There are a lot of different points being made as to why we should ban the Burqa. Here is why none of these arguments look appealing to me.
Listen to the podcast
#1 The integration argument
Pretence: ‘If they come here they should conform to our social norms, just as we would have to conform to theirs while moving to them.’
Now I have several issues with that statement. It first of all implies that the people who put on a Burqa, or support people doing it, all originate from outside the same country. That’s not true, there are people who have the Muslim faith today who were born and who stayed in the same country just as there are people who converted to that religion. Muslims immigrating to European countries surely do not all come from the same country and most definitely did not live by the same social or judicial norms.
But okay, one may simplify a bit, no mean spirit there. What I do find more interesting to know is: what exactly are our social norms and which ones do you think should I be bound to follow? As an example, using knife and fork while eating is a considerable social norm, yet nobody legally forces you to do it nor does anyone really want to fight people who prefer to use their fingers. In the same way there is a certain social norm for clothing, yet time and time again youth movements did not conform to these norms, and they were not banned. The social norm is that you can be different, whether you’re a local or not, but I think people mean the implication that force has been used or that the face cannot be seen when they talk about social norms. The first idea will have a point on its own later in this article.
I don’t think a social norm should automatically be legally binding, especially not when it’s just the arbitrary excuse when confronted with fear. There should be no need for anyone to ‘integrate’ into a system, if it doesn’t know what it wants exactly, and especially not into a hypocritical one that calls itself a free society. What you wear is ultimately up to yourself. And it is not the struggle between conservative values versus multiculturalism. I think multiculturalism can be enriching and inspiring, which does not mean that I want to enforce or fight it. I want a society where people can make their own choices.
#2 The respect argument
Pretence: ‘If I can’t see their face when I talk to them, they are disrespectful to me.’
Yes, I think so too. The same goes for someone who disrespects me in any other way during a conversation. You luckily have the option to choose your entourage: if you dislike someone’s behaviour towards you, you’re not forced to continue talking to that person. That’s how relationships between people work, you either find a way to get along, or you don’t. To try and legislate behaviour so that you don’t have to put up with this struggle seems to me as a way to escape being an adult.
#3 The security argument
Pretence: ‘If you cannot see their face they could be a threat to my security.’
So can everyone else… at any given time. Covering a face is not a new concept in the sphere of committing crimes. We cannot take everyone who wears a Burqa for a criminal, nor as a potential criminal, simply because we know that it is not true. In the same way, not everyone who has a knife is someone who is a potential knifer. Besides, since when did we get so suspicious about people in Burqas, when other forms of masks are already around for a long time? Just take surgical masks or biker helmets. There is an enormous amount of perfectly legal accessories (like sunglasses) who can be used to partially or entirely mask your identity.
Young Liberals in Austria for the ‘freedom to cover one’s face’ (Source)
But yes, you could ultimately prevent certain (very rare) crimes or at least make it harder to commit them when you ban the Burqa. If you do that you must confront yourself with some discomforting questions, which I’m going to ask you. At what price do you value freedom as a trade-in for security? Do you consider the concept of general suspicion towards citizens as a valuable way to fight crime, and if yes, what other restrictive measures would you logically also have to take? Do you oppose massive surveillance in public areas, and if yes, what are your arguments? Do you think surveillance of private homes is an option as it would prevent a great number of crimes, and if not, what are your arguments?
As for the question whether we should tolerate the Burqa in a jewellery store or a bank or an airplane, we need to turn to property rights. Private businesses have owners and they should be the ones to determine how they evaluate their security risks and ultimately who can get in and who cannot.
#4 The coercion argument
Pretence: ‘All these women are forced to wear the Burqa.’
Again we cannot use this as an argument to legislate anything, simply because we don’t know. There are different measures of force that one could bring up in such a discussion. First there is the abusive husband, backed by discriminatory ancient scripture, who forces his wife to wear a Burqa or else she’s going to be beaten or forbidden to leave the house. That’s obviously a crime, it rightly should be. Then there is the controlling husband, who doesn’t use force or threats, but the fact that the woman seems obligated to put on a Burqa is the same. Then there is an even more indefinable gap between the women who force themselves following social pressure or a religious background and the ones who absolutely like every aspect of putting on a Burqa. As hard as we would find it to quantify these categories, we should also find it to pretend that a ban would help to solve this conflict.
I’d prefer we banned the action rather than the result.
I personally think that the Burqa is a perfect example of religious obscurantism and authoritarianism. I think it looks silly, ugly and I’d feel way more comfortable talking to someone in a ridiculous clown costume than someone in an ancient sheet who then looks like someone who just escaped a dusty museum. The fact that most think they correctly follow the word of their sky god by putting it on makes it even worse.
But as ridiculous as I find their attire or their motives, I see no right of mine to ban it for them. It’s their body so it should also be their choice of clothing. If we finally adopted this attitude about life in a free society there would also be less and less women putting up with husbands who force them to do something. Because if you tell the state ‘None of your business’, imagine how easy it can be in your private life.
 … or Niqab or whatever name could or should also be used. Indulge me for not knowing the differences and for not caring that much either.
This article is also available in Luxembourgish here.
Thanks for liking and sharing!