Should we ban the burkha?

With Islam becoming far more visible in the past 25 years, its views and edicts have become better known to infidels … or non-Muslims, as I prefer to call us. One of the most visible forms of the religion are the various face and head coverings worn by women;

  • Hijab. This is the most common type of headscarf worn by Muslim women here in the UK. It is a headscarf that covers the head and neck, but leaves the face clear.
  • Niqab. The niqab is a combination of a head covering and scarf that covers all of a woman’s face except for her eyes. It usually flows down to the mid-back to cover a woman’s hair, and may flow down to the mid-chest in the front. It is most often worn in Arab countries, but an increasing number of Muslim women in the west are choosing to wear it. Although the majority of scholars agree that hijab is obligatory, only a minority of them say that the niqab is.
  • Burqa. The terms niqab and burqa are often incorrectly used interchangeably; a niqab covers the face while a burqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to the ground. It’s the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face, including the eyes (with a mesh cloth to see through) and the body.
  • Chador. The chador is a body-length outer garment, usually black in colour, worn mainly by women in Iran. It is not secured at the front by buttons or clasps, so the woman holds it closed
  • Jilbab/Abaya. These are long, loosely fitted garments worn by Muslim women to cover the shape of their bodies.

There’s disagreement even within Islam as to whether the niqab is compulsory. Interestingly, face veiling was practised by many cultures before Islam, and scholars say Muslims adopted the practice to fit in with these societies. Today, however, the niqab is seen as a symbol of the very opposite, of separation and difference.

There are just two – arguably ambiguous – references in the Koran dealing specifically with women’s dress, and this has led to different interpretations. The wives of the Prophet Muhammad covered themselves; however, the Koran explicitly states that the wives of the Prophet are held to a difference standard.

So there’s some debate over it, to be sure, but should countries follow in the footsteps of Belgium, Switzerland, and France – all of whom have banned the burka, and do the same? Let me tell you now that I believe they should be banned, completely, for reasons I’ll go into in a minute, but first I wanted to be equitable and give the opposing side to my view time to argue their point of view. I’ve asked a couple of people who are against burqa bans why they felt like that, and here are the main points they gave me;

1. Everybody should have the freedom of speech and expression.

2. Religion does not equal terrorism.

3. Banning the Burqa is forced feminism.

4. Burqas are a staple piece in the expression of religious beliefs.

5. The Government should have no right in deciding what citizens can and can’t wear in public.

6. Governments should be allocating time and resources to things such as poverty, radicalisation and equality.

Some interesting points, I’ll grant you, but … but not very persuasive. None of those arguments convince me that the burqa should be allowed to continue, and that it shouldn’t be seen as anything other than a cruel piece of bigotry against women and against secular, liberal values. Here are my arguments in favour of an all-out ban.

1. The Burqa Covers Up Abuse

Countries where the Burqa is commonly worn also have higher rates of domestic violence.  In Afghanistan, 87 percent of women reported experiencing domestic violence. In Pakistan, that number goes as high as 90 percent. Domestic violence is also a major problem in Saudi Arabia.

In cases of domestic abuse, the Burqa doesn’t just isolate the woman, it also covers up evidence of the abuse. It gives the abuser the freedom to brutalise his partner without worrying that anyone will even notice.

This is an especially vital issue in Europe, where spousal abuse is a serious crime, and the abuser has more motivation than ever to cover it up. The Burqa successfully isolates abuse victims, cuts them off from any prospective support networks, and prevents anyone on the outside from even realising what is being done to them.

The Muslim community has been in denial about its rates of domestic abuse. The Burqa is one reason why. It’s easier not to see abused women, when they are segregated and the marks of their abuse are kept out sight.

2.  The Burqa Justifies Sexual Assault on Women Who Don’t Wear It

In response to a gang rape, the Chief Mufti of Australia said, “If she was in her room, in her home, in her Hijab, no problem would have occurred.” By wearing the Burqa or Hijab, women participate in a narrative that gives rapists a pass for sexual assaults on women who don’t dress the way the Mufti or Imam says they should.

The Koran gives a similar justification for a head to toe covering for women, “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies that they may thus be distinguished and not molested.” (Koran 33:59)

This distinction between women who can be ‘molested’ and those who cannot is what makes the Burqa such an explosive addition to Europe – which is already suffering from a high rate of Muslim sexual assaults on non-Muslim women.

The Burqa divides women into “good girls” and “whores” and gives potential rapists, religious ammunition for their crimes.

Banning the Burqa protects women who choose not to wear it from being assaulted because of their perceived immodesty.

3.  Civic Participation

The essence of a modern society is that it extends civic participation to everyone. Deliberately preventing an entire gender from taking part in society as identifiable individuals is an assault on the democratic character of the state.

Individuals are recognisable through personal attributes. Remove those attributes and you remove the individuality as well. The Sahih Bukhari relates that one inspiration for the Burqa was that one of Mohammed’s followers was able to recognize one of his wives at night. The implication is that the Burqa is meant to prevent such recognition from taking place. Women are not meant to be recognised as individuals. Or be empowered to make their own decisions.

The Burqa is designed to impede interaction outside the home. The failure to be recognised as an individual is dehumanising and deprives women of their role in civic life.

Countries where the Burqa is in wide use, have low rates of female civic participation. In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to vote. In parts of Pakistan, women are not allowed to vote as well. In Afghanistan women were shunted into female only polling stations, or forced to vote by proxy through a male family member.

4. Segregation is Discrimination

Purdah segregates women at homes and the Burqa segregates them in public. While the authorities cannot interfere with what people choose to do in their own homes, the public wearing of the Burqa is a statement that women are unequal and must be segregated.

Such an attitude is an assault on the legal place of women in society. It imposes the norms of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on the streets of Paris and London. Like a Klan march, it a dehumanising and intimidating statement of bigotry against a segment of society. While in the United States, such marches are legal, in much of Europe they are not.

If radicals are prevented from making public statements about the inferiority of races, why should they be permitted to assert the inferiority of a gender?

“Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other,” the Koran asserts. Replace ‘women’ with any race or religion, and a public assertion of such a thing would be cause for criminal proceedings.

Imposing the segregation of the Burqa on women in an assertion of a bigoted creed that dehumanises an entire gender. While Muslims are free to believe what they do, a public display that dehumanises women as a gender by treating their faces as obscene, is an intolerant violation of the norms of civil society.

5.  The Wearing of the Burqa is Enforced Through Violence

“More often the girls were under orders from their fathers and uncles and brothers, and even their male classmates. For the boys, transforming a bluejeaned teenage sister into a docile and observant “Muslim” virgin was a rite de passage into authority, the fast track to becoming a man, and more important, a Muslim man … it was also a license for violence.”  (Jane Kramer, Taking the Veil, New Yorker)

In 2003 a French survey found that 77 percent of girls who wore the Hijab did so because of threats. Women in the Muslim world have been punished by having acid thrown in their faces for not complying with similar demands. There is no way to break through this climate of coercion except by giving women and girls immunity from such demands by banning the source of it. The Burqa.

The Burqa also exposes women to blackmail and intimidation when they deviate from the standard of full body covering. There is a rising number of cases in which women and girls who posted Facebook pictures of themselves in normal clothes have been blackmailed and threatened for it.

As long as the Burqa remains a threat hanging over the heads of Muslim and non-Muslim women alike, no woman in Europe can truly be free from its implied threat to her person and her political freedoms. Mercifully, this is a country in which critical thinking is permitted: if we believe a practice stinks, then we say so.

How free am Western women? Well, they’re a lot freer than those poor girls, as young as 11, who attend the Madani Girls’ School in east London. The school requires all pupils to wear a burka, or a full-face veil and a long black coat, outside the premises. According to the school’s website, the uniform rule “conforms to the Islamic Code of dressing and must be adhered to at all times”.

How free is an 11-year-old who only sees her city through a letterbox slit, and who is obliged to dress in a way that intimidates people, prevents any connection being made, and ends up stoking even more racist feeling? How free are the children at the Ayesha Siddiqa Girls’ School in west London, which, like other private Islamic schools, requires pupils to wear a burka or jilbab (headscarf)? The Ayesha Siddiqa school had an emergency Ofsted inspection earlier this year that raised concerns about the 120 girls’ “welfare, health and safety”.

You would hope that these oppressed young women would find their most passionate champions among liberals. Not a bit of it. Then-Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Vince Cable joined the pusillanimous prats giving comfort to hardline Islamists. “People must have the right to choose how they want to dress and express their religion,” said Vince, who gave the example of fighting for one of his constituents to wear a cross at work. As if there was some moral equivalence between a woman being allowed to wear a cross (of her own free will) and a girl being “allowed” to wear a burka!

When Home Office minister Jeremy Browne called for a debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women having the veil imposed on them, Nick Clegg said: “I think it is very un-British to start telling people what pieces of clothing they should wear.”

No, Mr Clegg: what is un-British is to stand by and do nothing while girls born in this country are subject to misogynistic and discriminatory treatment. Instead of standing up for British values, there is only capitulation.

In 2013, a judge ruled that a Muslim woman will be allowed to stand trial while wearing a full-face veil, but that it must be removed while giving evidence. This obvious nonsense was hailed as a victory for open justice. Yet a jury clearly needs to see the face of a defendant when evidence is being given so they can observe their reaction. That goes for the innocent as well as the guilty; the burka could harm her chances of being acquitted. Can a burglar now claim he cannot make a court appearance without wearing his favourite balaclava?

Theresa May once argued that “in general, women should be free to decide what to wear for themselves”. So what freedom to decide does a child at Madani Girls’ School have?

Fear of being perceived as culturally insensitive is far more important than insisting children are given the chance to take part in normal British life. Thus did ghettos flourish and grow. It is a terrible error and one that is coming back to haunt us.

Birmingham Metropolitan College, which had banned students from wearing veils on campus for eight years without protest, has just done a U-turn ahead of a demonstration against “Islamophobia”. Brace yourselves for a challenge to the key 2007 case, in which a High Court judge rejected a bid by a pupil to be allowed to wear the niqab in class.

It’s time that the authorities stopped mouthing platitudes about “choice” and “freedom of expression” and acted to protect the interests of girls who might as well be living in Pakistan, so restrictive are the limits on their freedom.

The bigotry charge is the cudgel used to beat those of us who insist that cultural values that oppress and diminish women have no place in our society. Let all girls and women be seen as well as heard. Ban the burka!

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