This series, presented in three parts, examines a number of arguments for and against a UK ban on wearing the burqa (and similar Islamic face coverings) in public places. Reasons typically offered are ultimately rejected as untenable. However, it's further argued that there remains one powerful and compelling reason we absolutely must ban the burqa...
The 'Face' of Islam in the West
FEW QUESTIONS HAVE, in recent times, generated more controversy than this one. As problems with Islamic terrorism appear to be on the rise across Europe so objections to the burqa being worn in public have gathered ever more momentum. Indeed one poll conducted by a British tabloid newspaper (see pic below ,right) suggests around 88% of it's readership support a burqa ban with just 7% opposed to it. Granted this information comes to us courtesy of the Daily Star and its targeted audience, not a reputable peer-reviewed academic journal so, no, these are not figures to stake one's reputation on. However, more conservative figures published in a 2010 Pew poll still show 62% in Britain, 71% in Germany and a whooping 82% in France are in favour of a burqa ban. The US returned what might be considered a surprisingly low figure of 28% but this needs to be understood within the context of a robust American sentiment regarding their first amendment rights - which for many Americans protect even those expressions of freedom found to be otherwise wholly abhorrent and unacceptable.
It is also very important to note that this is now quite an old Pew poll (7 years at this time of writing). Significant events on both sides of the Atlantic have undoubtedly shifted public opinion since. At least one more recent report puts the French vote in favour of a ban at 90%. With this in mind the British Star poll might now not be so far off the mark.
What is becoming increasingly apparent, then, is that a majority of people in the UK and Europe are of a mind to support, rather than reject, a ban on the public wearing of a burqa (one assumes that what people do or wear in the privacy of their own home is a matter for them, and them alone of course). It should also be pointed out that although the justification for banning the burqa provided here is in support of a nationwide ban on it being worn (in public places) in the UK specifically, the very same rationale is applicable for other Western cultures and countries.
Division within this debate is, like so many such debates, splits mainly between two opposing camps. On the one hand, there are those that want to argue wearing the burqa is protected by an unassailable freedom each and every citizen has and which is, as such, part of our greater right to wear just what we like, when we like, and where we like. The impetus for this stance draws heavily on notions of multicultural tolerance, non-discrimination, diversity, and to general principles of freedom of expression and religious or cultural observance. On the other hand there are those that reject this view - either in part or flat outright. Their claim is that all such freedoms have limits, and that there are exceptions to the general rule. The burqa, they argue, is one such exception because it crosses the limits of acceptability, an ethical and/or pragmatic line, and cannot therefore be afforded protection under generally accepted rules of freedom of expression, etc. Why? Well, the response to that question is myriad and indeed a central topic of the present discussion.
Before looking at some of the responses to the above question, however, it is worth noting that although it is the ‘burqa’ that is often referred to in debates and reactions to Islamic women’s dress it’s mostly the ‘niqab’ that people actually have in mind (the difference is explained shortly - see pic below). Moreover, negative reactions to the burqa (or niqab) being seen in public in the UK, the US, and numerous other countries is expressed in many ways too. This typically varies from broad disapproval to calls for an outright ban with sanctions for infringement up to and including a prison sentence. It’s also important to note that ‘burqa’ bans are already in place in several Western countries including France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
Yet in countries like France it’s not entirely correct to state the injunction in this way. In France the ban imposed legally prohibits facial coverings in general and not any one specific form (such as the burqa) of that covering. This said, it naturally follows from a blanket prohibition on facial disguise that the burqa, which is also the most extreme form of Islamic covering (full head, face, and body), is by default outlawed. As a matter of course, then, the ban (in the French case) also prohibits the niqab (more commonly seen worn by Muslim women, eyes only visible).
By extension one would assume such a prohibition also covers some motorcycle helmets, balaclavas, Halloween masks, hoodies with scarfs wrapped around the face (i.e the urban uniform worn by some inner city feral youth today), and any other facial covering that conceals identity – though it is unclear this is in fact the case. Not included, however, is the hijab (head scarf) or veils such as the khimar (open faced, not unlike those worn by Catholic nuns) or, incidentally (one assumes), open-faced helmets. In addition to this line up there is the chador (fully cloaked body) which is similar to the niqab but may also be open-faced (and so not prohibited, one again assumes, by French law).
In the interests of brevity, however, further references to the ‘burqa’ will generally include the niqab and any other Islamic face covering or 'veil' that obscures identity, but not the open-faced chador, hijab, or khimar. An important point to note at this juncture, however, is that focusing upon the those 'veils' that cover all or most of the face is not necessarily a green light for other Islamic dress codes not matching this description. The weight of the argument presented in part three may extend well beyond the Burqa though this is a little more debatable.
Lastly, a word or two about this article. The initial plan was for a fairly short single presentation article. However, it quickly become obvious that to present a sufficiently sustained and balanced case that it would necessarily be rather lengthier than one would like for online consumption. With this in mind, and to make things more manageable, the discussion is therefore divided into three distinct parts. Part one (the present one) deals essentially with mainstream arguments that might be offered against imposing a ban on the burqa being worn in public. Part two discusses those arguments that might typically be offered in support of a burqa ban and, importantly, why they fail to hit their mark. Part three presents the core elements of what should be the primary argument for banning the burqa in public in the UK (and any progressive, civilised, nation). Each part can be read in isolation and, if time or patience is short, then skipping straight to part three will still give you all the elements of the core argument on offer. However, the background offered by parts one and two are crucial to a better understanding of the context in which this debate rests, and why the argument presented in part three is all the more compelling.
Reasons for not banning the Burqa - and why they must fail
It was originally intended that in this part we would examine very many of the reasons for not banning the burqa because, as might be expected, this is what the left-wing (extreme, moderate, and snowflake) are exclusively interested in. As with the arguments for banning the burqa, the reasons presented for not banning it are plentiful and diverse. However, analysing each of these in depth, and in numbers, would add considerably to what is already a rather lengthy discussion. Moreover, and importantly though, it is not essential to the argument for banning the burqa, proposed in part three of this article, that all the arguments against a ban must first be dealt with. That argument, the argument for banning the burqa, stands or falls on its own merits and it will ultimately be for the reader to decide for themselves to what extent they find it persuasive. This is not to say that many arguments against a ban do not stand in direct opposition the argument offered here for a ban, they certainly do, but the weight of those competing views is precisely what is under scrutiny here. And to be crystalline, it is essentially the position of this author that such competing arguments do not carry anything like sufficient force – the case presented here for a ban, unchained or obscured by the imposition of leftist political-correctness, is historically, culturally, socially, and morally concrete. As such it is effectively Teflon-resistant to any objections that issue from claims in support of the right to wear the burqa in public.
With the above in mind then, and for the sake of brevity we are going to look at only one, fairly sweeping, argument against banning the burqa offered by Chris Whiting, a Huffington Post contributor . Now, to be frank, I don’t know Mr Whiting, had never heard of him before, and very probably neither have you. This is mostly a good thing, however, because it means I have no axe to grind with him, no reason for bias (beyond what he writes/argues), indeed no opinion of him at all. Whiting’s article, then, has been chosen mainly because it has been published by a well-known online ‘news’ journal and because it also represents the breathtakingly naïve, seismically flawed, and disgracefully misinformed thinking endemic within the deluded left-wing frothing or apologist media.
Whiting’s article entitled ‘Why we shouldn’t ban the burqa’ is mercifully brief. It is also exceptionally feeble (a quick web search will locate it). As you might already expect much space is devoted to the usual left-wing mantra’s promoting ‘rights’ and the freedom to wear what you like, when you like, etc. Crucial here, though, is that much of the rhetoric is supposedly backed up with some of the most misleading facts and statistics about Islamic terrorism ever to be seen on the web, anywhere. Though not essential to our present discussion, and we don’t have space to go into detail, here is an example of Whiting’s leftie ‘facts';
“…best estimates state that 106,000 of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide are members of designated Islamic extremist groups, meaning just 0.006% of the Muslim population are extremists”.
The implication here is that, in fact, there are very few Muslims (0.006%) that we need to concern ourselves with, very few that actually pose any threat at all – this is what Whiting is really trying to sell us. The figures and implications are, however, utter nonsense. If true it implies that of the 3.3 million Muslims estimated to be living in the US only 198 or so are extremists. Similar figures apply to the UK (estimated 3.0 million Muslims) but for France (estimated 6-7 million Muslims) these figures mean their net Islamic extremist count is up – to a ‘hefty’ 400 or more. Given how many are caught or killed in these, and other, countries (e.g. 19 in the 9/11 attack alone) the number must now be even lower, but does this make any sense at all? Dividing the American figure between the 50 US states means roughly about 4 Islamic extremists each. So, not at all bad now, each state just needs to pull out their respective fingers, hunt down and catch their four and ‘job done’ as they say, no more extremists or terrorists!
It will be noted that I take a somewhat sardonic approach to Whiting’s ramblings because, frankly, there is not space to do much else in this discussion. There is of course much more to be said about these (and other) reports regarding Islamic terrorist figures. Whiting’s commentary acts as a stark warning to others by demonstrating just what depths liberal apologists for Islam will stoop to. Frankly, it's fortunate not much does hinge on concocted estimates by people like this because, were it otherwise, Islamic terrorists would now be feeling pretty smug. However, since it is not directly pertinent to arguments for or against banning the burqa we will leave it here.
Pushing on, here is how Whiting summarises his position in defence of the burqa; A blanket ban on an item that has polarising and far-reaching effects on the empowerment of Muslim women is counter-productive and will leave communities disenfranchised, society racked with suspicion, and liberty crippled. We must tackle these issues whilst promoting the liberty of all - if the burka is a means of oppressing Muslim women then let them lead their own liberation, and let the rest of us support them, without dictating the terms.”
Liberal apologists for Islam often present withering attempts like this to be clever. Frankly, they usually fail badly and are often child-like in their approach to a grown-up’s question – this one is no exception. It will, however, be useful to see just why before moving on.
The first sentence in this paragraph suggests that banning the burqa would be tantamount to the ‘end of days’. Quite literally, it will be catastrophic with the most ridiculous claim coming at the end of the first sentence – "..liberty [itself will be] crippled" (forever irredeemable!). Except.... it will not. It will not because in those countries that have already banned the burqa (or, more generally, facial coverings) it is quite obvious such a catastrophe has not occurred, and there is no evidence to suggest it will in the near or distant future. This is just plain old loony liberal propaganda, trotted out by a desperate leftist reactionary online press in the vain hope of scaremongering the pitiful (i.e. mainly other dyed-in-the-wool liberal snowflakes that will suck it up). As for the "far-reaching effects on the empowerment of Muslim women" I ask you, do the Muslim women in the picture (left) strike you as 'empowered' in any way whatsoever? And if so, how?
The second sentence is bordering on pathetic, it might even be beyond it. Putting aside perpetuation of the ‘save liberty’ mantra that becomes comedy in what is to come, it flirts heavily with the suggestion that if the burqa is in fact a means of oppressing women we should leave them to it, let them free themselves, if they can! And if they can’t? Well, tough, you’re on your own, we’ll support you in a bid for freedom but we won’t help start it for you. The problem being that if they can’t start it because, and here’s the crux, they are too oppressed or otherwise subdued in the first place, then effectively these women are just left hanging out to dry.
The point is they may very well not be in any position whatsoever to ‘dictate the terms’, despite what some might think. What a brilliant plan this is then – we’ll help you liberate yourselves only if you can liberate yourselves. And if you can’t liberate yourselves then we won’t help you. Breathtaking left-wing logic, don’t we just love it? Be warned, this may well be the kind of ally found in a liberal apologist – now ask yourself, do you really want them on your side? Imagine, if you will, that slavery abolitionists and campaigners took this approach - exactly how, one might ask, does an individual with absolutely no rights of ownership to themselves, their body, their labour, or fruits of their toil, even begin to contemplate emancipation?
This is a fundamental misunderstanding by liberal apologists for Islam generally because, quite simply, they believe Islam is a religion just like any other - which simply isn't true. The reasons this isn't true, and why it matters that it isn't true, is not something we can deal with here - at least adequately. It will, however, be examined in detail in articles to come. For now it will suffice to say that, for very many Muslim people and communities, orthodox (if not strict) interpretations of Islamic doctrine dictate the low station that women occupy in the social, cultural, and political pecking order. What the spoiled pampered, closeted, and very fortunate liberal left don't understand is just how endemic, ingrained, and etched is this attitude in the culture and minds of even quite moderate followers of Islam.
Moreover, these same liberal lefties simply don’t listen to what some brave Muslim women are themselves trying to say - if they dare to say anything. On the contrary these liberals believe such liberty and freedoms as they enjoy, are in fact still operating at some or other level within the homes of all Muslim families where the women wear the burqa as a matter of choice. And this, they think, is true even where religious indoctrination and the pressures of dark-age cultural practices are bearing down on these women (via their male masters). And, even if true this is not a good reason for non-intervention and not banning the burqa, although it is also not a good reason to ban it, though it is closer to that reason. This, then, brings us quite neatly to Part Two and those arguments most often put forward in favour of banning the burqa in public - and also why they mostly fail.