Belgium burqa ban is Bad

Bad news for religious freedom and for relationships with the conservative Muslim community: Burqas have been banned in Belgium and are likely to be banned in France. Belgium bans wearing of Islamic burqa in public April 30, 2010. In part,

Belgian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to ban the wearing of the Islamic burqa in public, paving the way for the first clampdown of its kind in Europe.

But the move was condemned by Muslim leaders, a Catholic bishop and human rights group Amnesty International.

In the lower house of federal parliament, 136 deputies voted for a nationwide ban on clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-face niqab and burqa.

Arguments used in favour of the ban on burqas in public spaces and my response to them:

1. The ban will restore dignity to Muslim women who are forced to cover themselves with the burqa. 

But who are other people to impose their views on women who choose to wear the burqa? What about the much vaunted ‘human rights’, including the freedom of religion, of these Muslim people?  Why should the state have authority to ban symbols of personal belief?

2. It is not possible to relate to a person whose face I cannot see. 

But this is the Muslim woman’s choice. Most transactions in public do not require personal identification. Where this is needed then a woman official can invite the Muslim woman into an appropriate private space to do so.

3. The burqa can hide physical abuse.

But a track suit and beanie can just as readily hide physical abuse.

My arguments against this ban:

1. Governments in defining the state as non-religious are in fact denying the reality of people’s religious commitment. This ban finds support from those who deny people’s spiritualty. But spirituality shapes people’s understanding of life. People who hold religious convictions must be treated with respect and understanding; not by the banishment of their religion from the public square.

2. This will damage relations between Muslim and non-Muslim people by breeding resentment and victimhood among Muslims.

3. This is not the way to build healthy communities and good relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. I recognise that this ban is sought in part by people who are fearful of the growth of conservative Muslim communities and Muslim extremists. As has been noted elsewhere the challenge of integrating Muslims into multi-faith nationhood is immense.

4. The banning the wearing of burqas is contrary to respect of difference and human dignity.

5. The banning of burqas will be followed by the banning of crosses and other religious items. This is but the thin edge of the wedge in non-religious authorities marginalising people who hold religious convictions.

See my Burqas and Religious Freedom;  and  The Burqa: more than clothing;   also   Religious Policy, Multi-Faith Dialogue and Australian Values


Belgium burqa ban is Bad — 5 Comments

  1. 0%to 5 % clothing models, movie stars, pop stars, socialites invade our magazines, Tv screens, game consoles, mobile phones, bilboards. The West does nothing.
    Now, Muslim women want to go with 100% clothing in public.
    What’s the big deal?
    Double standards?
    Let’s fight for helpless Muslim women!

  2. I don’t know that much about the burqa or the religious significance of this in Islam, so I may be off track here or miss the point…

    But in response to the “restoring dignity to Muslim women” argument, as if this ban would grant them freedom instead of restricting them, and also implying that the only reason certain women wear the burqa is because an abusive male relative is forcing them to… well, I’m not convinced that this is the case for most of Muslim women in Australia, but even if it were… my concern would be, if they are not to be allowed to go out in public unless they wear a burqa as enforced by their male relatives or pressured by the Muslim community they are a part of, and if they are not allowed to wear a burqa in public as enforced by the non-Muslim in community… even if you think their wearing the burqa is contrary to their rights as women, the ban on the burqa would cause an even greater restriction – they would not be able to go out in public at all! They would not be allowed to leave their own house, and would be prisoners! That would, it seems to me, an incredible injustice done to these women and more anti-feminist than making them wear a burqa in the first place, but it is not the muslims that would be enforcing this ban on these women to go out in public, but the non-muslims! Even if no one is forcing her to wear a burqa but for her the burqa is an integral part of her faith, spirituality, identity etc. it is still the same, she either is forced to be a prisoner in her own home or to violate a sacred? rule in her own eyes, possibly pulling the woman into a sense of shame, but this is something that I am surprised I have not heard as an argument against the burqa! I am not an expert on the Muslim faith, or on the significance of burqas in the Muslim faith, so maybe this is because of something I’ve misunderstood, but this seems to me an incredibally important issue to be faced.

    Perhaps who do not have a strong faith do not understand the implications of putting somebody in such a situation because, for them, the decision to leave the house or not wear a burqa might be obvious to them. Maybe they don’t realise the implications for an individual to face.

  3. the Koran states that women should be “covered” because of woman’s sin in the garden of Eden. What does “covered” mean? Also, the man actualy sinned too. The Koran also states that, for man, even a criminal (no matter what his crime) can enter into “Paradise” when he dies by killing one “infedel.” Who is the infedel? Any one who does not believe in Alla. So, firstly what happens to the woman when she dies? Well-she is inferior to the man and so therefore does not get the same rights. Also the man (lucky him) gets all his fleshly desires met by 10 virgins in Paradise. And more concerningly, should we be concened “as the infedel?” what is “freedom” for these women who state that they have freedom within their veils?When that freedom is based on sin and guilt.

  4. Pingback: Free as in Speech « Journeyman

  5. You would allow a male theocracy to opress women if you hold this line of nonsense. Surely by your argument it is ok to ban women from driving cars working or marrying without their fathers arrangements. Maybe even forced female circumcision or stoning if their hair is visible in public eh?
    All this is done where a male power structure invokes it’s ” God given” right to relegate women to a role that is defined as domestic subservient and non competitive with men.
    Of course you will find some women who strongly support their own oppression. Ever hear of the Stockholm syndrome? There is a bit of that around in the Sydney Anglican Church!

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