Depending on where you live, sometimes if you walk down the street, you will see people of all different shades, backgrounds and even religions. Sometimes you'll walk by people in turbans, people in hijabs and sometimes even people wearing kippahs. If you pay close attention to those around you, you might find that you have acquaintances within a diverse group of people.
I can personally attest to living in a culturally diverse area where those around me come from all walks of life, both rich and poor, colored and white, Hindu and Muslim, all of which has made me a different person altogether. It has made me value the freedom of choice, religion and the ability to appreciate and understand other cultures and religions outside of my own. However, in today's world, we find many of these choices and expressions of beliefs are being oppressed by those in power.
Unfortunately, today many European countries such as France have banned the burqa, a face veil for Muslim women, and many more are following this practice.
The burqa, however, proves that modesty is a choice. Banning it isolates Muslim communities, and contrary to popular belief for many, the ban can be a form of "liberation" and not "oppression."
Those in support of the burqa ban present many justifications, which can easily be refuted. First, supporters of the ban claim that the burqa proves as a hindrance for security and identification. Upon closer examination of this claim, this argument begins to show its many flaws. While it may, in fact, be a security threat in some areas where face identification is required, accommodations can be made. An easier solution would be to allow authorized female security personnel to verify who the person is.
Additionally, with the rise of facial prosthetics and special effects makeup, even a person whose face is visible can be questioned about their true identity. At least those who wear the niqab, or the face veil, are letting the public know that they are keeping their facial identities to themselves. While supporters of the ban acknowledge possible security issues, they choose to ignore reliable and tolerant ways to address the situation.
Another argument in favor of the ban is that the burqa can divide a secular country like France. This flawed argument brings in a much larger issue into question: to what extent should secularism be enforced? Because as a truly secular nation, France would have to ban any religious affiliated holiday such as Christmas or any display of religious beliefs like the cross or kippah, especially if secularism was to justify the burqa ban.
Unfortunately, in the hopes of creating a utopian "areligious" country, the government would have to take over an autocratic persona to enforce secularist ideas. In hopes of pushing towards a more secular nation without religious boundaries and differences, countries like France are proving to be counterproductive to their core values of creating a socially neutral environment. In this instance, secularism is working against individual rights and freedom instead of supporting it.
Modesty is a choice that should be left to an individual regardless of gender or religion. What many forget to acknowledge is that the choice to dress a certain way is not a matter of political debate but rather a personal one. When one extreme, such as being able to flash one's nipples or wear minimal clothing can be accepted and in some places even become a norm, interesting duplicity arises. In such cases, if the freedom of an individual to dress the way he or she chooses, whether it be modest or not, is not outright prohibited or banned, then why should it be any different for Muslim women?
Similar to Islam, different religions have various standards for modest dress codes which can be uniquely different from the standard western culture, especially in societies like France. For example, "Orthodox Jewish women are encouraged to cover their hair and wear skirts below their knees… [while Sikh men choose to wear] spiritual clothing...includ[ing] a turban, a modest attire".
The right and freedom to choose what to wear is dictated not by what the government deems appropriate, rather it is by what aligns with their personal religious beliefs. The choice to dress modesty should not limit when it comes to personal and religious beliefs and should, therefore, be left up to each individual.
Another point to consider is that the burqa ban further isolates the Muslim community, contributing to the rise of Islamophobia. Researchers say that "events which stimulate public discourse on... Islam can correspond with a demonstrable 'spike' in anti-Muslim hate crimes and incidents". For example, a few years ago when the niqab ban was open for political debate in Canada, an instance occurred in which, "two teenagers on their bikes came up behind a pregnant Montreal woman and tried to rip off her hijab, causing her to fall".
An important lesson to be learned from this is that when personal freedom is being debated on a political platform, younger audiences can oftentimes misinterpret information and feel emboldened in their assumptions. Unfortunately, instead of working towards a solution, a contrary measure is taken, and the younger generation is pushed towards a less tolerant direction. When a powerful government chooses to single out the Muslim minority, within which is a niqabi minority, it becomes easier for them to become the center of considerable violent rhetoric and attacks.
Contrary to popular belief, wearing the burqa can be seen as a form of liberation and empowerment. Because the treatment of women varies from culture to culture, when Islam is introduced to a certain culture, oftentimes it can be enforced alongside an oppressive culture, such as in Iran. Many presume that this treatment of women is, in fact, a religious standard, which further translates into a political debate and social intolerance. However, by choosing to wear the niqab, many Muslim women can be seen as going against the more dominant narrative fancied by men.
One objective of the face veil or general modesty observed by Muslim women is so that they can dictate the way they are treated in society, not as a sexually attractive object, but rather as a person judged for their inner character. In a recent study in which the facial attractiveness of a covered woman was studied," the effect of the hijab [which refers to the Islamic principle of modesty] on occluding the external features of women's faces"... may be a profound and powerful perceptual influence on determining facial attractiveness.".
In a way, the veiling of a Muslim woman for many may, in fact, be a bold, feministic and liberating stance in which societal demands and standards of beauty can be broken and instead be controlled by an individual. It can also give way to a message opposed to women's subjugation and prove that Muslim women can write their own narratives and gain a more powerful influence in the way they are treated.
The ban on the burqa has been haunting many human-rights activists and people all over the world. This ban proves unnecessary as the choice to dress modestly should not be discriminated or limited to a certain religion because it singles out the Muslim minority. Furthermore, the burqa can be seen as a form of liberation from a male-dominated narrative. It is important to realize that by supporting this ban, not only are people going against basic humanitarian principles but also hindering the ability to progress on bigger issues by focusing on irrelevant details like the choice to dress a certain way.
Because in the end, forcing someone to dress "normally" is as equally oppressive as forcing them to cover up. Our ability to see through biases and misunderstandings is at risk. However, by promoting understanding and by trying to look at the other side of things, society as a whole is much closer to bigger solutions.