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Going Burq-o

By Legal Eagle

[Now cross-posted at Online Opinion - 21/5/10]

There’s been a lively discussion at Larvatus Prodeo about the possibility that the French will ban the burqa. Of course, this follows on the heels of Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi’s suggestion that the burqa should be banned in Australia. Bernardi suggested that the burqa was not only a symbol of women’s oppression, but also now ‘a disguise of bandits and n’er do wells.’

Kevin Rudd and John Brumby slammed Bernardi’s comments. Personally, I thought Bernardi’s argument about the risk of burqa clad robbers was a pretty pathetic reason for banning burqas. Still, it was interesting to see that both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott agreed that the burqa was confronting, but that they would not outlaw it.

As a couple of commenters over at LP noted, France differs from Australia because it has an official policy of laïcité or secularism. So France is starting from a different point than Australia. The other notable democracy which has an equivalent policy of secularism is Turkey. After the fall of the Caliphate, Kemal Atatürk specifically incorporated the principle of laïcité into Turkish society. Religion and governance is strictly separated. As part of this, women who wear headscarves are banned from holding public office in the Turkish Republic.

It’s a difficult one, for me at any rate. My own personal instinct is that the burqa should not be banned, taking a leaf from Mill’s harm principle. As long as a woman consents to wear a burqa willingly and does not harm herself or others by doing so, then she should be allowed to make that choice.

But I do have a considerable degree of discomfort about it. As I’ve argued in a previous post, the reasons why people wear religious garb are threefold:

  1. As an outward sign of inner faith. In essence, you are telling the world by your religious garb that you are faithful to God and proud of it.
  2. As a gesture of modesty before God.
  3. To reflect a belief that the body should be covered because it is lewd and may incite lewd thoughts in others.

Now, I don’t have any problem with the first two reasons. But the third reason is one that I find very problematic. This is because it’s almost always the woman’s body that is particularly lewd, and it’s always her fault that she incited lewd thoughts in others. Of course, in many religions, people of both genders have to cover themselves up to an extent when visiting holy places. But you never see a guy in a burqa. Maybe if both men and women wore it, I’d feel less ambivalent towards it as a symbol of sexism — but then the point occurs to me that any society which did this wouldn’t be able to function…

One of the things that makes me so very uncomfortable about the burqa is that it reduces the woman who wears it to a non-person. I’m someone who talks with my hands and my face as much as my voice. I don’t like telephones as a result, and I vastly prefer face-to-face contact if at all possible. It’s very hard to interact properly with someone whose face is wholly covered, or whose eyes are the only part of their body showing. That person is also vastly hampered in how she can interact with others, how she can interact with society outside her immediate family, and what jobs she can do. I can’t imagine how I would go wearing such an outfit.

But should my discomfort be a reason for banning the burqa? I don’t think so. There are many things in society which make me uncomfortable. Those billboards on Alexandra Parade which say, “Want Better Sex Now?” make me pretty damn uncomfortable, but obviously in a very different way to the burqa. Clowns make me want to vomit and scream, but I wouldn’t want to ban them either. There must be some people on this earth who like them and find them amusing, just not me. As long as no one demands that I wear a burqa because they do, then I’m happy for others to wear them if they choose.

The more difficult question for me is whether we treat women who wear burqas in the same way as we treat other women in our society. I think we should acknowledging that wearing a burqa is a choice women are entitled to make, but we should also acknowledge that it hampers them in certain important ways which means they can’t be treated in exactly the same way as other women in our society. If they want to work in a job where face-to-face communication is particularly important, and they have to wear the burqa, it’s likely that they can’t do that job.

If the burqa obscures the vision of a female driver, they should not be allowed to drive. Of course, this is a vexed one, and the recent debate in France was sparked anew by the fining of a woman in Nantes who was driving while wearing a burqa. The woman claims that her peripheral vision was not affected by the veil. I suspect one would have to do tests on the particular veil in question. Certainly someone with a veil with gauze over the eyes could not drive a car. Mind you, I’d suggest equally that someone whose rear window was populated with piles of fluffy animals should remove the fluffy animals if they obscured vision. I find it disquieting to drive behind cars with piles of fluffy animals in the rear window for the precise reason that they may obscure vision.

If, like the woman in this post, they won’t unveil for the judge when giving evidence in a legal case, then it is likely that they cannot communicate their evidence as effectively as a woman who does not wear a veil. This was a controversial one over at LP, but I think the point still stands — communicating face-to-face is generally more effective than any other means of conversation. The woman’s evidence would not be totally worthless, but it would render it no better than evidence given via phone, for example. It would be slightly better than evidence handed up in written affidavit. Generally one is not allowed to give evidence via phone, or from behind a screen, or wearing glasses or clothing which obscure the face — this seemed to surprise many people on the LP thread, but a fundamental part of assessing someone’s credibility as a witness is seeing them face-to-face.

Ultimately, it’s a woman’s choice, and if she believes that she has to wear such clothing according to her religion, then she should have the freedom to do so. Part of religious freedom is that people are entitled to wear clothing which is an outward sign of their inner faith, and which professes their modesty before God (the first two reasons listed above). I just cannot quite feel comfortable with the French concept of laïcité, perhaps because I’ve never lived in a theocracy. Nonetheless, I think we should take care that when we accept the freedom to wear a burqa, we do not imply in any sense that the third reason has validity. Our belief should be that men should take responsibility for harassment and for their own actions, and a woman’s body is not inherently lewd or something of which a woman should be ashamed.

58 Comments

  1. Posted May 18, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    I certainly feel sorry for women wearing full-body black heavy things during summer… particularly when waiting at tram stops (especially if it is the men of the family who prevent them driving). I wonder if it is their choice?

    But the same goes for the over-the-top Russian-winter dressing (including fur hats!) in summer one sees in the uber-super-dooper-ultra-orthodox jews sometimes. But few doubt this is the choice of the man involved.

    If such clothing was imposed on a child, and you overheard the child complaining they were overly hot and close to fainting, and wanted to take off the burqa/fur-coat, what would you do?

    BTW I remember the hoo-hah about miniskirts when they first came in… and the archetypal building-site-workers hassling women walking by were told by society to pull their heads in and behave themselves.

  2. Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    While I agree with your suggestions that anyone should be entitled to wear what they please I really do not think that there is any obligation for other people to hide the distrust that hiding of the face engenders.

    For instance if a woman wearing a Burqa is stopped by the police I see nothing inappropriate about a police officer demanding that she uncover her face to confirm that she is the holder of a valid driving licence. And the same goes for a shop assistant needing to confirm that the credit card being presented does actually belong to the person at the counter.

    People can wear items of clothing with offensive slogans if they please but they do so at the risk of confrontation, covering the face likewise invites confrontation; in our society we expect that everyone will prove their veracity with the showing of our faces and those who chose not to do so should not be surprised that we view them with suspicion.

  3. conrad
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    One of the interesting things about France is that you almost never see a burqa (and the city I work in a bit each year is known as the “Africa of Europe” because it has the highest proportion of immigrants of any major French city). I think this is because there are so many moderates (like most Christians here), almost all people who would be extremists get sucked into that (although it’s still a very blokey culture!), and it’s too easy to find moderates who will disagree with you.

    One of the things that I think is missed in the debate about France and a difference to here apart from legal and philosophical ones is that they don’t wan’t to start importing extreme versions of Islam, like is, for example, happening to Malaysia (and no doubt the moderates don’t want that either). So this represents a shot against them — something I would think that many of the moderates understand and probably agree with. Since there are such small numbers of Muslims in Australia, there is really no point in using such a measure for this purpose.

  4. lilacsigil
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I find it interesting that burqa-wearing women have to take responsibility for both men’s lewdness and your personal discomfort. Would you feel just as uncomfortable talking to someone with facial scarring or paralysis? Is that their problem or yours?

    For security reasons, yes, I think it’s reasonable to ask a veiled woman to show her face to a female police officer – but credit card security is almost always a signature or a PIN, not with a photo.

  5. Patrick
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    In other developments, a debate organised by the wonderfully-named Ni Putes ni Soumises, whose name sums up everything LE tried to say in point 3 (neither whores nor subjugated, basically), was broken up after degenerating into violence following disruption by members of everyone’s favourite self-harm victims, the Palestinian lobby.

    Belgium’s lower house has already voted on it, amazingly managing to get Flemish-Walloon unity (which is astonishingly rare). If the Senate votes favourably they will have banned it.

  6. Posted May 19, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    This issue is right at the heart of much of the research I did for my thesis: to what extent is it justified for a liberal state to promote autonomy, to promote a given conception of liberalism?

    The French and Belgians argue (with some justice) that religion strikes at autonomy generally and that Islam strikes at female autonomy in particular, so it is therefore appropriate for the state to ‘break’ the religion (as France once did to the Catholic Church). France is a liberal state, but it is a perfectionist liberal state. It says that some things trump others, and that autonomy trumps religion.

    For Anglophone liberals, supporting a given conception of liberal ideals involves taking sides on what the state should promote; it would involve abandoning Mill for Voltaire and Rousseau. For that reason alone it makes us uncomfortable. Despite their many lapses, English and Americans (and Australians!) are generally ‘anti-perfectionist’ liberals. Legislating to promote some sort of Aristotelian conception of the state fills them with dread.

    I don’t know the answer, but I am forced to acknowledge the moral consistency of the French and Belgian position. I don’t see why immigrants and religionistas who wish their adoptive country to resemble the country they or their parents have left should not be asked serious questions about autonomy and liberty. Women and not a few men spent too many bitter years fighting for these liberties to have them wished away in the name of ‘reasonable accommodation’.

    More here:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/perfectionism-moral/

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/autonomy-moral/

  7. Patrick
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    lilacsigil, who exactly are you attacking?

    It is anti-burqa people who find the burqa ‘discomfiting’, or is it the pro-burqa people who implicitly make women responsible for men’s lewdness?

    Or are you just confused by the issue? That would be a legitimate position, albeit not an obvious one on the face of your comments.

  8. Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    The reasons you list for wearing religious garb are both incomplete, and incompatible with a huge number of faiths outside the Triad (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

    Your first reason is almost accurate: people do wear religious garb as an outward sign that they belong to a particular tradition. However, for many religious groups — most notably a number of common Jewish sects — religion is not faith-based, but practice based. In other words, they wear the garb to mark them as different from the norm, in the hopes that it will help them to have faith (not as an exhibition of faith they already have).

    Your other two make a presumption that all religions devalue human sexuality and value modesty. Many pagan faiths, for example, glorify the human body, and therefore incorporate religious/ceremonial garb of a revealing and erotic sort.

    Finally, you miss a main reason to wear religious garb – to separate activities that are “mundane” from those that are “spiritual”. This primarily applies to ceremonial garb, but it is the extension of this principle that leads to prescribed daily garb: the idea is that it serves to remind one that everything they do should be “spiritual”.

    While I am an atheist, I also greatly value the personal freedoms that allow individuals to practice whatever faith — with all its trappings — that they wish; with the reasonable limit that such practices must not interfere with the personal rights of others. (And “not being offended” is decidedly not a right, in my book).

  9. lilacsigil
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Skeptic – where I live there’s not many people in headscarves, let alone a burqa! When I lived in Melbourne, though, I had several conversations with a burqa-wearing woman with whom I shared a bus stop. I’ve also lived in Japan where wearing face-masks is common. It didn’t trouble me in the slightest that I couldn’t see their faces – then again, I also enjoy communication on the internet, so maybe it’s not a big issue for me. Either way, I’d think the discomfort was my problem, not theirs.

  10. lilacsigil
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    To put it very crudely, behaviour which would be heavily criticised if it was undertaken by rich white Christian people will not be criticised if it is undertaken by poor non-white non-Christian people.

    Well, some of that is because said rich white Christian people have a lot of power over my life – I don’t care what Tony Abbott personally believes, but I do care when he calls on his Christian beliefs to attack women’s freedoms for example. Otherwise, I find feminists to be the most outspoken and determined critics of anti-woman regimes – but, importantly, they criticise in a way that does not attack the women who live with these rules and restrictions.

    The attacks on the tiny number of women who wear burqas (and niqab) in Western countries seems to me a lot like bullying. I would think that there are some jobs that fully veiled women cannot do, but there are jobs that, say, disabled people or unfit people cannot do either, and that’s practicality, not discrimination. People with glasses also tend to have limited peripheral vision and no-one’s asking them to pass extra tests (though I can see the issue with the eye-covering mesh that some Saudi women wear); and again, I can see no problem with appropriate and gender-sensitive identification processes – which we do already in the case of body searches.

  11. lilacsigil
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Patrick – I am saying that *both* the people who hold women responsible for men’s behaviour and people who hold burqa-wearing women responsible for their own discomfort are wrong. If women wish to wear religious garb, that should be their own decision, chosen and not compelled – this goes equally for the nun in a headscarf , cardigan and cross brooch as for the Muslim woman who chooses to cover her whole body.

  12. Patrick
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Lilacsigil, I think your comment about ‘said Christians’ being in positions of power is absurd and almost dangerous.

    The real power dynamic you should be worried about is that of muslim men over muslim women. Tony Abbot is an infinitesimal risk to ‘your’ cherished self-proclaimed freedoms (what freedoms of yours, exactly, does Tony Abbot attack??) whilst the contemporary practice of Islam in wide sections of the community is an immediate physical and emotional threat to the most fundamental freedoms of multitudes of women (their rights to liberty and their rights to property).

    Finally, whilst on my high horse, my job could in theory be done perfectly well by someone cavorting around the office naked in tribal paint. The fact is that my job is on Earth, circa 2010, done exclusively by (more or less) well-groomed men and women in modern professional dress. You can substitute burqa for ‘naked in tribal paint’, and the point is the same.

    Because, as I am sure you will agree, humans are inherently social creatures. Working together involves forming common trust out of shared experiences and goals. Sad, backward and misogynistic as it may sound to you, that ain’t gonna happen with Ms Burqa-be-glad (a headscarf would, of course, be fine).

    So she is free to express her religion, but also to cop the consequences – which is rather the point of freedom, including ‘your’ freedoms whatever they may be, isn’t it?

  13. Posted May 19, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Burqas de-humanize. And they selectively de-humanize. That is what causes the discomfort– and I am confident that they would cause less discomfort if they did not de-humanize women specifically.

    Humans are built to be extremely good at recognising and distinguishing faces, facial features, facial expressions, even body language. What burqas do is they cut off all those levels of communication: things we use much more than we perhaps realise to “read” and judge what others are about.

    So, what burqas are doing is denying others the chance to read your humanness. The implied statements in all that are likely to cause discomfort and distrust. Made worse by the fact that the burqa is specifically saying that women are to have very limited public role indeed.

    The discomfort they cause is not some mere “taste” or “offense” or “problem with difference”. It is about their attack on basic levels of social discourse and interaction. So, while I tend to be fairly libertarian in most things (and think attempts to ban religious clothing in general grossly illiberal), I can see an argument in terms of insisting on a certain level of commitment elementary communication for banning garb that de-humanizes.

  14. lilacsigil
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Patrick – why on earth do you think that I *don’t* worry about Muslim men’s oppression of Muslim women? Of course I do, and I donate and volunteer for organisations dedicated to women’s education and medical care. However, those men do not have any real power over me; Tony Abbott conceivably does (see his position on abortion and gay rights for two things that directly affect me).

    And why can’t your job, whatever that is, be done by someone dressed differently? It’s that kind of thinking that rules out people who are “different” from you – that probably used to include women. So why not a Sikh in a turban or someone in a burqa, presuming that your job doesn’t involve being lip-read?

  15. Patrick
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    ah, but abortion is tricky, lilacsigil, you see it is rather debatable as to whether it is ‘your’ ‘freedom’ or ‘right’ at all – there is a reasonable argument that your freedom and rights kick in at a chronologically prior stage…so let’s leave abortion out of it as a category error in this debate.

    As for why my job couldn’t be done in a burqa, I thought I had explained that. To be explicit, it would be outside our commonly accepted practices and experiences, and would make us and our clients uncomfortable. We impose modern professional dress for a reason, and if you don’t like it, there’s always the highway.

  16. lilacsigil
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I work in a medical and computing field and often have people want to talk to a man instead. A woman is not professional enough for them. Should I take the highway because I’m female? Or should they grow up and learn to live in a modern society? I think the latter.

  17. Peter Patton
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    lilacsigil

    I think you are confusing the identity issues at play here. Gender is number three in importance. First is about Islam. One is a Muslim before one is man/woman. Secondly it is an inappropriate transfer of 7th century Arab mores into 21st Australia, which is incredibly insulting to men, and just pollutes our society with mistrust and suspicion. The audacity of a member of our polity who thinks it is OK to expect the rest of us to engage with her, let alone respect, when she has a towel covering her head, and will not shake your hand!

    I’m sorry. I am unapologetically in the “go back to where you came from” camp. Call me a sexist/misogynist if you like. Doesn’t affect me one bit. But it tragically does make you a collaborator in your own belittling.

    Trying to fit this into the prism of ‘feminism’ is so wrong, it makes one want to cry.

  18. Nick Ferrett
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s really difficult to resolve this issue. Treating people equally regardless of gender (and I had to think carefully about how I said that) dictates respecting each person’s decisions. If a woman chooses to wear a burqa, that principle requires that we respect it. The problem that we perceive is that it may not be the woman’s decision in that she has been subjected to undue influence. My instinctive (perhaps prejudiced) view is that may not even be *likely* to be the woman’s decision freely made.

    The danger that it is not the woman’s choice, that it may not be an expression of faith but obeisance to an oppressive husband, is what makes you feel uncomfortable, SL. It is the reason for your discomfort, not the fact of it, which is important. Clowns may make you feel uncomfortable (don’t know what that’s about) but your discomfort isn’t founded in the perception that the clown was likely forced to put on the make up and will be scarred by the experience.

    In the end, I think we have to reach a view about whether the burqa is more likely a tool of oppression or simply a demonstration of righteousness. If we come to the former view then there is a real case for banning it.

  19. Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Men are required to conform to rules of modesty under Abrahamic codes of dress. Practising Muslim men will not, for example, wear shorts in summer-time. Apparently shorts in summer time are a no-no for guys in Vietnam as well.

    The burqa is an extreme take on Islamic codes of modesty. I have my doubts that it’s traditionally worn in any place not ruled by warlords and roving brigands. That is places where pretty girls aren’t often snatched off by same. Unpleasant.

    I suppose that psychologically a woman from such a culture might feel undressed if she were to appear in public showing her face. It is pretty much putting the burden of sexual good conduct entirely on women. That’s patriarchy isn’t it. Given the extreme to which the pendulum has swung to permissiveness and the resultant dog’s breakfast of sexual conduct that seems commonplace on a Friday night in Melbourne I’m not sure stricter cultures will be so inclined to lower their standards.

    I don’t think it should be banned but in circumstances where ID is required obviously religion is a secondary consideration and if that’s not acceptable neither is residency in a secular county. My guess is that the burqa will be something all Muslim Australians regard as an historical curiosity in a generation or two.

  20. Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    And no, I don’t like masks much either.

    .
    So you won’t be visiting Venice in the spring?

  21. Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    He obviously thought that it was fine for her to sit there and swelter without being able to do anything while he swanned around in the pool. I just could NOT feel comfortable with such an arrangement.

    Yeah it’s definitely not equal. A lot of cultures moving from tradition to modernity feature guys who’re allowed to be hip whilst the girls have to make their brothers’ beds and be home by 10pm.

    If you ever have occasion to see my drawings I’ll remember not to show you the stuff that features masks, okay.

  22. Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I bet you don’t like Eyes Wide Shut either. :)

  23. Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    There is some sloppy thinking getting around on this thread, which is unfortunate.

    1. LE wrote this post, not SL.

    2. Be wary of solipsism: that is, only worrying about the effect that a given set of rules may have on you, as opposed to the effect that they may have on others. At issue here is the oppression of Muslim women by Muslim men. Christianity — as we’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog — has had the stuffing knocked out of it by the Enlightenment and market capitalism. A serious case can be made that the same thing needs to happen to Islam. I might add that what the French are doing to Islam now is rather milder than what the French did to Catholicism historically.

    3. I see we have animated the hoary old chestnut that poor brown people cannot be prejudiced or oppressive. In my experience this argument tends to be advanced by poor brown men as they watch a colonial power or market capitalism advance the rights of poor brown women. See Hadrian’s edicts on FGM, Lord Napier on Suttee or the effect of women’s labour market participation everywhere. Prejudice and oppression are prejudice and oppression regardless of their provenance. No excuses.

    4. The only arguments that can be mounted against abortion are religious arguments about when life starts. The monotheisms (with the partial exception of Judaism) have historically had a very poor record when it comes to women’s rights, so much so that ignoring their arguments on abortion pretty much goes without saying. See Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate for an excellent demolition of the Christian and Muslim argument against abortion; the relevant chapter is called ‘the Ghost in the Machine’.

  24. Patrick
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Um, SL, on point 4, what was that about sloppy thinking again? I hope that you are positing the first sentence as an example of sloppy thinking!

    As for the rest, it appears to me to be only the leftmost commenters who have succumbed to that, even if you are too kind to point it out. Maybe everyone else thinks I have too!

  25. Nick Ferrett
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Sorry about getting the authors confused. I think when I saw the “talking with my hands” thing I thought of SL.

    The proposition that there are only religious arguments against abortion is the least sustainable one made on this thread.

    I am against abortion and my reasons have nothing to do with religion.

  26. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Heel, Patrick. *I* do the abortionista threads around here (or so it seems).

    I do have a feminist unease with the principles behind muslim veiling in general – not so much the message “I am a muslim woman” but “I am a NICE muslim woman” – but I’m not sure this constitutes sufficient authority to ban any particular mode of coverage.

    The burqua is the ridiculous extreme of veiling and seems very rare in the UK fortunately (though you can see the practicality as a girl – don’t worry about hair and makeup or even clothes, just chuck it on over whatever you’re wearing) but the niqab full face veil is still a very active issue. I had to dodge three obviously young women in flowing robes and full face veils on a hot Edinburgh street yesterday and found myself assuming not that their husbands wanted them to look like that, but that they were making a political statement about clothing choice.

    Muslim women, like everyone else, aren’t always consistent. One of my biggest laughs came from an interview with a pro-veil lady who explained that she wore a headscarf because “she didn’t want to be judged by her appearance” (um… isn’t that the whole point of wearing it?).

    Like Iain, I DO have a problem with a full face mask in public. It’s really not socially acceptable in western society though whether we need a legal ban is doubtful. There’s no law about wearing a balaclava on the high street either but you’d be picked up by the police pretty quickly if you tried it. It can be policed informally if we choose to, but at the moment we don’t. No one is suggesting snatching veils off women but they really should get used to the cold shoulder. I personally find it much easier to acknowledge a muslim woman in hijab than one in a niqab when we pass on the street, I instinctually have a negative reaction to people whose face is concealed whether by a veil, helmet or balaclava. That’s MY culture.

    Accommodation is clearly an issue. There have been a series of legal cases over muslim dress in schools in the UK including one that resulted in a girl being excluded because she insisted on wearing a particular type of gown that didn’t meet the school uniform code. The school had a lot of Asian students from various backgrounds and had obviously gone to a lot of trouble to accommodate the various traditions. There was no problem with her wearing a headscarf and the girls uniform included a shalwar kameez so modesty wasn’t an issue, but no, she wanted to be a special snowflake and wear this particular dress. Thankfully she lost. I do think reasonable accommodation is required on both sides – much more conversation about what veiling is actually intended to achieve on the muslim side (whether that’s modesty, religious expression, isolation or control of women) and some honesty in the west that yes we actually have some values of our own that are red liners, including facial recognition.

  27. conrad
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    “Apparently shorts in summer time are a no-no for guys in Vietnam as well”

    This is true in many places in Asia (it’s generally quite sensible also — unless you like being bitten by mosquitos and malaria). I don’t think wearing shorts/pants, however, is in the same category as wearing Burqas (alternatively, the orthodox Jewish dress is close, and no-one complains about that).

  28. Posted May 20, 2010 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Since I raised the abortion issue, I’ll just point out that the three of us do not make arguments on this issue in a vacuum and that many of the relevant issues have been raised in gory and grisly detail already in two places).

    One addenda not addressed in that very lengthy and unpleasant thread for all concerned: while both men and women can opine equally on abortion, I accept Andrew Norton’s argument than male evidence on abortion must always be valued at a lower level than women’s evidence on abortion.

    I say that as a woman who has had an abortion.

    And here endeth the abortion discussion.

  29. AJ
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    In cases where it is oppression and not choice, I think it’s likely that laws like these will have the opposite effect than what was intended. Instead of freeing women from the burqa, women will leave the home less often, rather than dress immodestly. And rather than aiding integration you will probably see strict muslim parents pull their daughters out of things like state schools.

  30. Patrick
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but that is more-often-than-not illegal in France. They have to go to school and the social services will hunt them down and (ok not kill them) if they don’t, at least when they are pre-teen. (teenage arabs are more likely to hunt down the social services and (well burn their cars at any rate).

  31. Posted May 20, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    In my experience this argument tends to be advanced by poor brown men as they watch a colonial power or market capitalism advance the rights of poor brown women.
    .
    Hah! Brilliant. :)

  32. Movius
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s fairly simple to me. Advocating the criminalisation of wearing clothes is wrong. Be it burqa, formal robes or socks with sandals.

  33. Patrick
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    What about shackles?

  34. Movius
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    There are people that will pay good money to be put in shackles

  35. Posted May 21, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    And at this point, may I refer parties to Rule 34 of the internet:

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleThirtyFour

    (Caution, TV Tropes link).

  36. Peter Patton
    Posted May 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    One thing interesting about this debate is it reveals just how fervently leftists have been schmoozing and grooming Muslims over the past few years, to fill the ranks of the workers, who have fled from them in droves.

    I have suspected that all the energy devoted to this recruitment campaign is the reason for the inexplicable, historically unprecedented almost silence of the socialist/communist with their trade mark pathological obsession with Jews.

    But now the reason is clear.

    Communists and Socialists have found way to deal the Jews back in. How?

    Any of this seem familiar? What we are witnessing is the birth of an anti-Islam rhetoric that mimics, depressingly closely, the key tropes of twentieth-century anti-Semitism. It will not end well.

    A quick squiz at this might help them out a bit. ;)

    http://www.iris.org.il/sizemaps/arabwrld.htm

  37. peter jones
    Posted May 26, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s true that blokes don’t have to wear the burqa – which is a cultural thing that Muslims picked up after Islam spread from beyond the Arabian peninsula – but they are supposed to dress modestly too, between the navel and the knees. I guess that knocks lycra and budgie smugglers on the head.

    The burqa outcry is rubbish as very few women in Europe or here wear it – as for criminals wearing it, better ban the balaclava too along with hoodies. It’s just anti-Muslim prejudice, the old White Australia doesn’t die easily and we just have to fear something different.

  38. Posted May 27, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    as for criminals wearing it, better ban the balaclava too along with hoodies

    People can’t wear a balaclava without drawing attention to themselves and someone wearing one in a bank is regarded with reason as a criminal before doing anything. Hoodies don;t cover the face. Someone can wear a burqa in a bank and refuse to remove it on religious grounds. That does create a security concern. Ditto airport customs. Just sayin’.

    I guess that knocks lycra and budgie smugglers on the head.

    Hah! I knew Tony Abbott was an immoral sex fiend!

  39. Patrick
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    Come on guys, that was clearly a stir!

  40. Posted June 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    As is his want, Lorenzo has written a very thoughtful followup post to this, available here.

  41. Posted June 7, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    SL: Thanks!

    LE: Boys love stirring because
    (1) It is exploring what make things tick
    (2) Push a button, get a reaction, what’s not to like? :)

  42. Peter Patton
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Sorry to resurrect this, but I cannot believe this issue is actually being pushed by an Australian legislature. Fred Nile has successfully introduced a burqa-ban bill into the NSW Upper House.

    Why are both Labor and the Libs supporting a private members bill by serial christian cook Fred Nile?

    And to our legal eagles and skeptics, why is the NSW upper house able to initiate legislation in the first place?

    The only parties to oppose it were The Greens and FF. WTF?

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/burqa-ban-bill-introduced-in-nsw-20100623-yw1n.html

  43. AJ
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Last year Nile wanted to ban topless sunbathing to protect muslims. I wonder if he finds it difficult to keep all the rationales for things he wants banned straight in his head.

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Hacking. John Hacking said: Going Burq-o: There’s been a lively discussion at Larvatus Prodeo about the possibility that the French will ban t… http://bit.ly/bAZzhQ [...]

  2. [...] whatever religious outfit they want (yes, including burqas); [...]

  3. [...] Legal Eagle did a good post on this last month: Going Burq-o. [...]

  4. [...] Now, I have written a series of posts about this issue over the years (here, here, here and here) in which I opined that I thought women should be free to wear burqas in public if they so chose, [...]

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