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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the anti-burqa movement « Previous | |Next »
June 2, 2010

On the ABC's Q+ A this week the spectre of the niqab and the burqa appeared along with the issue of its banning. In recent months, several European governments (Belgium, France, Italy) have begun to legislate restrictions on both the niqab, a face veil that leaves the area around the eyes clear and is usually combined with a full body covering, and the burqa, which covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.


On the right, the veil and burqa is seen as a threat to Australian and in particular a mono culture (Christian?) culture; a symbol of a foreign, belligerent faith community, the "other" - even though few Muslim women wear it-- and a security issue.

It is not just conservatives uncomfortable with multiculturalism who say that the veiling of the face is inherently suspicious and that it may even be a threat to national security. It an issue that crosses the left right divide.

On the left the burqa is seen as a repressive garment that subjugates women and violates their rights. The burqa, the niqab, or any clothing that covers the whole female body including the face, is a powerful symbol of the oppression and subjugation of Muslim women. It is an obvious reminder of how the Taliban, who required women to wear the burqa, systematically abused the fundamental rights and freedoms of Afghan women, leaving them with the lowest life expectancy in the region and highest rates of maternal death.

The ban is being sold by both Right and left as a measure to liberate oppressed Muslim women from the “walking prison” of their burqas that undermines their dignity. It is a divisive issue--- for instance I like the headscarf but I'm uneasy with the burka. The scarf cannot simply be written off as a symbol of oppression, and wearing the headscarf represents her choice to practice her religion while still participating actively in Australian society.

Laurie Penny, blogging at the New Statesman, says:

perhaps the most fundamental question about the veil debate... is not to what extent the veil can be considered oppressive, but whether it is ever justifiable for men to mandate how women should look, dress and behave in the name of cultural preservation. Male culture has always chosen to define itself by how it permits its women to dress and behave....In seeking to restrict the free choice of women to dress as they please, whether in a burqa, a bolero or a binbag, European governments are not protecting women but mounting a paranoid defense of their own right to determine feminine behavior.

In this debate the voices of Muslim women are strangely absent.

What is raised is the issue of individual freedom, individual rights and liberalism in the context of the anti-immigrant backlash and the xenophobic element in the post 9/11 environment. Banning the burqa fundamentally undermines the rights of Muslim women who have made a free and informed decision to wear such coverings, and value the space to practice their religion in public. It also undermines gender equality and tolerance.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:14 PM | | Comments (9)


I just don't get it.... if the women are not being FORCED to wear the garments (and I've heard many Muslim women say they do it out of choice)... then what's the problem?

If their ARE being coerced into dressing a certain way to appease the men-folk... then some sort of legislation many be needed.

And while we're at it, let's look at banning topless barmaids. I suspect most of them feel "pressured" and would rather just serve beer fully clothed. Oh, or maybe they're being empowered by the "raunch culture"... or something.

I have seen muslim girls in Australia being coerced into covering their hair.

I would not want to see a veiled woman driving a car, entering a bank or in a customer contact role on the public payroll.

Muslims do face discrimination in all aspects of life, from housing to employment opportunities to education to cultural practices.So we have politicians such as Cory Bernardi Western society telling Muslim women how their religion should express itself.

Bernardi's appeal to a common culture and respecting Australian society's law and culture ignores the values of equality and freedom in Australian culture.

Nobody objected to the varying costumes of Christian nuns

the Conservatives statement on the necessity of the symbolic fight against Islamism is based on a mistakenly homogenous perception of Islam as extremist and dangerous.

There is no link at all between crime and wearing the burqa or niqab.

Gary [and any others interested].
Totally off topic I'm afraid but I wanted to draw this to your attention.
Tonight [so I was informed] the Wentworth Group announced a study and proposal that aims to return the Murray-Darling Basin to healthy sustainability.
Here is the direct link to their 32 page report.

Now back to your current topic.

thanks. I'll look at it tomorrow.

Hi Gary: this issue has always been curious to me, esp. how religious freedoms are exercised in secular societies. I've culled together a number of articles on the burqa/niqab issue (mainly in Western Europe).

Megan S is onto something. What gives with burqas is something probably better explained by social sciences; anthropology/ethnology and sociology.
The mutual incomprehension seems as comprehensive as total.

thanks for the links. They are useful. As you say there "there are so many points of view on this highly contentious issue."