This Business of Banning Burqas

The West has taken a curious approach to combat the precariously rising tide of fundamental Islam in Europe.  Rather than criticizing its ideology or the contemporary interpretations that have led to thousands of incidents of violence, Western European nations have decided instead to propose legislation to ban the wearing of face-coverings, namely the hijab and the burqa that are commonly worn by Muslim women.


Phyllis Chesler of Fox News particularly applauds France’s recent decision to ban veils.    “France is brave and right to ban the burqa.  There is no reason for a modern Western country to honor what is, essentially, a political statement and an ethnic and misogynistic custom.”  As evidence, she provides testimony of the emotional toll veils have taken upon some Muslim women, and she feels that disallowing women to cover their face would strike a “principled blow against the Talibanesque and barbaric subordination of Muslim women on Western soil.” 


Certainly, Dr. Chesler and I would agree in spades about condemning fundamental practitioners of Islam for their mistreatment of women, and I would certainly agree that a mandate to wear the hijab or burqa is sexist and oppressive by my Western values.  But of all the points of criticism one can find with Islam, why this?  Yes, the garments can be seen as a symbol of historical oppression.  But in a sense, so can the Egyptian ankh or the Nazi swastika or the Soviet hammer and sickle.  Should we ban the wearing of those symbols?  Even if we did, would we be any closer to stamping out slavery, anti-Semitism, or Communism?  What makes “face-coverings” so dangerously symbolic that we must ban them altogether?


Without a doubt, the veil symbolizes more than just this historical oppression and misogyny.  For many, the veil is meant to hide the wearer’s female form as a symbol of purity.  And that should not be altogether strange to us, considering that brides in Western civilization wear veils when married for that precise reason.  So we can assume that it is the Islamic aspect of veil-wearing that France has taken issue with, as some Muslim women wear these garments as an outward message to the world and to other Muslims, to show piousness and the absolute submission to the will of Allah.


There seems to be some controversy over whether Allah intended women to cover their faces at all, however.  Dr Chesler contends that many “educated Muslim religious (and secular) women- as well as ex-Muslims—insist that the Koran does not mandate that women cover their faces.”  So apparently, many Muslims agree that Allah does not mandate the hijab, and that only certain radical offshoots of Islam believe face-covering is a religious duty for women.  And since it’s not really part of their religion but rather a misogynist’s after-the-fact implement, the conclusion has been drawn that forbidding Muslim women to wear veils is not infringing upon their religious rights.


But does the fact that some sects of Islam reject the veil as a religious duty make it unreligious?  For example, the denomination of Christianity that I practice allows me to both drink alcohol and dance.  Many Christian scholars would agree that the Bible does not forbid these acts.  But what about the extremely devout Southern Baptist that doesn’t imbibe or let his children dance?  Is his family’s restraint unreligious?


Without question, it is religious, though not in what we consider to be common practice.  So let’s assume that face-veils are religious expression, albeit an unwanted expression for many young Muslims who, according to Dr. Chesler, would not wear them unless they were “coerced into doing so to please their families and avoid being beaten or even honor murdered.”  But is demanding that a family member do something uncomfortable to satisfy religious requirement a crime, or should we focus on those who are committing the actual crimes of beating and honor killing their children?


Imagine a practitioner of Sikhism.  Neither he nor his children are to cut their hair for they shall “suffer a terrible death and known as a ghost.”  So imagine that a Sikh man demands that this child of fifteen not cut her hair.  When his daughter defies him and comes home with her hair trimmed in the latest fashion, he beats her.  Is the crime in the father demanding that she stifle her expression of hairstyle per religious belief, or is the crime in beating his daughter?


The crime is in the beating of his daughter, and not in choosing to raise his child with uncomfortably long, probably unhygienic hair, even though most Westerners would disagree with the practice.


I concede that this does not constitute a perfect analogy.  The Sikh prohibition of cutting hair is applied upon both sexes, and I am certainly not trying to draw a parallel between the actual ideologies of Islam and Sikhism.  But the fact remains that even though it is uncomfortable to wear a rag over one’s face or to grow long hair under a turban, these are generally not acts that harm anyone and they are often personally and religiously significant.  And certainly, they should not be crimes in a society that professes to protect free religious expression.


So why is the West trying so damn hard to make wearing veils a crime?  I refuse to believe that there are not better ways to confront the dangers Europe faces.  In France alone, fundamental Islam has amassed a dossier of hate and intolerance a mile high, so why engage in the questionable act of banning an article of clothing that has religious significance?  Why doesn’t France amend its immigration policy that has allowed nine million Muslims to illegally enter the country, or stop the crippling welfare payments to this group?  Why not demand that all suburban Sharia communities immediately conform to French law under penalty of deportation or incarceration?  Why not arrest or deport all Muslim demonstrators who use aggressive Islamic rhetoric to advocate violence and the overthrow of the French government?  Why not prosecute all honor killings and hate crimes committed by Muslims to the fullest extent of the law?  All of these actions would be legal and prudent, and would be far more effective in safeguarding French culture from the threat of its unassimilated Muslims.


And more practically, consider that there are fourteen million Muslims in France. If we guess on the extremely conservative side and say that two percent of that population is comprised of fundamental extremists, that means that there are 280,000 legitimate, hidden threats to national security within France’s borders, many of which may be either in or around someone wearing a burqa.  Why, again, do we want to forcefully remove such self-imposed identifying marks?


William Sullivan blogs at: http://politicalpalaverblog.blogspot.com