May 08, 2010

Burqa Niqab Ban in Belgium - Equality Overrides Freedom?

A well thought out write up on the "Burqa and Niqab Ban" in Belgium.
The writer of this post is an individual whose ideas and opinions hold a lot of weight for me.

"My thoughts on the niqab ban

In my opinion, there are two major philosophical issues that underlie most serious discussions about banning the niqab: the balance struck between freedom and equality within a society and the marginalization of individuals within that same society. Therefore, before giving my thoughts on such a ban, I want to consider both issues.

First, it is important to determine whether the use of the niqab is a space where the government has the right to legislate. Being a warm-blooded American, my immediate answer to whether the government has a right to legislate anything is usually “No!” But is that actually fair? Recall that the legislations in question ban the niqab in public spaces. Therefore, governments like Belgium’s are saying, where free interactions may take place between any two residents of this nation, we feel it is our right, as the elected representatives of the populace, to legislate the bounds of acceptable clothing. To some extent, even here in the United States, we legislate what people can wear in public places (just think about how many naked non-arrested people you see on the streets [the answer is zero]). Therefore, I believe that it is within the purview of a government to legislate on the outerwear of its residents and, as a result, the use of the niqab.

There is really only one principled reason to even consider banning the niqab: shifting the balance between freedom and equality within the nation further towards equality. It should be fairly obvious that the banning of the niqab impinges upon the freedom of some Muslim women. Either it limits women’s freedom to dress as they please (within the bounds agreed upon prior to the enactment of the ban). Or it limits the Muslim individual’s right to practice her particular flavor of Islam. Therefore, without a doubt, the niqab ban is an impingement upon the freedoms of a subset of any society. How does the ban increase equality? The key is that everyone can see everyone else’s face, which, I believe, is quite important for a functioning western liberal society. Essentially, the ban on the niqab levels the playing field in any interactions between people involving talking, arguing, bartering, playing, fighting, etc. While we may not be conscious of it, we take millions of cues from the facial expressions of the people with whom we are interacting. By allowing the niqab wearer to hide her facial expressions, the niqab puts her in an unfairly advantageous position in situations where displaying emotion is disadvantageous (just imagine how you would fare against a semi-competent niqab-wearing poker player). Similarly, women wearing the niqab are at a disadvantage when facial emotion is useful, for instance, when persuading the jury while arguing a case in court. However, that is unlikely to be why various western nations wish to ban the niqab. But, it is entirely reasonable to believe that governments wish to ban the niqab in order to allow for fairer interactions and improve the level of equality amongst their residents.

More pragmatically, the banning of the niqab is likely to interact with marginalization of Muslims within western society in ways that we would not like. First, recall that the sects of Islam that require women to wear the niqab are already fairly conservative. By banning the niqab, the government is telling these conservative Muslim women and their families that, in order to continue living in the country, they must change their religious beliefs. Such a demand is bound to marginalize most such families and practically drive them into the arms of radical Islam. Therefore, the ban undoubtedly leads to the radicalization of a number of Muslim youths who may not otherwise have sought out radical Islam. Such radicalization leads to the sort of “home-grown” terrorism that we hear about on the news constantly. Considering the strategically devastating outcomes of the ban, it is unlikely that any nation considering the pragmatic consequences of the ban would implement it.

Having considered the points above, is it best for a western nation to ban the niqab or not? On principle alone, a western nation would be best served by implementing such a ban, in order to foster a sense of equality alongside the freedoms long ensured by its constitution. On the other hand, pragmatically, a niqab ban is quite likely to increase the threat of home-grown terrorism in the nation and therefore an inadvisable legislation. However, I strongly believe that laws regarding the freedoms of individuals should not be made on the basis of pragmatic security concerns; such concerns are what bring about legislation like Arizona’s recent immigration law. Ultimately, leaders of any western nation must think of their populace’s beliefs regarding equality and freedom. Where on the spectrum between those two ideals does their country lie? In the cases of Belgium and France, it is quite likely that a ban is the right decision, as both of them put a great deal of emphasis on the notion of equality [see: liberté, égalité, fraternité]. However, as I put more weight on freedom than equality, I do not agree with the ban on the niqab. While the notion of increasing equality by implementing a ban is an alluring one, I do not think it is worth the price of the corresponding reduction in the freedom of the populace."


Rati Parker said...

Hi Id it is...
I really don't believe that u or i are going to exercise our "freedom" and opt to wear the burqa! The women that do "choose" to wear it are dong it out of conditioning and coercion. These women rarely have the freedom within their own society to make these decisions....These things are IMPOSED on them...
These 14th century practices should be banned even in Muslim countries let alone Europe.

People that call for such "freedoms" are also guilty ( to my mind) of perpetrating and encouraging regressive 14th century practices....

Anonymous said...

Id It Is, thanks for reblogging my post. I am glad you liked it. I'd like to respond to Rati Parker's comment, if you don't mind.

@Rati: I am sure that many people are skeptical of the claim that niqab-wearing women are exercising their freedom of expression. However, there are niqab-wearing women who claim that the niqab is entirely their choice and they are not being coerced by anyone. Since we cannot go into their heads and decide whether they are being coerced into saying they are free or not, we must take their statements at face value and accept that they are exercising their freedom of expression in wearing burqas.
As to banning the niqab in Muslim countries, who would enact such a ban? I doubt the leaders of any Islamic republic would ban an explicitly Muslim practice. Furthermore, thinking pragmatically, since a significant percentage of Muslim women wear the niqab, it strikes me as a bad idea to make the practice a criminal act and criminalize a large portion of the population...


Rati Parker said...

Ofcourse, nobody can get into anybody else's head to fathom what is going on in there, and Muslims use this very argument to enforce their agenda in countries which they have immigrated to. The larger travesty is that people like u and I fall into the trap of rights and freedom etc. for a group of people that have NO respect for us...

All this talk about exercising her "freedom" , while the hard evidence on the ground suggests the opposite about the plight of women in the muslim world, is really quite contradictory.

Sahil if I extend your arguement to Sati? It was declared that the woman exercised her "freedom' to jump into her husband's pyre...who was Raja Ram Mohan Roy to intervene and put and end to a practices that was thousands of years old and had religious sanction too?
Regressive practices have NO place in the 21st century and "freedom" to practice these regressive 14th century practice MUST be questioned.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rati,

Sati is different from wearing the niqab, as sati involves the unnecessary loss of a life whereas the donning of the niqab does not. Instead, let's take another religious practice involving perceived injury to women (which doesn't involve death): karvachauth, where women fast on a particular day of the year for the sake of their husbands. While I may personally think that it is wrong for a woman to starve herself of food and water for a full day in hopes of securing her husband's welfare, prosperity, etc., I do not think that we should ban karvachauth (either in European countries or in India). It is an important aspect of the religion for a large segment of the Hindu population and banning it would be limiting their freedom of expression. What do you think?


PS, happy mothers' day to all!

Rati Parker said...

Hey Sahil,

To my mind, here is the problem,...we are so busy fighting for the "freedoms' for a community that really does not believe in the concept of freedoms...the religious indoctrination,oppressive milieu is the order of the day.

I think the freedom of free societies is endangered as Islam gains more and more concessions for its followers in the west.
Do we want Europe and the US to become like the Muslim countries?

They want to leverage the freedoms available in free societies to pursue their agenda.

Something like Karvachauth can hardly be compared to the burqa.
Karvachauth is non threatening and does not affect the next person...the burqa IS threatening ( we may be loathe to admit it coz it "sounds" politically incorrect). A shrouded figure gliding all over the place is certainly a threat in these sensitive times and also invasive and intimidating and stands out like a sore thumb. Imagine if a group of men start dressing up like spiderman, communicating through the slits in their masks at the workplace, everywhere...should be fine....they are merely exercising their freedom!

Karva chauth and Ramzan could be equated...and i have no problem with the muslims exercising their"freedom" and fasting as long as they like...

pls watch this video
This guy takes substantial amounts as social security and then attacks the very system....!
He apparently has a large following...

My question is.....why do u and i have to champion their cause? they make absolutely Zero concessions. they want to use our freedoms to achieve the impostion of their restrictions!.....contradiction, if there ever was!!!
and we play along because we like the halo around our heads as upholders of indiviual freedoms?

Religion should be practiced in ur home and not on the a ideally perfect secular world, it should be practically impossible to tell the religion of the man/woman that u are interacting with......i

Rati Parker said...

Mother's Day greeting's to u too!

minka said...

I think that niqab & burka are incompatible with western society. That is why we have having this debate. This incompatibility is the tip of an iceberg and reflects a huge gulf in roles, customs and rights of women.

I think it is right to discourage the cultural expression of values that are antithetical to freedom and equality of women.

I think it is hypocritical for Muslims to want to be in the west, when their basic contempt for western values is shown in the clothes they wear - as well as in the persistence of illegal family arrangements such as polygamy. Polygamy should be prosecuted severely in my view.

The freedom that women have in the west is relatively recent (though it has deep roots in western history). The price of freedom is vigilance. We must view Islamic oppression of women as basic threats to freedom, when they sprout within western societies.

Id it is said...

I think we are attributing an incorrect motive to the wearing of the burqa by saying this: "their basic contempt for western values is shown in the clothes they wear".

The burqa was worn way before the Islamic world encountered the lifestyle of the western world. Why it is worn defies any one single answer, but the fact that it is a clothing worn by these women for generations does make it a part of their cultural identity and should be regarded thus. A garb/concept/tradition that has withstood the test of time must hold significant weight...

Rati Parker said...

Id it is,
I am taking the liberty of responding.....

//A garb/concept/tradition that has withstood the test of time must hold significant weight...//

Sati, female foeticide, honour killings, polygamy, subjugation of women, female circumcision etc, etc should all qualify for the above criteria?

Id it is said...

"Sati, female foeticide, honour killings, polygamy, subjugation of women, female circumcision etc"..I do not know enough about all of them, but if they are indeed 'traditions' (not 'short term practices') and have withstood the test of time then they too must hold 'significant weight' in the communities where they are housed, and cannot be regarded as trivial. They have (had) an inbuilt defense within the community that is(was) centuries strong. They cannot be forcibly changed, especially by an 'outsider'.

Rati Parker said...

Check this out Id it is...
Geller: American Academy of Pediatrics and the New York Times sanction FGM - Jihad Watch
The readers comments are telling

Rati Parker said...

The link to the above

Nandi23 said...

Symbolic paining of the face.
Symbolic clothing.
National security based on racial profiling in both cases.
Seems as if that guy was paid to blotch his terrorist attempt, in order to add fuel to a nationwide fear.
We will see what we want to, our memory can trick our eyes.
This issue is a coin with two very different sides and it is precariously spinning in trouble waters between the seas of the East and West. Funny thing is that it will never fall, and when the winds change, the coin will reverse, and one will adopt the other, and the former owner of that conviction will abandon it to balance the coin of human dichotomy.
It takes one to ruin it for all...
As humans not all are good, and and not all of are bad.
I was discussing this with a class room filled of uninterested students ( a talk on memory not the Burqa, mind you). I often wondered what gives us this right for higher intelligence...after teaching the special senses and their dependence on memory, we hold on to what we fear always, its the conditioning mechanism. It can take just one individual to start a war, after all, one guarantee of birth is death, the other is our coerced conditioning, no soul is immune from either. Placement at birth and the body(race) you are given is the catalyst for the conditioning.
Burqa or none, hats/caps in public, masques at Mardi gras, topees in public, trench-coats in schools(etc)...our clothes are symbolic, if not to the wearer, at least to one person who observes the wearer, why debate? To make it even, they should not ban a particular item, but rather mandate nudity, that way we can all know with sincerity that we have nothing to hide!
A while back I would've agreed with Belgium ( not that I think they would've really cared about my opinion either way). Life saves lessons, for when we least expect them :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, quite a few comments!

I was thinking about what Rati wrote and I guess I have another reason to vote against the ban. Imagine if the roles were reversed. If you were a minority in a nation, would you be okay with laws that banned practices that help you preserve some aspect of my minority character that you care dearly about? I imagine the answer is no.

I don't know whether the niqab is antithetical to the west or not (and I don't think we will ever reach an agreement on this), but I do know that if I am willing to ban the niqab, then I should be willing to accept legislation that bans various things I might do on a daily basis that the majority in my country find "weird", "alien", or "antithetical to their beliefs". I cannot accept that.


Rati Parker said...

Sahil, this can devolve into a lengthy debate.;)

//If you were a minority in a nation, would you be okay with laws that banned practices that help you preserve some aspect of my minority character that you care dearly about? I imagine the answer is no.//

This would be like peeling onions..

Sahil, why am i in that foreign country?
Because i like their way of life etc.
i have CHOSEN to go to their country they did not come pleading to me to go over....
Once i am there it becomes my duty to assimilate in their society.
Yes...little things like turbans, beards, bindis, places of worship, even skull caps could be adhered to.
But things that threaten their way of life ( which attracted us in the first place ) cannot be demanded as as 'rights" under the pretext of individual freedoms....

niqab ( i would call it camouflage )is one such...holidays on fridays another, azan calling on the loudspeaker...u get the gist...anything which impacts/radically alters the host society and their indigeous way of life cannot/should not be demanded.

Your next contention Sahil..

//I should be willing to accept legislation that bans various things I might do on a daily basis that the majority in my country find "weird", "alien", or "antithetical to their beliefs". I cannot accept that.//

Think about it , if these champions of the niqab get their own way on issue after issue..a time wil surely come when sharia courts ( already prevalent in UK and parts of europe)will ensure that u are left with no individual rights or freedom at all....legislation etc will have no toothless the UK govt is with the mad mullahs is glaring...
So...I think the bans imposed by sane elected govts are better than bans that will surely be imposed by those mullahs that we allow to assume gigantic proportions in our societies....

Caught between a rock and hard place..hmmm?

Anonymous said...

Rati, I don't think we'll agree on this but I really do think it's a gray area that is being made black-and-white. That is, why is wearing the niqab a threat to western way of life whereas wearing a turban isn't? I don't see clear difference between them... Niqab wearers haven't, historically, brought about instability any more or any less than turban wearers... So the way I see it, a country that is willing to ban the wearing of one could just as easily ban the other in the future.

Again, I don't think we are going to agree on this... but that's okay, as I doubt either of us intends to ban the freedom to have a dissenting opinion as Belgium has banned the freedom to wear a niqab. :-)


Rati Parker said...

Sahil, one quick point, the turban does not conceal the identity of a person , the niqab does..:(

Yes...we can civilly agree to disagree and it really will make no difference to anyone but the guys whose ultimate goal is to take us all back into the 14t century...

starry said...

Really interesting post and after givining it much thought and reading the different comments I think there is just no right answer, but personally I think it should be a choice of the wearer and not a ban.

Smorg said...

Very good find with Sahil's post, Id. :o)

We're just having a controversy here in the SW USA with the State of Arizona passing a law that mandate the police officers stop and ask for 'proof of citizenship' from anyone that seems like an 'illegal immigrant' to them... without giving any guideline whatsoever on what a typical 'illegal immigrant' would look like (I know some idiots are going around spreading the falsehood that the law only allows the police to ask for paper if they've already stopped the person for something else, like a traffic violation, but that is not true. The new law is causing a ruckus because it mandate action from the police based on their suspicion alone).

Then today I finally got to watch the film 'Milk', about the real life gay guy who was elected a District Supervisor in San Francisco in the 70's who got assassinated.

So, yesterday there was (and still is) a movement against the gays because they didn't fit in with what the non-gays thought of as acceptable lifestyle (never mind that a person's love life is really nobody else's business whether he is gay or not). Today it is the burqa... If the issue is really difficulty ascertaining identity, then perhaps we should ban bandana, sunglasses, fake mustaches, wigs, make up, color sunscreen, ski mask, and all sort of other costume that enable people to disguise their appearance. But we don't...

The issue clearly is NOT about security concern from people's ability to disguise their look or hide weapons (the two gun men that did Columbine didn't wear burqa.. they wore trench coats), but the irrational fear of seeing people practicing a religion that one isn't familiar with (and so is prone to make generalize statements lumping all members of that religion in with their worst while ignoring that bad apples happen in every segment of society).

I don't have a religion, though I don't think it is right to legislate a law like this discriminating against a certain religion's non-violent practice that really doesn't harm anyone. If burqas are imposed on some Muslims, then perhaps the same argument can be made against Christians who make their kids go to church on Sundays, Sikhs who want to wear their turbans/dastars, etc.

If a fashion practice has outlived its meaningfulness, then I suspect people will elect to no longer practice them themselves without having to have some self-righteous legislators try to write law to impose their own tastes/preferences on others.

Id it is said...

Nicely put! Indeed, Sahil's post was a great find, as is his web page.

EXSENO said...

I really have to agree a lot with Rati Parker.

Although I don't think anything as traditional as this should be banned, I do think it should be a personal choice and at this point in time I do not believe for a minute that it is.

These women don't like wearing these things all of the time, no matter what they say publicly.
These garments are hot and long which make them restricting or uncomforable

It was a good while back in time but I remember watching a group of college students in the us dressed in regular U.S. clothing, dicussing how happy they would be to not have to wear that type of clothing when they went home. They wanted the freedom of choosing what they could wear.

That to me is sad. I think many woman are afraid to admit that they do not want to dress like this for fear of reprisal.

If I remember correctly I believe this type of clothing is worn to cover face and body to not be tempting to men.

And it is mans idea that they dress this way when they go out in public.

Smorg said...

Oh, I was clearing out my email and came across a notifier on this comment session and had another read of it (since it is such a good discussion!). :o)

I have to take a bit of an issue with Exseno's assertion that "These women don't like wearing these things all of the time, no matter what they say publicly.
These garments are hot and long which make them restricting or uncomforable

Man, that is too much of a generalization! How would you know that none of those burqa wearing women actually like wearing the thing?

And as to the garments being uncomfortable in hot weather; it isn't always hot there. And, having spent significant time in tropical Thailand in my youth (where it is both hot and muggy for most of the year), I can tell you that what you would consider as 'restricting' or 'uncomfortable' wouldn't be much more inconvenient than normal for the locals. Many Thai women, for example, actually value not getting sun-tanned over being hot (it is one of those strange things in life. The light skinned visiting Europeans work hard for their tan, the darker complexioned Asian women would do almost anything to keep their skin as light as possible)... and they show up at the golf course wearing long sleeves and long pants (and many actually disapprove of the younger kids who turn up in shorts.... They think that's unbecomingly immodest)... aside from wearing thick layers of sunscreen lotion and hiring a caddy to follow them along holding a huge umbrella (to keep the sun away).

Some burqa wearers may not like wearing them, but surely as many do.

Greetings from Southern California and hope everyone is having a good beginning of December!