Burqas: ‘veiled threats?’

Martha Nussbaum, a teacher of law, philosophy, and divinity at The University of Chicago, recently submitted an article, Veiled Threats?, to the New York Times. It is well worth the read and is available here. Thanks Jonathan Adamczewski

She picks up the hot topic of the recent announcement of the Burqa ban in France.

In France, girls may not wear it in school. In Germany (as in parts of Belgium and the Netherlands) some regions forbid public school teachers to wear it on the job, although nuns and priests are permitted to teach in full habit.

What does political philosophy have to say about these developments? As it turns out, a long philosophical and legal tradition has reflected about similar matters….All human beings are equal bearers of human dignity…..it is widely agreed that government must treat that dignity with equal respect….But what is it to treat people with equal respect in areas touching on religious belief and observance?…The faculty with which people search for life’s ultimate meaning — frequently called “conscience” ─ is a very important part of people, closely related to their dignity.

Martha also focuses on the five common arguments in favour of proposed burqa bans and asks the question, do they treat all citizens with equal respect.​

  1. security requires people to show their faces when appearing in public places.
  2. the kind of transparency and reciprocity proper to relations between citizens is impeded by covering part of the face.
  3. the burqa is a symbol of male domination that symbolizes the objectification of women (that they are being seen as mere objects).
  4. women wear the burqa only because they are coerced.
  5. the burqa is per se unhealthy, because it is hot and uncomfortable.

Her excellently reasoned responses and challenging in depth article (please take the time to read it) conclude:

All five arguments are discriminatory. We don’t even need to reach the delicate issue of religiously grounded accommodation to see that they are utterly unacceptable in a society committed to equal liberty. Equal respect for conscience requires us to reject them.

Apart from discrimination and lack of equal respect for our fellow beings, the question is begged to be asked, if the Burqa is banned, what is next – a ban on Christians wearing a cross/crucifix, a ban on Priests wearing a clerical collar, a ban on Nuns wearing their habits……where does it all stop?

Full article Veiled Threats? See also French burqa ban is bad and Pray 4 freedom of religious expression.


Burqas: ‘veiled threats?’ — 1 Comment

  1. I can ALMOST see the point of the ban – in cases of security only, ie, airports, banks, etc. where people DO need to be identified. However, many who are arguing for the ban on security grounds also slip over into talking about liberating women, and so on. Those who want to ban the burqua on such ‘social’ grounds, or even worse, on a ‘religious’ basis, really are being intolerant, inconsistent, and setting a dangerous precedent. Many of the women who wear the burqua do not want to be forced to become ‘liberated,’ and if we are going to ban some religious symbolism, then what about Jewish the ‘skull-cap’ and orthodox Jews’ outfits, crosses and crucifixes, clergy shirts, and so the list goes on!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *