In this, the second of a three part series, we examine the reasons more often given for why a burqa ban should be enshrined in law - including perhaps the most popular of these, the threat it might pose for national security. However, it may surprise the reader to discover that these popular attempts at justifying a burqa ban are shown to be both implausible and unconvincing.
Common reasons for banning the Burqa - and why they fail
BEFORE LOOKIN AT what is probably the most compelling reason the burqa absolutely must be banned in the UK (and the US and any other country purporting to be civilised) it is important to examine some of the other arguments offered for legislating against the burqa and understanding why these arguments, like those for not banning the burqa, also fail. Previously we looked at just one representative example of arguments offered for not imposing a ban. On this occasion, however, we will be examining several very specific objections to the burqa beginning with what is perhaps the most intuitive - the threat to national security.
Straight off the bat there appears some obvious advantages to banning full-face (or even partial-face) coverings in pubic spaces – not least of which, and probably the one most often cited, is the purported interests of ‘national security’. Prohibiting facial masking, of any sort, in public would perhaps make things a little more uncomfortable for those that like to hide their identity for unlawful or immoral purposes. It may, for example, make it tougher for certain individuals to move about unrecognised (on CCTV for instance) and this includes terrorists, Islamist or otherwise. Likewise, protesters and demonstrators promoting extremism and corrosive levels of hate are more likely to be recognisable and traceable (which, again, these people often want to avoid).
In addition, being able to identify individuals promoting anti-Western values on the streets, or down-right incitement to violence, also puts them at risk of reprisal from (other) extremist groups pushing their own agenda. Moreover, these people, and their comrades in arms, may potentially become more accessible and tracible by the relevant security agencies in whatever country they operate.
It’s important, however, not to get carried away with this rather intuitive appeal to national security. Whilst it may provide grounds for a blanket ban on facial coverings it is not sufficient reason to single out the burqa and niqab for banning specifically. Introducing a blanket ban for this reason is something like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut (the ‘nut’ in this case being the jihadi extremist). To put this another way, it’s a bit like dumping a whole barrel of apples because one or two in the barrel are bad. Surely, one might say, what we need to do is get rid of just those apples that are bad, not the whole barrel. In other words, banning all face coverings to prevent the wearing of the burqa specifically (because this is what the French law is really designed to do) really is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Taking this approach these Islamic dress codes for women just become examples of facial coverings caught in a broadly cast net that appears designed to counter security issues arising from publicly disguising one’s identity in any fashion. Consequently, this kind of approach to a blanket ban just happens to include the burqa but it does not pick out any feature unique to it.
Some will no doubt applaud this move because it neatly circumvents any specific notion of prejudice against Islam, Islamic culture, or Islamic customs – even though it is the burqa (and niqab, etc) that is really the target of these bans. The thought is, we don’t have to answer tough questions regarding singling out Muslims and the Islamic ‘faith’ because we aren’t, after all, picking on the burqa as the only facial covering that gets banned. There is, however, something intellectually dishonest about this approach and claim. Cut the cake which way you like, the ban in France (keeping to the same example) didn’t come about because of security concerns about facial coverings in public generally - it came about in direct response to the growing instances of the burqa (and niqab), specifically, being worn in public and the French people’s increasing discomfort with this (for them) shifting view of their cultural landscape. More than this though, it misses a vital point: If national security was a good enough reason to introduce a blanket ban now then it would also have been a good enough reason long before the burqa became an issue on the national agenda in France, the UK, and the West generally – the point being this just wasn’t the case because it was never deemed necessary.
To put this another way, long before the burqa, or indeed the rise of Islamist terrorism in the West as we know it today, there were plenty of reasons on security grounds, one might argue, for making the public wearing of facial disguises in general illegal. Shifting now to the UK to make this point more transparent, during the height of the past ‘troubles’ in Ireland for example, the British government could have reasoned for a similar ban on full-face coverings (in particular the balaclava) to be put in place. More recently in the UK, rising figures in crimes like street robbery, could have fuelled further calls for such a blanket ban, especially given there is more CCTV surveillance per square mile in Britain than any other country on the globe. The rationale has always been available it just wasn’t pursued – mainly because it wasn’t thought viable or useful. The relatively recent introduction and prominence of the burqa in Western culture has not increased the security risk to a significant degree. It just isn’t the case - as many believe - that women wearing burqas in European countries do pose a significantly enhanced security risk beyond, that is, making identification of the wearer more difficult than it might otherwise be, as do any other facial coverings.
This isn’t to say there hasn’t been many examples of suicide bombers wearing burqas. On the contrary there most certainly has. Many reported suicide bombings in, for example, Pakistan, Israel, and India have been carried out by women (and even men) dressed in a burqa. But this has not been the case with most terrorist events in the US, Europe, and the UK. A somewhat moot point I know, but the three Charlie Hebdo terrorists were not wearing burqas. The Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi was not wearing a burqa. Lee Rigby’s killers Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo were not wearing burqas. The Westminster Bridge terrorist Khalid Masood was not wearing a burqa. The 19 terrorist hijackers involved in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade centres and Pentagon were not wearing burqas. The Tunisian beach attack gunman Seifeddine Rezqui was not wearing a burqa – the list could go on and on. Moreover, in the UK the police already have in place legislation that gives them powers to remove facial coverings for purposes of identification. On these accounts the justification for banning the burqa specifically is very thin at best.
Further reasons given for banning the burqa
There are, of course, other reasons that might be argued in support of a ban on the burqa. Here’s a list of five gleaned fresh from the internet;
- The burqa covers up abuse
- The burqa justifies sexual assault on women who don’t wear it
- Civic Participation [i.e. that the burqa impedes this]
- Segregation is discrimination [and the burqa promotes this]
- The wearing of the burqa is enforced through violence
(taken from Daniel Greenfield - writer on radical Islam)
You might be thinking that, if true, these are pretty good reasons for banning the burqa. In fact, this just isn’t the case and, as briefly as I can, here’s why.
The first point, argues that the burqa is a means by which abusive Muslim men can hide the (light) beatings they need to give their wife or daughter in order that these women learn better their station and its duties under Islamic law (as permitted in the Quran). Perhaps, but if so then in large part a long coat, dark glasses, and a head scarf will do much the same job for a Western victim of domestic abuse, should we ban these too? Many Western women also endure utterly dreadful domestic physical abuse at the hands of an abusive partner (so let’s not pretend that only Muslim men are guilty of this). The main difference, for what it’s worth, between the Western (e.g. Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Atheist, etc) and Muslim abuser is simply this: Only one of these has their utterly reprehensible behaviour sanctioned by a set of ridiculous religious (Sharia) ‘laws’, dictated by some or other supposed god, and passed down to all that will listen through an ignorant desert goat herder with a penchant for sexually abusing nine year old girls.
Regardless, many Western victims of this kind of abuse will resort to the skilful application of makeup to disguise both their suffering and the visible damage – but banning the wearing of makeup is assuredly not the solution to the problem of domestic abuse either. There are, admittedly, lots of ways to look at this but the idea that the burqa, in itself, somehow encourages Muslim men to be more abusive towards women surely cannot be entertained. To tout such a view is in large part to misunderstand (or even miss completely) the ideology that lurks behind these archaic ideas of how a woman should be treated under Islam by a man. Certain passages in the Quran, and the tenets of Sharia 'Law', clearly and transparently provide encouragement and validation for the abuse of women – and despite the best efforts Islamist apologists this is very hard (to put it mildly) to avoid or interpret otherwise. The Burqa itself, however, does not provide this warrant and even if it is a convenient way of covering up physical abuse this is not a justification for banning it.
The second objection to the burqa suggests that the it sanctions sexual assault on women that don’t wear it. This justification for banning the burqa hinges on the assumption that Muslim men (and women) consider Western women immodest whores (for not covering up) and therefore fair game. The idea behind this is that wearing the burqa is the epitome of modesty so, by default, the epitome of immodesty is not to wear one (and therefore becoming an object of interest for rapists?). The problem is this is not a reason to ban the burqa because it simply doesn’t justify such assault on any grounds whatsoever. If this was true then not wearing a burqa could (almost) equally justify sexually assaulting a Muslim girl wearing the hijab (open face scarf) but this is not the intended target of these attitudes (at least generally, some might still frown upon even the hijab). Typically, the attitude is wedded to a far broader and more generalised condemnation of Western women, and the way they dress (immodestly, apparently).
What actually fuels justification of this utterly disgraceful attitude toward western women isn’t that they’re not wearing a burqa but that they are not, in most cases, Muslim and are immodestly dressed (according to the loose dictates of the Quran). Women under Sharia, according to the tenets of Islam, are already worth half that of a man. The relationship of many Muslim men to their wife or daughters is one more akin to ownership than partnership or parent. This is a topic worthy of lengthier discussion so it won’t be unpacked further here. What is pertinent is that a (non-Muslim) Western woman is therefore, 1) by default already only half that of a man, 2) also, and worse still, Infidel or kafir (non-Muslim), and 3) dressed ‘immodestly’ (insufficient covering) – which for many radical Islamists means they are whores, or worse.
With this disastrously ancient, out-dated, idea of what counts as ‘modesty’ and, again, a doctrine that permits of all manner of atrocities that might be inflicted upon the infidel, it is of little surprise that some Muslim men do indeed think that Western women are ‘fair game’. The point to bear in mind is that, for Islamists, being Muslim and following the word of the prophet Mohammed trumps everything else. Moreover, even in those instances where the woman is Muslim their worth is not gauged as equal by any measure under the tenets of Sharia Law – the consequence being that it is still seen by many as appropriate that a (Muslim) girl be stoned to death for allowing herself to be repeatedly gang raped. Such is the nature of this kind of irrational thinking. The important point to take away from all this, however, is that this entirely appalling attitude toward women, and especially Western women, does not issue from, or hinge upon, the existence of the burqa. Banning the burqa will do little in terms of challenging or changing these attitudes.
The third and fourth claims are both related to the question of segregation. The problem with this issue, at least as presented, is that it points in completely the wrong direction to begin with. The burqa does not result in, encourage, or promote segregation or lack social participation for Muslim women. Rather, it is enforced segregation and the lack of any desire (by many Muslim men) for Muslim women to participate equally in society, community, and sometimes even family, that promotes insistence on the wearing the burqa. On this account the burqa helps maintain the male-dominated status qua in some Muslim communities by providing a physical barrier between Muslim women and the rest of the world. Moreover, it keeps them firmly and literally locked in a controlled environment where they have no station or authority to speak of.
The burqa, and indeed any other symbolic coverings (e.g. the niqab), acts as a physical demarcation of the lines drawn between Muslim women and the rights and authority afforded to men over them according to the fundamentalist dictates of Islamist culture (whilst accepting not all, or even most, Muslims subscribe to this). Women in a strict Muslim community cross this line at their peril – and the rise of honour killings in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are compelling testament to this (despite the efforts of the left-wing controlled establishment to conceal these facts). Again, the point to take away here is this: it is not the enforced wearing of the burqa that consequently results in the subjugation of women within Muslim culture. Rather, it is the other way around - what brings about the imposition of such an identity-concealing dress code is the prior assumption of a woman’s lower status and the need to further cement their diminished rights within that community. This point is, though, of special relevance regarding what does justify a ban and we will therefore return to it shortly.
Lastly, an underlying problem here is that despite popular chants by the Left to the contrary many Muslim communities are already divided, both between themselves and from the Western communities within which they reside, and have been for a very long time. That division is deeply rooted in the ideology implicit within Islam and it remains evident in the attitudes of local Muslim communities. Banning the burqa would not, in most cases, facilitate better integration and social participation of Muslim women. The reason is simple; the deeply-entrenched attitudes of (many) Muslim men, brought about by an essentially flawed religious ideology (Islam), is such that it’s actually more likely to increase segregation. Legally prohibiting the burqa, claimed by some as a culturally protective physical barrier between Muslim women and the lustful glare of the free (infidel) and Muslim male world may lead to even more restrictions being imposed by fundamental Islamists. It might in some cases even increase the suffering of Muslim women who are treated to further reprimand for infringement of the dictates of Sharia regarding their (lack of) ‘modesty’, etc. A case of being damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
The fifth claim in favour of banning the burqa is equally as weak as those above. This is the case because, if it’s true that wearing the burqa is enforced with violence, then it at least adds support to the objection raised above against claims 3 and 4. If the wearing of the burqa is enforced by beating women into submission then banning it does nothing to remedy this appalling subjugation of Muslim women generally. Rather it is more likely to increase their misery on this account through simple frustration of barbaric cultural attitudes and practice. As mentioned above in response to the points 3 and 4, violent enforcement is hardly likely to cease in those more strict communities and families just because wearing the burqa in public is made illegal. At worse some Muslim women trapped in such a situation may in fact find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place; if they ‘choose’ to wear the burqa they contravene (in our case) British law and may find themselves under arrest and facing prosecution. However, if these women comply with the new legislation then they must also defy Sharia ‘law’ and perhaps the demands of their family, Iman, and even community at large.
Either way they might appear condemned, to a beating or prosecution. Given the penalty for legal infringement will likely only be a small fine in the first instance, in all probability such women will doubtless opt for this rather than the beating - at least until the next arrest.
One final difficulty with this approach to justifying banning the burqa generally is that much of it hinges on, and assumes, that Muslim women are unwilling victims of a male dominated Islamic culture at large. However, it will quickly be pointed out that many Muslim women claim to wear the burqa voluntarily, that it is a free choice they make and are happy to make. In such circumstances most of what is argued above in terms of their (Muslim women’s) victimhood must surely be redundant, at least in those instances where the woman actually does make that choice (whilst keeping in mind that just how much ‘choice’ they really do have remains an issue – it is doubtful, to say the least, that many really do make that ‘choice’ of their own free will).
Having examined some of the arguments for banning the burqa it seems evident that justifying a ban on the grounds so far proposed above is simply not as plausible as many think it is. So what does justify banning the wearing of the burqa specifically in the UK and further afield?