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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Steve Zara on banning the burka

This is a nice post on a subject that creates passions on all sides of the argument. Go and have a look, and maybe give Steve your comments. I'm basically in agreement with his points, and I've never favoured banning the burka, much as I dislike it for a whole range of reasons. Also, there's a difference between not banning it and giving it special accommodation in our society: there may well be reasons to be tougher on regulating where it can be worn. For example, nobody should be allowed to give evidence in court in garments that hide their faces or conceal their body language. Nor should anyone expect to get a job interview in such clothing. In these and many other cases, other people absolutely have to be able to judge demeanour.

Anyway, I've posted on this before. It's Steve's turn to provide a forum for the issue.

23 comments:

NewEnglandBob said...

I disagree with Steve. He missed the only important reason - security.

I do not want to be at an airport with people dressed that way where they can hide firearms and explosives by the kilo. I do not care whether they cover their faces or not but the tent garment is a security risk.

Eamon Knight said...

Did you see Hitchens' Slate article? Link: http://www.slate.com/id/2253493/

I think this bit is remarkably disingenuous:
To the contrary, they are attempting to lift a ban: a ban on the right of women to choose their own dress, a ban on the right of women to disagree with male and clerical authority, and a ban on the right of all citizens to look one another in the face.

Deepak Shetty said...

I believe this is similar to what parents can teach their children. Obviously we don't want to legislate this and just as obviously we can recognize that parents can do real damage to their children with their teachings.
Similarly if adult women want to wear the burkha (subject to security restrictions) , sure, but how do you prevent them from being brainwashed or emotionally blackmailed?
And Ive seen where the husband can even simply state stuff like how much happiness he would get by seeing his wife follow Islamic traditions, causing the educated jean/t-shirt wearing woman's overnight transform to the burkha clad wraith (I've seen this) There is no way you could legislate this.

We cant also rely that time wand progress will fix this , because it does nothing to the people who suffer today.

Or shorter rant : Its Frustrating when there seems to be no right way forward.

Rohit said...

Look, essentially we all agree on one thing, namely that the practice of Burqa is an abominable custom and needs to be eradicated from society as the first step towards emancipation of women in Islam. The only thing we disagree on is how we intend to go about achieving the goal. Now granted, the whole concept of curbing a freedom to enforce a freedom seems hypocritical at the very least, but it requires more thought than is being given here.

I'm in no way saying that this is the right thing to do, merely that once needs to understand the situation before forming a response rather than bristling at an obvious negation of a fundamental right. There needs to be discussions and exchange of ideas to decide how modernization of rigid Islamic societies can take place.

My first question is this- What is the alternative? Is it possible to change a religious custom by social means, by scorning or deriding or even gently tut tutting? I hardly think so. Islamic communities are notoriously insular and self sustained and one must keep in mind that the fact they have managed to impose their draconian laws in developed countries is testament to their obstinacy. I haven't come across a single cogent alternative argument in this regard.

My second question is- Are we falling for the 'religion is exempt to criticism' argument without being aware of it, especially for children? Would you allow a man to dress up his children in a carpet for any other reason than religion? I think a ban on the burqah for all minors is a justifiable law at the very least, because it is child abuse plain and simple. That would be my method of choice rather than a blanket (pun unintended) ban on the burqah on the whole.

Anyway, I think it is an interesting social experiment that needs to be carried out because we need to find a way to beat this stupidity. I'm not sure it is the right way to go about it, but only results will show whether this is a workable solution. A rejection of this concept without thought is to underestimate the magnitude of the problem.

irenedelse said...

@ NEB: Russell *already* answered your concerns about security. It's perfectly possible not to ban burqas outright but to enforce the existing security laws without granting exceptions to women in long flowing garments. For instance, in places like airports, we already use metal detectors for security screening, and it works even if the woman is in a burqa. No need to go to the extreme of banning large, long or flowing robes. Or the fashionistas may have a word to say to you ;-)

Deepak Shetty said...

@irenedelse
Your quibbling with banning the Burkha outright in say an airport v/s not allowing to it be worn completely in certain situations e.g. removing a jacket (and hence a burkha as well) to go through security or showing your face to verify your photo id, with the added inconvenience to other passengers. You would have similar objections for the latter though you may feel your principles have been upheld.

NewEnglandBob said...

IreneDelse:

The metal detectors in airports are not enough. That is too far inwards before detecting. Same goes for other public venues and buildings.

As far as the fashionistas - well they can blow it out their ears, I will not give them a listen.

Rory_ said...

I think Rohit has a point. I don't find the libertarian argument for the burka very convincing, but I'm not necessarily for the ban either, because I'm not convinced it will be effective and may in fact be counter-productive.

Having said that, the fact that other masks are banned in places like banks simplifies the issue in my eyes. I think consistency in the law is important, we can't go around making exceptions for religion. So I'd say that anyone anti-ban (whether because of the right to wear what you want, or whether you just don't think it will help, etc) should be arguing for all masks to be allowed in these places, not just the burqa.

Eamon Knight said...

So I'd say that anyone anti-ban (whether because of the right to wear what you want, or whether you just don't think it will help, etc) should be arguing for all masks to be allowed in these places, not just the burqa.

...or, like me (and these folks (PDF)), that all masks should be banned in places where there is a compelling interest (eg. security) in identification -- only that a universal public ban is all kinds of wrong. There are two ways of being consistent (ie. no special religious accomodation) about this.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Though a passionate situation it is also a difficult one to address. There was a time when Christians also adhered to such conventions but over centuries and several reformations it became more socially aware and also more aware of what problems such clothing could cause...

Even in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan this form of clothing causes issues with their own internal security, so much so the rise of butkha clad women suicide bombers is a real concern.

Because of the nature of crime and the evolved western culture of disclosure the garment goes against legal issues rather than personal or even religious concerns.

How to address this is not so much a banning of the burkha but a reinforcing of the notion of identity concealment in key social interactions be removed. This then covers party masks and costumes, which cannot be worn into banks or even super markets, let alone major public arenas.

There are religious rights most certainly, but, no religious right supercedes the rules and laws of the society in which the religion operates. This is made quite clear in Christian teaching.

The burkha is a symbol rather than a religious tenant - it has always been the symbol of oppression and has been used as such for a few centuries - a throw back to sheiks fully covering their wives in public. The woman under the burkha is owned and no amount of religious tom foolery will ever fully cover this meaning.

It is not so much the burkha is the real issue, it is what it means that is the deeper concern for the rights and freedoms of women. Australian law is quite specific on the treatment of women in our society and no religion has the right to subjugate our laws.

Steve Zara said...

I have up a new blog entry that starts to discuss how to deal with the burqa without legal action:
http://blogs.parkplatz.net/steve/2010/05/14/1273853820000.html

J. J. Ramsey said...

NewEnglandBob: "I do not want to be at an airport with people dressed that way where they can hide firearms and explosives by the kilo. I do not care whether they cover their faces or not but the tent garment is a security risk."

By that logic, muumuus should be banned at airports, too.

NewEnglandBob said...

"By that logic, muumuus should be banned at airports, too."

Yes, absolutely. And if it were up to me, for security reasons, I would require everyone wearing long or big winter coats to remove them upon entering an airport building.

J. J. Ramsey said...

NewEnglandBob: "And if it were up to me, for security reasons, I would require everyone wearing long or big winter coats to remove them upon entering an airport building."

Okay, then, why not ban luggage as well, since bombs can be carried in it, too? Of course, luggage is X-rayed, but one can work around that with the same cleverness that one can employ to work around the metal detectors that you obviously don't expect to be effective, since you don't expect them to detect a bomb under someone's clothing. Have you even thought through the likelihood of someone using loose clothing to hide a bomb when one can use thin sheets of plastic explosive that would be easy to hide under most clothing? I'm sorry, but you aren't proposing a thought-out security measure, but rather thinking in terms of movie-plot threats.

NewEnglandBob said...

"I'm sorry, but you aren't proposing a thought-out security measure, but rather thinking in terms of movie-plot threats."

Then what is your proposal for security. The topic here is whether to ban the burka. I say no, except for security reasons and I gave other examples of what I feel should be disallowed, and none of them are discriminatory due to religion, race, gender, etc. If you don't like my ideas, then fine, ignore them. By the way, I don't watch thriller movies at all.

J. J. Ramsey said...

NewEnglandBob: "Then what is your proposal for security"

I'm pretty much going with Schneier. Use metal detectors, X-rays, and human eyeballs to catch the obvious threats. Use actual police work to deal with the non-obvious threats instead of bothering with narrow security measures based on blindly guessing the terrorists' next moves.

Jimbo said...

I too disagree with Steve, here's why:
Living in a free society, I too am loathe to ban anything but if we're being honest, our societies restrict, limit (ban if you like) many things for the public good including some forms of dress. If Steve doesn't want burkas banned in public (they aren't banned in private) then I think he should make a compelling argument for why nudity, the lack of dress, should be banned (restricted, limited). While there are nude beaches and some places allowed, all free societies don't allow it as a general rule. Why? After all, we're born that way. Why should the State demand, in fact require, that we be clothed all the time in public?

I'll put it another way--the burka is more offensive to me than is nudity. So whose offense should the law protect?

I support France's decision to ban the burka because it is an overt oppression of women. Burka wearers (or their mysogynistic patriarchs) must make a compelling case for why encasing just the women in full body armor is not an abrogation of their freedom. Claiming their religion requires it is no defense. SZ's analogy of a fully concealed motorcycle rider is really flimsy--what if all the riders were women and not men and were banned (by the men) from removing their helmuts?

His argument against burka banning seems to spring from a basic right of freedom to choose, even if that right is to choose oppression. I also question how consensual this practice really is. Take the case of some Islamic countries that don't allow women to leave the house--they are essentially imprisoned by the men. What's more important to you: freedom of movement or freedom to choose sequestration? If asked, I'm sure the women would happily report how safe they feel indoors.

Make no mistake--the burka is a female-only portable prison no matter how comfortable the walls feel.

Steve Zara said...

Jimbo-

SZ's analogy of a fully concealed motorcycle rider is really flimsy--what if all the riders were women and not men and were banned (by the men) from removing their helmuts?

That's not what the discussion of a motorcycle rider was about. It was not about oppression, and was not meant to be analogous to the burqa. It was showing how weird this sudden insistence that, in general, we have a right to see people faces is. The matter of face-covering has not been a significant concern before discussion of the burqa. It's a made-up concern, being used to hide what is really an attack on one particular group of garments worn by a tiny minority of women.

Jimbo said...

Steve,

OK, point taken.
Do you care to defend the ban on nudity in public? I'm not trolling, just examining the argument in extremis and am curious to hear how you defend the State's ban on nudity (as a restriction on freedom).

I did read your second post on your blog to the story. I don't think that public duress will persuade anyone to give up the burka. Your site blocks my posts as spam.

Steve Zara said...

Jimbo-

I can't defend a legal ban on public nudity. I see no need for such a ban.

And I apologise for the blog situation - it is something that needs fixing soon.

Kirth Gersen said...

Steve and Jimbo, I think you've hit the crux of it. As long as we accept a ban on public nudity, then philosophically we accept that the State can regulate clothing more or less at whim, without logical (or even coherent) reasons. That being the case, banning burquas requires no logic, nor even coherence.

Personally, I'm against both bans, but as long as I tacitly accept the one, I cannot in good faith oppose the other.

Steve Zara said...

Kirth

Sorry, but I disagree. The state is not entitled to do anything on a whim. No matter how varied and complex are any existing bans on types of clothing, that does not make it any more valid to introduce a ban on the burqa. Each new law has to be justified on its own merits, regardless of previous legislation.

Kirth Gersen said...

Steve -- Philosphically, I agree completely with your viewpoint. From a pragmatic standpoint, though, I'm not sure it holds. I'm a geologist, not a legal scholar, so I might be pretty far off -- but it seems to me that existing legal precedent is overwhelmingly often referred to in deciding court cases here in the U.S. (and I assume in Australia as well).

As I said, personally I oppose both bans... but my opposition in no way prevents them.