or not being allowed to divorce an abusive husband, or having their daughters/sisters/mothers/selves killed in honor killings. I’m sure there are others that I can’t anticipate because they aren’t as shocking to Westerners.

    I am one of those liberated Western women. I’m very happy to be an atheist with the few issues I have with my culture. But if being a feminist has taught me anything, it’s that ignoring the voices of women is one the greatest ways in which women have been wronged. Even now, conversations in the media about abortion, unless it’s on The View, almost always involve two or more men and almost never the voices of the people living these experiences.

    So frankly, I’m not interested in Sarkozi’s extremely biased assessment of Islam and the way it treats women. The real problem is that he’s not listening to the voices that really matter here. Isn’t that the most insidious form of oppression? Paternalism?

  29. jreedgt is the only one to get this right so far. It’s not about banning the burqa in some asinine fit of rage due to OUR western perspective on women’s rights. The burqa (and in general, the hajib) is a sign of religious piety – not necessarily a sign of women’s oppression. In places such as Saudi Arabia where the the laws are still determined by the more fundamentalist end of the Islamic spectrum women HAVE to wear it. However, like jreedgt said, some women would wear it anyway. Women all over the world wear the burqa/hajib for different reasons, and most of the time it is because they want to.

    When you see a women wearing it you need to consider the context. If if is in a place where they have the choice to wear whatever they want, chances are they want to demonstrate their conservative and pious lifestyle in a proud way. To look at them and think ‘they must feel degraded and oppressed’ is to think purely like a biased American and not at all like an honest inquirer.

    For a group of people (skeptics, freethinkers) who claim to treat claims critically and believe that religion shouldn’t get a free pass in investigation – from my experience, and this AI included, skeptics, atheists, freethinkers and the like fail 99% of the time when discussing Islam and especially with their practices. The closed minded and simplistic opinions with appeals to authority is sickening (the appeal to authority is from all of the arguments that only focused on whether it was constitutional or not – yes, constitutional arguments are arguments from authority and avoid the true question).

    In reference to the above comment:

    “Where are the voices of the actual women who are affected by this? ”

    Here is a paper I wrote a little while ago:

    http://docs.google.com/View?id=dxzbhn8_142f8qdtwct

    It contains quotations and sources to many different Islamic women’s opinions. Some of the information supports my arguments above as well as gives both sides – the fundamentalist woman and the ‘modern’ woman.

  30. Speaking as a nudist, I don’t like the idea of the state’s saying what can or can’t be worn in public at all. As for the burqa’s being demeaning to women, it is not the burqa itself that is demeaning but the cultural requirement that only applies to women to wear it that is demeaning. But there, too, I don’t want the state to meddle in the affairs of consenting adults and the subcultures they participate in. That said, perhaps the state should provide added protection for women coming from such a subculture who choose to cast off the burqa as they seem to be subject to “honor” killings.

  31. @drockwood said:

    I think atheists and free thinkers need to be at the forefront of defending religious freedom.

    Why?

    @ekimbrough:

    Ha, ha! Man, there’s some real beauties there. Look at all those luscious lips and bountiful boobies!

    @ekimbrough:

    Well, not quite, but a good point nonetheless.

    We have had similar debates in Canada about various forms of religious garb, including male headdressings and other sillyness.

    Tangential thought:

    Isn’t the headdress idea based, in all religions, on “God” being insulted by the naked tops of mens heads? Or some such idiocy.

    I am conflicted on this issue.

    Why should we support any form of religious indoctrination and suppression?

    Does it really make any meaningful difference that the issue is clothes rather then abortion, or genital mutilation, or whatever?

    I think the issue here is about religious intolerance. And most skeptics are by definition religiously intolerant anyway, yes?

    So, it confuses me in some ways that we would express tolerance for a specifically religion-based form of suppression of women.

    I mean, yes indeed we should condemn government suppression of personal fashion statements, as such and where we are comfortably in consensus about it — ’cause after all, this is an issue of opinion and socio-cultural consensus, not something essential and absolute.

    But that is not what this is about.

    Okay, supposedly some women do indeed “like” to wear these ridiculous hide-me blankets. But, as I understand it, having listened to many non-indoctrinated or mind-warped women’s voices on the issue — which, as pointed out by @Cola, is something that is missing here — most of those who “like” to do so, are under the blanket mind warp of religious indoctrination: “I like to wear my hide-me blanket because it shows my love of Allah,” etc.

    So, if that’s true, why should we support that?

    Why should we support religious delusion and indoctrination?

    The burka, hijab, etc., are, for the most part not about fashion. They are a religio-political statement of suppresion, indoctrination, and social control.

    So, if that is true (and I would argue strongly that it is), should we then support the mind warp of religious indoctrination and religio-political statement of suppresion, indoctrination, and social control simply because in this instance it focusses on clothing?

    Why?

    Is such religious mind-warping good or acceptable in this instance simply because it is clothes rather than something more substantive than a clitoridectomy?

    What’s the rationale here? Do we support the religion when it doesn’t conflict with our laissez-faire Western-based ideas of easy freedom? Or do we, because of their ultimate idiocy, condemn all religions and all there suppressive ideologies regardless of whatever area of our lives they do or do not interfere with?

    Is it not more consistent, and more effective, or at least perhaps more realistic, to simply say “No, your religious artifactitious nonesense, in all its ugly forms, is unacceptable, and we will not stand for it any more!”?

    Where do we draw the line on what we feel is acceptable religious behaviour and control?

    Where do we draw the line on what we feel is not acceptable religious behaviour and control?

    This is not the straightforward issue that many folks here and elsewhere seem to feel it is. And, it is very clear in this thread that there is no meaningful consistency here on this important issue — yes, a lot of folks are bemoaning the apparent infringement on personal fashion choices, but that it is most emphatically not what this issue is really about.

    What should really be done is a governmental decree of “religion is bunk and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

    But that ain’t gonna happen.

  32. @SicPreFix: Why?

    Really? I didn’t expect that to be a controversial statement.
    I merely assumed it would be a popular statement around here what with us be a religious minority who pride ourselves on being rational, nondogmatic and tolerant.

    I can’t speak for all skeptics but I’m only intolerant of religion in the sense that personally I think much of it is primitive superstition.
    Socially however, I’m quite tolerant of religion. I appreciate that the rights that protect me from believers protect them from me. To attack those rights would be to attack my own religious freedom.

    @ Where do we draw the line on what we feel is acceptable religious behaviour and control?

    We draw the line when the behavior directly victimizes another. If a woman choses to wear it then she’s not a victim, that’s her right as a free citizen.

    I suspect an important point of disagreement between us is that you see tolerance of the burka as a compromise of Western values.
    I see tolerance of the burka as an example of one of the most fundemental of Western values, religious freedom.

    @ What should really be done is a governmental decree of “religion is bunk and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

    Government decree? I couldn’t disagree more. I hope that’s just something you said in the spur of the moment.
    Surely it’s occurred to you how inevitably these religious gov decrees you apparently support will backfire on you.

  33. OK, call me a registered card-carrying Libertarian (which I am ;-) but I can’t support making it criminal for people to wear clothing that they freely choose to wear. It strikes me as highly ironic for us to say that “we will not allow you to wear that because we feel that other people are manipulating and controlling you by making you wear it.” …by making it a crime, we are doing WHAT???

    I would find that forcing someone else to wear clothing that they do not wish to wear should be considered a criminal offense.

    Now we do have a tradition, even in the West, of treating lack of sufficient clothing as a criminal offense. Would someone like to offer a justification for this — one that couldn’t be used to require burqas?

  34. No ban on burqas.

    It’s presumptuous for us to assume that if a woman dresses a particular way, she is being demeaned.

    Clothing is never a problem, it’s the lack of respect that’s a problem.

    This somewhat parallels the problems that people have with pornography. Many would assume that any woman who is involved with the pornography industry are being demeaned. Maybe they are…maybe they really enjoy their sexuality and enjoy making money that way. Who knows?

    We can’t make an assumption about how a woman feels about herself or her life because of her clothing or lack of clothing.

    I firmly believe that woman should be respected. Period. Whether a woman dressed like a nun or roaming the streets naked she should be respected as a human being. She shouldn’t be beaten or raped or treated like she’s “less than” simply because of her outward appearance.

  35. Logic test:

    In most places in America, women are required to wear shirts in public, but men are not. How is this not a religiously oppressive law? How is this law substantively different from the law regarding Burkas in Saudi Arabia (aside from possible punishments, of course).

    If we accept that laws about public nudity are okay, why are laws about public exposure not okay? To put it another way: if the state may order you to wear a shirt, why are they forbidden to order you *not* to wear a shirt?

  36. @seth. Yup, our laws are sexist too. However, our hypocrisy does not excuse someone else’s. And other then pertaining to health (Brazil has no thong laws on public benches) and safety (No ski masks at the bank, no long scarves by the jet intake) there is no good reason for it.

    Free the boobies! Let the balls swing free! Clothing freedom for all!

  37. I could not find, with a quick search, any indication that thongs cause health issues. It occurs to me that one might be bothered to sit on a recently vacated chair, but I think that the lack of evidence of disease spread through toilet seats would argue against a health issue. http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/1857.html

    (“Brazilian bikini waxing” poses some health issues. But I think that’s a separate issue.)

    Breastfeeding comes to mind as a potentially repressive social issue. But it seems that breastfeeding mothers are on sound legal ground, however:
    http://www.ncsl.org/IssuesResearch/Health/BreastfeedingLaws/tabid/14389/Default.aspx

  38. No.

    The law is a completely inappropriate way to address an issue like the Burqua or any other sort of ‘oppressive’ clothing. What next ehh? I can’t leash my wife? She can’t put me in a penis cage and demand I go into public with nothing but it, a kilt, and a beeni?

    Nope, set that precedent and it isn’t a large legal step before we have high school dress codes enshrined in law.

    That all said, it is appropriate to legislate areas in which one may not cover their faces, (banks for example), for legitimate security reasons. But this is a completely separate matter.

  39. In Canada, we are all about “multiculturalism” rather than the US style “melting pot”. We tend to bend over backwards to allow immigrant groups to keep their clothing, language, traditions, etc. This is not generally a bad thing, but the Prime Minister just announced that women in burquas would not be required to reveal their faces when they vote. Not even in a private room to a female elections worker. Just show ID (why?) and vote. Some muslims are working very hard to have Sharia law made a part of the Canadian Criminal Code.
    Quebec has the most rules about religious attire. They have banned (or attempted to at least) the head scarf in most schools and in soccer leagues.
    I’m not sure how I feel about banning burquas, I tend to think an outright ban would be wrong, and in Canada it would lead to a hugely expensive Charter of Rights legal challenge. However, I do feel that in certain circumstances (like those listed in a post above, and voting), must have their faces revealed–as much as possible respecting their beliefs, like in private with only women present.

  40. Voltaire is generally credited with these words: “I do not agree with a word you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it” (although apparently this phrase cannot be found in Voltaire’s work, it is more likely that it was invented later as the epitome of his attitude).

    I think that this is a somewhat idealistic but admirable sentiment about free speech which also applies in this case to freedom of dress – and attributed (to the attitude of…) a great Frenchman, to boot. To legislate against a particular mode of dress in general (unless identification is expressly required for practical reasons, such as when driving or voting), is a draconian measure not befitting of a society supposedly founded on freedom / enlightenment values.

    I abhor the niqab / burqa, and it makes me feel uneasy and threatened whenever I see it, because it is a basic human instinct to want to see the face of another person that they are in close proximity to (motorbike helmets and balaklavas have the same effect), and because I am always unsure whether the person wearing it is doing so because they choose to do so, have been forced to do so, or have been indoctrinated into believing that such a ridiculous get-up is a good idea. Just because I don’t like it though, I have to logically recognise that if I am true to the liberal values to which I cleave in all other avenues of life, then in this case too, I am duty bound to fight for the right of these women to wear the burqa. As distasteful as I find it, it is necessary if I am to avoid being a hypocrite.

    This leads onto the other question which has also been discussed a little here – the freedom of women not to wear the burqa, if they so choose. Here the law can more appropriately get involved in helping and protecting those who want to distance themselves from such religion-inspired idiocy. Difficult, if not sometimes almost impossible to enforce and safeguard, but wholly more appropriate. Sarkozy’s crude thundering will only serve to deepen resentment and unneccessarily make his country a target for those who can out-gun him in terms of bigotry and oppression.

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