Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Banning the Burqa

i'm posting this here for those that don't read the big blog and want a more intimate place to express their opinion. if you want to be part of a larger discussion, you can find it here:

As a western woman with the freedoms to wear whatever I want (as long as it’s garment worthy) I secretly snickered when I heard that French president Nicolas Sarkozy wants to ban the wearing of burqas by Muslim women on French territory. Apparently, he wants to protect the dignity of women.

After all, a *burqa is an article of clothing designed to conceal a woman from head to toe with only her eyes to be seen. To my half-white, middle-class American mind, the wearing of a burqa is just crazy. It forces a woman to be “invisible”. She is no longer a person, she’s property.

And as a feminist, it makes me uncomfortable to be around.**

But, my silent and fleeting satisfaction quickly turned to thoughts of the potential harms of such laws.

Religious tolerance and personal freedoms were first to my mind.

And the women. What happens to the women who have been forbidden by law to wear their coverings in public?

It’s easy for me as a feminist to almost intuitively think that any kind of forced covering is wrong. I mean, she’ll never be equal to anyone as long as she’s hidden behind a veil, right?


the religious person in me thinks that legislating what religious apparel is ‘unacceptable’ is just establishing a precedent for doing away with any form of outward signs of religion (garments? yarmulkes?). And what about cultural clothing?

What if a government decides that traditional [insert any traditional immigrant to the new country] clothing is not in keeping with the standards of cultural acceptability?

I know that many women wear the head scarf or burqa do it out of choice–out of religious duty. I understand and can respect those arguments. As a person who wears the garment to, in part, protect my morality and encourage modesty, I am not much different.

I also know that many women are forced to wear coverings. If I were to visit Saudi Arabia, I’d be required to cover-up in public.

So, what is the difference? Assuming their is one.

Where is the line drawn when respecting one country’s customs and laws and infringing on personal freedoms?

Where is the line drawn when respecting one group’s religious and cultural practices and protecting the rights of women/children/animals within the new host country?

What of the women who cannot wear their coverings in public? Will they be forced to stay indoors? Or will they obey the ‘laws of the land’ but be subject to sanctions by their religious and social community?

I don’t have the answers and I don’t really know what to think on this issue.

However, this does come to mind and whether or not it’s a similar scenario to you, it does help provide a starting point for me when considering France’s potential new law:

Years ago, women used to have their feet bound. Even here in the United States. Do you think we (Americans) would be so forgiving of such cultural practices now?

* If I have totally misrepresented anyone’s beliefs, please accept my apologies in advance.

**as a person who absolutely loves and celebrates religious and cultural diversity, I find myself in a world of confusion on this one.


  1. ..and i really needed to update this blog.

  2. Burquas have a real problem in that the person inside is invisible, as in they could be anyone. So, it's a great piece of clothing to wear if you want to rob a bank or blow up an apartment block. I see no reason they shouldn't be banned for security reasons, and I'm a dirty ******* hippie.

  3. while trying to be sensitive to others religious practices, I equate the tradition of the full burqa to be much more on par with foot binding and adolescent girls marrying middle aged men.

    but yeah, slippery slope. and many blurry lines.

  4. oh... and I wish you would ALWAYS post here whatever you post over yonder.
    but that's just me.

  5. I'd like it if you post your fmh blogs here as well as at fmh because fmh is HUGE with so many posts going up all the time and so many comments.
    it's nice to have the option of being a little more personal.

  6. The line does get fuzzy, but I believe these women HAVE TO wear the burqu, as opposed to wanting to wear it. If governments can take away the 'HAVE TO' condition, they are doing these women a great service. Imagine only seeing the beautiful world with an obstructed view. Aside from banning this full head covering, virtually everything else is still on the table for traditional/religious dress. I think this is a resonable line and wouldn't lead to the slippery slope. The arguments against female genitile mutilation vs. its religious/cultural necessity are very similar.

  7. andrea, thanks for stopping by! are you the andrea that comments at fmh?

    i tend to agree with you, if the gov't could take away the HAVE TO condition the burqa wearing would be tolerable. but how?

    i think that's what the French pres is trying to do but it's going to get really messy.

    but, france is not the US, they are way more secular than we are. if the law passes, it will be an interesting experiment in changing integrating cultures. forced assimilation, i suppose.

  8. Hi. I'm a friend of ECS. She speaks highly of you and G. Wish we could all meet sometime.

    I think the U.S. could ban burquas on the basis of security. I think that's an easy, neat and tidy, fix. The state really does have an interest in disallowing full head coverage. Question: what does airport security do presently? I would assume that women have to pull up their burquas so security personnel can see if their faces match their IDs.

  9. "I think the U.S. could ban burquas on the basis of security."

    if they can turn on the mic on our cell phones for "national security" purposes than you're right, they can ban the use of religious/cultural garb for the same reason.

    i'm leaning towards forced assimilation even though i know that it will be really difficult for the women in the coming years after such laws are passed. but....

    what do i know? i don't have any real scientifical :) reason to think that way. i just want all women to be seen.

    so let me say that i don't believe that women who wear head scarfs should be forced not to wear them. just the women (and the men who require they wear them) who cover their faces and sometimes their eyes that need to make some modifications (sacrifices to integrate into the new culture).


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