This ongoing debate on whether the burqa ought to be banned or not has revolved around this idea that they’re inherently violent and tyrannical. This dialogue consists of two overarching opinions, those that believe the burqa should be banned and those that believe it shouldn’t be. But what’s the morally right decision in the legal fate of the burqa?
Why do women wear veils? Historically speaking, PBS in an article explains that head coverings vary by culture and that they have a great deal to do with wealth and class rather than religion. Wealthier women tended to be more clothed and educated while poorer women tended to have more freedom of movement, be less clothed, and have fewer educational opportunities. In regards to the Western myth that the veil is a symbol of female Muslim subordinance, the Quran explicitly states that men and women are to both dress modestly.
And the violence that comes out of the Middle East isn’t derived from Islam itself but rather from local practices, and the same ideology can be applied to the high rates of abuse in the United States having little to no correlation to Christianity which is the predominant religion. Ironically enough, Islam gives women many rights which Western women didn’t even have until the 19th century. Muslim women have always retained rights to their assets, but women in England didn’t have this right until 1882.
One stance in the debate supports the banning of the burqa for the reasoning that it is oppressive toward women in countries where the burqa is worn have higher rates of abuse. Afghanistan is one of the top countries for burqa abuse and FrontPage Magazine reported that 87% of women in this country report domestic violence and that Saudi Arabia also faces high rates of abuse.
It’s true that in nations like Saudi Arabia women are legally forced into a dress code. However, the burqa is more of a cultural norm rather than used for the purpose of abusing women. The reality is that if a man is to attack a woman he’ll do it with or without the burqa, because if he intends to harm her then that’s all the motivation needed.
This side of the ongoing discussion also claims that the burqa in nature justifies sexual assault on those who don’t wear it, but this can be boiled down simply to rape culture. In societies in every nation, there is victim blaming and that is wrongdoing on the societal culture neither by the women nor the garment.
Also, many European nations support banning the burqa on the grounds that the veil poses a national threat to security. In fact, many nations have banned the use of the veil. France was the first to lay out such laws banning the burqa and niqab in 2011 with the consequences of a $43,000 fine or jail time.
Italy has banned covering one’s face since 1975 and even fined a Muslim woman in Novara for wearing a full Islamic veil. In Russia, things appear to be even more appalling after the Hijab ban in 2013. Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic has been reported by the BBC this January, to voice “support for men who fired paintballs at women deemed to be violating the strict dress code.”
Other countries that have pursued banning the veil are the Netherlands, China, Canada, and Germany.
The claim that the veil itself poses a threat to national security falls short. Many supporters of this side of the debate on the burqa assert that veils are used as a guise to camouflage for criminal activity, but this terminology is offensive in nature, as it suggests veils aren’t culturally or religiously significant and are used only to conduct unlawful activity.
To associate every veil wearer with criminals is ludicrous. It’s the same as suggesting that if a few Jewish citizens wearing kippa’s were found to commit similar crimes, then all Jewish people must be criminals if they wear this religiously symbolic clothing item.
Take away the religious and cultural associations the burqa has and just consider how could a piece of fabric possibly be the cause of a security threat? Could a woman hide a bomb under her burqa? Possibly. Is that likely? No. This argument doesn’t make sense because it’s not the burqa that inspires and commits acts of terrorism rather a person’s mind.
Ultimately it appears that nations are being contradictory when they claim that the burqa must be banned on the terms of lack of assimilation and threat security. Countries preach that they are melting pots and are accepting of all, yet they outright say that they won’t include Muslim women that wear head coverings. It’s contradictory to claim that one wants an open society and to destroy just that by isolating individuals based on their culture and religion.
It’s not a matter of assimilation rather the preservation of Islamophobia. Many countries have realized that banning the burqa is a deliberate infringement on freedom of expression and religion and have lifted their bans, namely France and Turkey.
It’s also naïve to assume that women are inherently oppressed in the Middle East based on the way they dress. It’s a misconception Westerners seem to hold that says that because women in the Middle East wear veils they must be oppressed and that to fix that issue it’s vital to ban the use of them, but by doing such the oppression of this demographic is actually perpetuated, as well as Islamophobia because it suggests that Muslim veils are evil in nature.
UNILAD decided to ask Muslim women who wear the burqa and niqab their opinions and reported that many felt, "It is more representative of female comradery," or the burqa made them feel "empowered as a woman." Those that oppose the burqa tend to primarily be Westerners that think they know what’s best for Muslim women rather than allowing for the principle of self-determination that these Western nations believe in.
Banning the burqa innately penalizes women for their choice in clothing themselves. Criminalizing the burqa won’t fix the barrier in gender inequality in the Middle East and banning the burqa is yet another attack on the faith and culture of minorities for not conforming to Western ideals, despite not actually inflicting harm upon others.
While this type veil may be forced on some denominations of women in the Middle East, it in no way is indicative of the situation all women face in the Middle East and in no way suggests that all women who wear the veil are oppressed.
At the end of the day one must ask themselves, is it morally acceptable to subject an entire demographic for the wrongdoings of others? Banning the burqa only perpetuates the idea of Islamophobia suggesting that anything culturally or religiously significant in Islamic culture is malevolent in nature. It wouldn’t help with the oppression of Islamic women, but instead would be oppressing them further by taking away their right to freedom of expression and religion.
It’s more important to break the stereotypes and stigmatization of the veil rather than trivialize the meaning it has to Muslim women. Often Western culture tries to trivialize the meaning of the veil and it only perpetuates the stigmas of Muslims being terrorists and women being oppressed. It’s not ISIS, ISIL, Hamas, or even the Taliban hiding under the burqa’s of Islamic women, for it’s the Western condescending nature of judgment and Islamophobia that resides there.
One must come to terms with the fact that hate is not derived from religion, for it comes from a sense of fear of not understanding. It’s not just nor is it fair for Westerners to question the cultural and religious validity of a Muslim woman’s head coverings, and it isn’t right for Muslim women to decide that for the entire demographic. If a country considers itself to be a free nation then there is absolutely no ethical justification that could possibly support the banning of the burqa or any type of veil.
When trying to spread tolerance and freedom, it’s vital to allow every woman the right to decide what she deems fit when veiling herself or not. The idea that Muslim women need to be liberated from their veils unintentionally suggests Western supremacy, but most importantly taking away the validity and freedom that veil gives them. However, when Pakistani feminist Alishba Zarmeen says “What I feel about the ‘hijab-is-my-identity’ apologists is the same thing I feel about Confederate-flag supporters.
Yes, free speech supports your right to sport one — but do not forget the history and traditional use of that symbol.” Before celebrating the choices of free Western women who don these garments, remember to think of the countless more women in Muslim-majority countries who never have the option of removing them,” she puts into perspective how this topic has so many layers that need to be addressed. The burqa has a history and that needs to be acknowledged.
Ultimately the debate on burqas is truly just a sidetracking smokescreen. The real debate is about how Islamic core values, with Jihad and Sharia law, conflict with those of free societies, and their self-determination and free-selves. At the end of the day, this debate isn’t just about the burqa, it’s about the fundaments of Arab and Western society, and until that is widely acknowledged, there can be neither justice for Muslim women nor real progress towards creating a better world where freedom is celebrated.