Throughout Western Europe, governments are banning burkas and niqabs, Islamic veils that cover the face, in public places. Josie Appleton, leader of the British civil liberties campaign group Manifesto Club, opposes the ban.
Marco Visscher | September 2010 issue
The burka is regarded by many people as a symbol of female social isolation and oppression. What’s wrong with banning it?
“A burka is a symbol or expression, but it’s not the cause of oppression and isolation. Did the corset in Victorian times cause marginalization of women? Or was it merely a reflection of it? While I agree a burka is objectionable, it’s just a piece of cloth.”
But without burkas, these women will be liberated.
“Liberation is always a fine thing. But if politicians were concerned about liberating Muslim women who are being oppressed, they would make sure they get a language course, opportunities to get a job or training and experience outside their homes. Giving them a fine for wearing a burka in public doesn’t exactly liberate them. In fact, it may cause them not to go outside at all.”
How many women wear burkas?
“Nobody really knows. In France, estimates are a few hundred women wear the burka or niqab. In Belgium, it’s anywhere between 10 and 300. The numbers are very small, and they’re dropping fast. As Muslim women come to Europe and integrate, many of them will naturally choose to put aside traditional dress.”
Politicians say burkas are a threat to public security.
“Yes, who knows what women are getting up to under their burkas…”
In Australia, a bank robber dressed up in a burka.
“But robbers dress up all the time—actually, most often as policemen or security guards. Should we ban these uniforms, too? There’s a sinister underside to the idea that we should be visible to security cameras all the time, especially since there is no proof that crime rates have dropped because of them. People have many reasons to wear whatever they like. It should be permissable to wear a burka when you think it’s a cultural custom, a hood if you think that’s fashionable, or a Mickey Mouse costume if you feel like it. A ban on the burka is just really offensive.”
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