Yes. The burqa is a vestimentary prison for women.
Chamber of Representatives
The wearing of a head-scarf is, in its origin, not an Islamic but a Byzantine tradition. The earliest depiction dates from the first century AD in the Syrian town of Palmyra, i.e. 600 years before the birth of Mohammed. The face-veil was introduced as a status symbol, much in the same way Victorian women wore the corset and Chinese women got accustomed to footbinding. These were all signs of material wellbeing since only affluent families could afford women that weren’t fully fit to work.
After the wars of independence in Morocco and Algeria, veiling evolved from a bourgeois practice to a symbol of nationalism and Islamic resistance against the French way of life. By the 1990s, unveiled women walking the streets of Algeria risked physical harassment from fundamentalists. From a status symbol, the veil became a vestimentary prison. The burqa then, the enveloping garment that includes the covering of the body and the head as well as a face-veil, is said to have its origins in the Arabic peninsula long before Islam, but got a new impetus around 1910, when the jealous king Habibullah Khan introduced it in Afghanistan. Today the burqa is the Islamic winding-sheet of freedom.
The revival of the veiled woman on western streets does not only reflect the growing number of Muslims in western societies but also and more importantly the rise of orthodox Islam. According to a 2007 survey, 58 percent of British Muslims advocated veiling women. Strikingly, 74 percent of the age group between 18 and 24 supported veiling, in contrast to merely 28 percent for Muslims older than 55. A majority of young Muslim men thus demand that their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters find shelter under a piece of cloth, away from the eyes of a sinful society. Wherever religious fanaticism reigns, women get oppressed.
From a healthy religious point of view, wearing a burqa can only be women’s disgrace. A God willing to veil half of his creation is simply not worthy of his creation. The Islamic dress code has long transcended its original sense of devotion, respect and honor. An unveiled woman is said to provoke men. In a reaction to this provocation men may harass that woman without falling into sin. A man has thus the right not to be provoked and is permitted to hide his wife in a textile jail.
So, wearing a burqa has, per se, nothing to do with the core of the Islamic religion. It rather is a challenging religious statement and a symbol of the oppression of women, a provocative attempt to measure the tolerance threshold between different cultures within our society. Its ardent defenders do not consider religion a private affair but instead aim at conquering all domains of public life. Religion as a raison d’Etat.
From a legal point of view wearing the burqa can easily be forbidden. In Belgium providing an ID through an ID-card is mandatory, as is exposing a full face. But forbidding the burqa is not for recognition purposes alone. Along with the multicultural character, a multireligiousness has crept into the fabric of our western societies. But only a religiously neutral state can master the challenges of such a plurality. All state officials should therefore be deprived of religious symbols when carrying out their mandate.
Secularization kicked off in our part of the world at the end of the 18th century and is irreversible. Theocracy and democracy are diametrically opposite. As the rights of women prevail over the archaic values of a desert religion, we have a duty to liberate every woman from a vestimentary prison.
On the 29th of April, the Belgium Chamber of Representatives unanimously passed a bill banning any clothing that would obscure the identity of the wearer in public places. The proposal went to the Senate but new elections were issued before a vote could be held. French lawmakers were the first to officially ban the burqa last September. The French law will be effective in spring 2011.
In Belgium all will depend on the formation of a new government and the willingness of that majority to proceed with the legislation. The fastest way to do so is to pick things up where we left them and vote to make the proposal concrete. Only in this way can Belgian lawmakers send a loud and clear message.
is a Turkish journalist. His writings are available at thewhitepath.com.
No. It is yet another double standard Muslims face in the West.
I am against the ban on the burqa, and see it as a tragic mistake by the Belgian and French governments — and who knows what next.
Before explaining why, though, let me note this: I am really not a fan of the burqa, which covers everything but the eyes of a woman. I wish no women ever wore that. As a Muslim, I also think it is not a requirement of Islam, but a medieval tradition that is quite burdensome on women. In fact, I am even willing to discuss whether the headscarf – which covers just the hair, not the face – is a requirement of Islam as well.
But all of these are my own opinions, and I don’t think I have the right to impose them on others. Most French politicians, and the voters they represent, however, seem to believe they have that very right. Hence they imposed the ban, and asked from every women in France, in the words of minister Nadine Morano, “to respect the law and uncover their faces.”
What many in France probably doesn’t realize is that this sounds very much like that of the Taliban, who ask all women in their domain to respect the law and cover their faces.The “law,” in both cases, is an illiberal one that dictates to individuals how they should walk around.
Arguments in favor of the ban look hardly convincing to me. One was a piece by Jean-François Copé, the majority leader in the French Assembly, which came out in the New York Times when this ban was first discussed. (“Tearing Away the Veil,” May 4) Mr. Copé was saying that the ban was necessary for “our republican principles” and public safety, and was supporting the latter by referring to “an armed robbery recently committed in the Paris suburbs by criminals dressed in burqas.”
Well, one really wonders if there was less crime in the Paris suburbs when the burqa was not around, or whether criminals will really have a hard time disguising themselves after the ban. Or will the all-foreseeing, all-encompassing French Assembly pass other laws that ban large sunglasses, trimmed hats and wigs?
What is curiously lacking in most arguments in favor of the ban is a genuine consideration of the effects of the ban on the women who wear the burqa. Will they really take it off and join the open-faced majority? Or will they instead avoid going out and stay in their homes? The latter was the effect of the ban on the veil that an illiberal regime – that of Reza Shah of Iran – implemented in the ’20s. It was also the beginning of a snowball-effect reaction that culminated in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Most Westerners probably do not realize how symbolic these issues are for the broader Muslim world. When Switzerland banned minarets by public vote in November 2009, for example, it did not only legislate a local matter of urban architecture. It rather created an iconic travesty for many Muslims all across the globe. “Look at the West that you keep praising,” a Turkish reader of mine wrote to me angrily, “their freedom is only for atheists and gays, not Muslims.” I tried to explain that Switzerland’s illiberal step did not represent the whole West, but I am sure there were millions who thought like him and that I could not reach.
Granted, the ban on burqa is less offensive than the one on minarets — every Muslim values the minaret, while burqa is practiced only by a minority. Yet still, this will be added to the list of the discriminations and double standards Muslims face in the West, whether they be real or perceived.
And, as a non-Westerner, let me assure you that this attitude is not going to “win hearts and minds” in this part of the world. It will only deepen rifts and consolidate prejudices.
Finally, we should think seriously what such democratically accepted bans on society means for the meaning of democracy. As Fareed Zakaria put it well in his The Future of Freedom, democracy has a danger to turn into “illiberal democracy,” if liberty is not legally guaranteed and falls prey to the dictates of the majority. That will be the case if this dangerous trend in Europe to ban the symbols and expressions of Islam via democratic mechanisms goes on — putting an end to nothing less than liberal democracy.