The Ethics Of… Banning the Burqa

It doesn’t matter how you slice it, if you try to have a debate about religious stuff someone is going to get upset. So when the question being debated is whether a specific item of religious clothing should be banned, you’re already in hot water. And when the issue at hand it whether the government should be able to force people to remove that item of clothing in public…

Image result for france burqa beach

Yep that’s a woman being forced to remove clothing in public by the police. Good work France, that’s some awesome Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité right there.

Throw in the fact that this item is also a serious cultural practice for a large group of people, and the fact that that group are also generally immigrants… well let’s just say calm, rational debate went out the window so fast it technically never existed. And as I’ve mentioned so many times before, the second emotions run hot in a debate, the nutters tend to take centre stage.


Yep, that’s sure to add something constructive to the debate.

For those who are not familiar with it, this is the burqa and some of its many relatives:


Basically, it’s a full body covering designed to obscure the wearer from the public eye. There’s a bunch of variations, but they’re essentially just cut-down versions of the same concept.

This garment is a serious part of many Muslim women’s religious practice. Interestingly, there is actually a bit of debate as to whether the burqa and its variants are actually required by Islam at all; many commentators argue that it is simply a cultural custom that has been absorbed into religious practice. Others argue that it is definitely a part of what Islam demands, usually referring to Quran 33:59;

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused.”

Ultimately though this is pretty much irrelevant – just as the Bible doesn’t say anything about the Pope, it doesn’t matter how the practice became a part of the religion, because now it most definitely is.

And I totally, utterly despise it.

This might seem like a bit of an over-reaction by someone who has previously gone on at length about the importance of cultural tolerance, but do me a favour and read that quote from the Quran again. Does “…that they will be known and not be abused” sound a bit problematic to you at all? If not then maybe a fresh perspective from senior Islamic Cleric Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali will make it a bit more obvious:

“If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside … without cover, and the cats come to eat it … whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab [the headdress worn by some Muslim women], no problem would have occurred.”

This was in reference to sexual assaults against women in Australia in 2010. So yeah, you can’t get a lot clearer than that.

Now obviously Hilali is at the extreme end of the spectrum and it’s worth noting he got his arse kicked by the Islamic community for this idiocy. But do his comments actually contradict the core idea behind the burqa? Not in the slightest.

The fundamental reason, both Islamic and cultural, for the burqa is to hide women’s bodies in the name of ‘modesty’. Why should women be worried about modesty? So they don’t make men horny. So they don’t tempt men into sinful behaviour. And, of course, so they don’t tempt men into rape.

The burqa is the physical statement that the behaviour of men is the responsibility of women.

As such, the burqa can piss right off.

Many argue that burqa is a personal expression of faith, and has nothing to do with men at all. But this either means that you are hiding your body for god himself, making him a sexist twat and a hypocrite (since, as a god, he can see everything anyway), or that god does not demand it and you’re doing it anyway just for fun. Neither of these is a compelling argument.

Others like to compare the burqa to the dress of Christian nuns, or the demands of fashion and beauty on western women, arguing that these are equally oppressive. And they have a point.

burqaIt’s well documented that I’m no fan of fashion, but I’m not sure exactly how comparing the burqa to high heels is a defence of the burqa. Personally I think it just emphasises how bloody stupid it is as an item of clothing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeriously. Imagine trying to get around in this thing.

And even if you thought this comparison made a good point, ask yourself the question; when was the last time someone was thrown in jail (or just straight-up murdered) for taking off their high heels?

Another defence of the burqa is the underlying message doesn’t matter – the only thing that matters is that women want to wear them. Isn’t the entire point of feminism that women have the freedom to make their own decisions? How then can we criticise those decisions in the name of feminism?

burqua 4

Pretty damn easily actually. The freedom to choose does not excuse someone from criticism for that choice. Suggesting that every decision a woman makes is right simply because she made it herself is so blatantly wrong I’m surprised I have to point it out.

From an ethics point of view (remembering here that ethics is about what we should do, not just what we should be allowed to do) it doesn’t matter if Muslim women want to wear the burqa. It doesn’t even matter if they like wearing it or if it makes them somehow feel more empowered (yes, some people actually argue that). What matters is why they wear it and whether that reason can be justified.

And given those reasons can basically be boiled down to;

  • oppression by men,
  • believing god is both a nutter and a hypocrite, or,
  • a really, really stupid fashion choice,

then the answer is very bluntly, ‘no’. The burqa is unethical.

So…all steam ahead on a ban then?

No. Absolutely, definitely, emphatically, NO.

Remember a few weeks back we discussed how it’s important to distinguish between the principles and the practicalities of a situation? How, just because your cause might be correct, it doesn’t give you a license to be a dick about it? Well this is one of those times.

I hate the burqa because it is based on the idea that women are responsible for the actions of men. I would like to see the burqa disappear because these women no longer suffer this oppression (and it is oppression, even if they willingly participate in it).

Given this aim, my next question should be ‘How can we bring this about most effectively’. Reckon a ban is going to be effective in doing that?

b4I’m going to go with ‘no’.

While eliminating the burqa may be right in principle, the practical fact is that it is a serious part of many people’s religion and culture – the same way that the extremely unhealthy and dangerous practice of getting drunk is part of many Australian’s culture.

Attempting to ban practices like these will not only fail to improve the situation, it might actually make it worse – driving the practice underground, building resentment and alienation, and ultimately further marginalising the very women we’re meant to be helping here.

muslim woman burqa conondrum - islam mullah wear - west sam dont wear - same thing

So what’s the answer then? If history is anything to go by, ironically the answer is to do nothing.

Back in the 1990’s Australia was gripped by the paralysing fear of the Asian Invasion – mass migrations of Asian people to our fair country, bringing their customs and language over here, refusing to assimilate, speaking their foreign lingo, taking our jobs! It’s bullshit mate! They should go back where they came from! Etc, etc, etc. Entire Tea Party-esque political movements were created nearly exclusively to oppose this threat, but thanks to those liberal-commie-pinko-pooftas, who though policy shouldn’t be based on xenophobia, not much actually changed.

20 years later, the full and terrible effects of the Invasion are being felt: the food options have improved.

Every single time a new ethnic group immigrated to Australia we go through the same panic about ‘losing our way of life’, and the same thing happens – absolutely nothing. It’s almost as if immigrant communities tend to adopt the customs and culture of their new country when you leave them alone and treat them like human beings!

This is especially true when those communities start to have kids here, who go to Australian schools, speak English as a first language and have no strong ties to their parental homelands – any more than most white Australians do with England.

Banning the burqa is probably the single most effective thing we could ever do to encourage its survival. Education, tolerance and treating people like people is by far the greater weapon in any culture war.

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