The Scientific Indian

The French president has spoken in favor of Legislation against women wearing burka in public recently. I agree with the assessment that burka is a symbol of servitude. When women wear it for cultural and religious reasons, they are, as Sarkozy says, prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity.

But, what if some women like to wear burka for reasons they choose independantly for themselves? Replace Burka with Hoodies or some other striking dress code and you’ll see what I mean. Why should their act be banned in public, just because the majority does not like it? This is a slippery slope. To state the obvious, freedom is never given, it is taken. The useful thing a government can do is to enable and support it’s citizens to take that freedom. Confrontational measures like banning could end up hurting the women in the end, is it not?


  1. #1 Max
    June 23, 2009

    I tend to agree with you. Although the burka is a symbol of servitude, there are probably many women who don’t see it that way. Banning seems like a bad idea.

  2. #2 humorix
    June 23, 2009

    You speak about a man or about a woman?

  3. #3 Jérôme ^
    June 23, 2009

    There is actually a tradition here in France of law forbidding certain things to prevent some intermediate authority from enforcing them; this particularly applies to worker/boss relationships.

    In other words, this is probably the best way there is to prevent some men from forcing their wives to wear the burqa (which is worn only by a minority here, most French muslims are of Maghrebin origin and quite liberal by Muslim standards). Although their answer will probably be not to let the women out of the house at all…

  4. #4 Russell
    June 23, 2009

    There are a variety of US laws that restrict the wearing masks in public. Here is Virginia’s, for example:

    That law seems to me to apply to burkhas that cover the face.

  5. #5 Dunc
    June 23, 2009

    [snark]Women will never be truly free until they’re all wearing tube tops, miniskirts and high heels.[/snark]

  6. #6 _Arthur
    June 23, 2009

    With similar laws, you could forbid Sikhs to wear turbans in public, or nuns to wear the habit, or buddist monks to wear saffron robes, etc…

  7. #7 Captain Obvious
    June 23, 2009

    It’s a difficult one as it depends entirely on the circumstances, as you point out.

    In the end I think I’d go with saying that legislating against the burkhas use is no more or less sane or sensible than legislating for it’s use.

  8. #8 J-Dog
    June 23, 2009

    If burkas are outlawed, only outlaws will have burkas.

    Brought To You by the NBMA (National Burka Manufacturers Association).

  9. #9 Russell
    June 23, 2009

    I don’t think so, _Authur. A mask is something that covers the face. Those laws don’t apply to turbans, habits, hats, shawls or other clothing that leave the face exposed. The distinction is rooted in our biology: we recognize people by their faces, and we read emotions from faces. Not only and not perfectly. There is nonetheless reason that common sense and law treats covering one’s face different from covering one’s pate or covering one’s arms.

    We can argue the merits of these laws. Relevant to the US, we can argue the extent to which the 1st amendment carves out religious exceptions to these laws.

    But when people argue that covering the face isn’t any different from covering other parts of the body, I think they’re ignoring human biology.

  10. #10 Left_Wing_Fox
    June 23, 2009

    But when people argue that covering the face isn’t any different from covering other parts of the body, I think they’re ignoring human biology.

    Perhaps, but that’s a very minor point compared to the issues of fairness that dominate the discussion of this kind of legislation.

    While I also find the whole concept of the burka to be deeply misogynist (I.e. Beautiful women make men rape them), I also think that restricting these forms or religious expression has a lot of unintended consequences in alienating a religious minority from integration and participation in the larger community. Given what I’ve heard of current politics and immigrant sentiment in France, I suspect that Anti-muslim sentiment has just as much to do with banning the burka as any liberal concern over the rights of women.

    Even if you accept the covering of the face is biologically significant, in terms of harm, it is not so much worse that it should be specifically targeted, making the potential unintended consequences of the legislation worse than the problem; i.e. a siege mentality amongst Muslims for being specifically targeted by legislation, and reinforcing prejudices against Muslims in the community at large, thus reinforcing the “Us and Them” walls that prevent wider integration of societies.

  11. #11 Padmanabhan
    June 23, 2009

    //what if some women like to wear burka for reasons they choose independantly

    what if one likes to commit suicide? what if one likes being a slave? what if one wants to be tortured by someone?

  12. #12 selva
    June 23, 2009

    Padmanaban, I wish it was that simple. Whatever side we take, we must still be mindful of the fact that with all our good intentions, we may still go wrong somewhere.

    The above comment by Left_Wing_Fox says it better than what I managed to say.

  13. #13 Art
    June 23, 2009

    IMHO there are both societal, practical reasons for demanding the face should be visible and reasons that serve to limit marginalization of women and short circuit the thinking that it is okay to try to ‘make women safe’, by changing their behavior, to protect men from their insecurities and inability to manage their lust.

    On the practical side it is necessary for citizens to be able to identify others as individuals. How can you commit to a legal agreement or enforce laws if you aren’t able to identify an individual? I’m not sure I want to undertake negotiation of business with someone if I can’t see their face so I can at least make a rough estimate of their veracity and gauge their emotional response by observing their face.

    Of course if the motivation is to deter women from engaging in financial dealings and legally binding transactions, and to have them seen by law enforcement as non-entities, quite literally faceless, then having their faces covered is exactly what you want.

    On the other hand the augment focused on women as individuals is that they are ‘better protected’ under a burka. But the question is exactly who is being protected from who or what. Claiming women are protected from men tells me that men are operating from a position of coddled but venerated weakness. It tells me both that men are unable to control themselves and that this if so common and established as an acceptable situation that it is females as a class who must accommodate this weakness. If a dog showed such consistent lack of control in public the established remedy would be to put them on a leash. Not to stuff the wider part of the population into coverings that make it easier for the dog to behave.

    Lesson being that men need to learn self control. Proper socialization, training, and the use of a cattle prod and a leash if necessary, are more appropriate than telling half of the population they need to hide under a sheet to avoid abuse.

  14. #14 Lobster
    June 23, 2009

    It’s easy to call the burqa a symbol of servitude but that’s because we’re looking at it from a Western point of view; and no, this isn’t going to be a tirade about moral relativism.

    The burqa represents a continuation of the woman’s home. It affords her protection, privacy, and sanctuary that she can take with her.

    We consider pulling a woman’s burqa off to be a gesture of liberation and freedom. They would consider it akin to tearing off a woman’s undergarments.

    You might argue that the burqa has roots in subjugation of women – that they aren’t to leave the home, that they must be hidden from view, etc. – but I don’t think that many Muslim women who wear the burqa feel repressed by it.

    Now I’ll ask you, how is it empowerment to tell a woman she is not allowed to wear something?

  15. #15 Lobster
    June 23, 2009

    #11, by that logic, everything should be illegal. What if one likes to walk their dog? What if one likes to gaze at the stars? What if one likes to think about pretzels?

    Oh the horrors…

  16. #16 humorix
    June 23, 2009

    KKK ? Zorro ? Terrorists ? Why not ?…

  17. #17 Soph
    June 23, 2009

    This from a government that voted a law last week punishing people who demonstrate with hoods. The fee will be 1500 euros the first time, 3000 the second…
    I cannot bear to look my president in the eye and would love to cover him in a very small burqa. It might also muffle his voice.
    I’ve experimented with all kinds of clothes and hairstyles, for good and bad reasons, and am very reticent to slap restrictions on what people wear, whatever that is.
    I also don’t like religion, but if we banned the burqa, I agree that for good measure the nun’s veils and other religious clothing should be banned.

  18. #18 Paul Murray
    June 24, 2009

    Ban the burqa? Why? To help muslim women out of their terrible servitude, their netting prison?

    What a dumb idea. I can’t think of any piece of legislation so obviously guarranteed to have the opposite effect of its intent.

    If this law is implemented, women who now will only go out in public in the burqua (for whatever reason) will become absolute prisoners in their own homes.

    Doh. The stupidity, it burns. Why don’t people think about possible consequences, rather than making misguided laws on principle?

  19. #19 red rabbit
    July 6, 2009

    The way I look at this one: there are women who have been socialised to feel that the only way they are decent to leave the house is if they wear a burqa.

    I am socialised to feel decent only if my midriff is covered. I will not leave the house without a covered belly. Believe me, I think everyone is happier with my belly covered.

    How would a woman who has always worn a cover feel?

    I get that it’s a symbol and a means of oppression, but it is also a traditional item of clothing that many have grown up with.

  20. #20 Muhammad Elijah
    August 9, 2009

    I agree with the assessment that burka is a symbol of servitude.

    I belong to a South Asian family where all of the women in my family wear hijab as a religious obligation, just like men sporting beard.Hijab is to Muslimah women as beard is to Muslim men.To suggest hijab as a symbol of servitude is as ridiculous for Muslim men and women as suggesting that a Muslim man sporting beard is a symbol of servitude.

    It’s tragic that how the choice to obey a commandment is misrepresented on such a massive scale in an intellectual culture which every observant Muslim admires on religious basis(Seek for knowledge from crade to grave-Apostle of God, May God bless Him and grant Him peace).

    Most of the Muslim women who choose not to wear veil or headscarf have requisite Western education to eloquently express themselves in modern languages about their choice. However, most of those Muslim women who want to practise their religion, like my own mother, neither have that eloquence to speak in English to convince people in the West who view it as a symbol of subjugation that this is not the case, nor they can comprehend why should they try to convince someone living in other corner of the world they are not wearing a piece of cloth for any reason other than fulfilling God’s commandment. For millions like my mother it is as usual as someone not wearing in a secular Western society.
    I would like to discuss the extensive subject of Hijab with anyone interseted in an objective discussion.

New comments have been disabled.