Banning the burqa is not the answer

Angela Merkel has this week called for a ban of the full-face veil (burqa) “wherever legally possible”. While many of us in the UK may be uncomfortable with the cultural assumptions behind the wearing of the burqa, it’s important for us to remember that, as liberals, we should enshrine wherever possible the right to decide how you live your life and practice your faith, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. A ban of the burqa is an illiberal assault on religious and cultural freedoms.

Unfortunately, there is another side to this issue – there is great concern, both from moderate muslims in the UK, and from wider observers, that some number of women are forced to wear the burqa or otherwise endure cultural or religious burdens that they do not want. Stripping away the rights of another, and forcing them to act as you will with threats of violence, exclusion, monetary penalties and more is abuse, and we need to tackle that with all seriousness.

Abuse as a wider issue than physical violence is something that frustratingly has had little impact on the popular consciousness. Financial, emotional and other kinds of abuse can ruin lives just as physical or sexual abuse can. Tackling all forms of abuse is extremely difficult, because ultimately it is intimidation: those intimidated fear to speak out for the exact reason they need to.

The issue of abuse in the UK is far wider than the muslim community, and one of the problems with legislation of this type is that not only does it remove choice from the individual unnecessarily, it draws a line about what culture of abuse is permissible and what is not. The understanding of the scope of abuse in this country is generally poor, and most are horrified by the statistics when they are presented with them, if they don’t outright disbelieve the evidence presented.

Roughly 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men, will suffer domestic abuse at some point in their life. An estimated 50,000+ children are classified as “in need of protection from abuse” right now. Abuse is a chronic problem in our society, and one that has to be tackled with care, consideration and a liberal mind to ensure we don’t strip freedom from anyone unnecessarily. Banning a specific piece of clothing does nothing to prevent abuse, for abusers rarely focus on a specific thing to torment their victims with, and does much to alienate a culture already struggling to integrate.

In short, don’t ban the burqa. Fund domestic abuse prevention programmes, help communities integrate and open up with shared events, education and services, and above all help people of all ages understand abuse of all kinds, and what to do when you are the victim of it. This isn’t a muslim problem, it’s a people problem. And we need to start treating it like that.

* Edwin Moriarty joined the Liberal Democrats in 2016.

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37 Comments

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Dec '16 - 8:40am

    Edwin, I agree absolutely. The Burqa ban is a violation of human rights. It is contrary to the right to religious freedom, and the right of individuals to make their own choices about the way they live their lives.
    You are right to point out that, while it is true that perhaps some women are being coerced into wearing the Burqa, the ban will not help these women, but will instead make their situation worse.
    You are also right to point out that domestic abuse takes many forms. Most of the victims, and most of the perpetrators, are not Muslims, and are not from immigrant backgrounds.
    We should offer support to women who are being forced to wear the Burqa against their will. But we must also support the many women who choose to wear it of their own free will.

  • What about the same argument (religious freedom) to cover female circumcision…Like FGM, the burqa is rooted in gender inequality and again, like FGM, attempts to control women’s sexuality…..
    Banning the burqa might ‘inconvenience’ some, but if it prevents even ONE woman being ‘forced’ to adhere to this imposition, then I’m in favour….

    Why is Cultural Relativism so selective?

  • “The Burqa ban is a violation of human rights”

    No it isn’t. What is wrong in saying you can’t hide your face when you enter a bank, shop or school?

  • Graham Martin-Royle 8th Dec '16 - 10:00am

    I hate the burqa. That said, I do not agree with any attempts to ban it. One argument given is that those wearing it are forced to do so. If that is true then address that problem. By banning it you are then forcing someone who does wish to wear it into wearing something that they do not want to wear. How is that any different from the person who forces a woman to wear a burqa?

    Banning clothing just because you don’t like it is wrong. I don’t like hipsters. Shall I call for a ban on them?

    As for banks, schools etc. it is up to them what rules they employ. If you wish to use their services then you must abide by their rules. If that entails removing a face covering then so be it.

  • The issue of a Burqa ban has already been addressed by the ECHR. They ruled it is not a violation of human rights. As long as there is no attempt to ban the hijab also, I don’t think anyone can complain too much about it.

  • Denis Loretto 8th Dec '16 - 10:17am

    The crude measure of legally banning is rarely the right approach for dealing with issues of this nature and I do not advocate it in this case but is it wrong for us – as individuals if not as a party – to say that we do not like the practice of anyone fully covering their face when they appear in public? I live in a racially and religiously mixed area in London and am glad to do so. As a fairly gregarious person I talk to people I meet and pass the time of day, particularly with people I recognise as my neighbours. When the nearby mosque has an open day I am glad to go and have a chat (plus very good cake!) there. Very few local Muslim women wear the full veil in our area but if I meet one who does I have no idea who she is and in any case does her dressing in this way indicate that she does not want to be spoken to – particularly perhaps by men?
    It may be perfectly reasonably stated that it is not all about me and any discomfort I feel is of no moment beside the human right to wear anything you like but can it really help the broader community integration we must surely want to encourage in our country? I have to say honestly that I hope this form of dress gradually peters out rather than increasing – but I do not think a legal ban is the answer.

  • ethicsgradient 8th Dec '16 - 10:54am

    The burqa is a moral conundrum for anyone who is libertarian whether the person is a Lib Dem or not.

    One the one side is the libertarian default position that as long as it is not harming anybody else and it is consensual, people should dress and do as they please.

    On the other hand the burqa is clearly a misogynistic, subservient-producing, control device designed to remove a woman’s ability to interact or even have a presence in the world. I’ll have no truck with anyone who tell me it is about religious expression. I’m a pragmatist it isn’t. The veil (now burqa) simply took the idea that a woman should be modest (that in itself is misogynistic) and combined it with a middle-eastern tradition of married women wearing a headscarf to indicate to prospective males from other tribes that they already taken and not available for marriage and managed though the best part of 1500 years to turn it into something that seeks to remove the female form from society. I cannot think of anything more illiberal!

    However, some voluntarily wear a walking bag with eye-slits while others are certainly forced to do this through cultural and peer pressure. But who am idea to tell someone else what to wear?

    I would not ban the burqa. The burqa itself though is a troubling sign of a rejection of liberalized western civilization.

  • First of all, can we stop describing it as “Banning the Burqa” as it si a debate about full face veil not just the Burqa, do we need to use language like The Sun?

    Secondly the point about this is that what is being proposed by this is a thought crime, as it is covering of the face for a particular reason. Assuming we are not going to ban hoodies and scarves that cover the face or tinted visors on motorbike helmets. If we could be a little more consistent in believing that everyone should be judged by their actions not their thoughts it would look more consistent. But I would hope most people could get behind the idea that though crimes are a bad idea (even if they are inconsistent in reality).

    Thirdly, as for “the otherside” people talk about women being “forced” to wear particular dress, when in reality that is very rare but there is concern about some feeling cultural pressure to conform and wear certain things. The fact is that using the power of the state to force someone not to wear something in the hope that some others won’t feel social pressure to conform is incredibly illiberal. Other approaches should be taken to helping people over coming social pressures, legislation is a heavy tool for that purpose with high risk of unintended consequences.

    Finally, malc: the concern about security on private property, at airports (or placing restrictions on certain demonstrations to avoid criminal activity), schools etc. is due to people having an unclear understanding of the law allows and does not.

  • David Evershed 8th Dec '16 - 11:34am

    Is there any evidence that wearing a burqa is part of a religious faith?

  • @expats – “What about the same argument (religious freedom) to cover female circumcision”

    Hardly the same thing. You can always take a burqa off, but you can’t put a clitoris back on.

    My understanding is that FGM happens to young girls who are not given a choice, and the effect is permanent. The choice to wear a burqa or not can be changed at any time.

  • Chris Bertram 8th Dec '16 - 1:10pm

    @David Evershed – The evidence is there in the hadiths, where there are commands for women to cover their “ornaments”. The “liberal” interpretation holds that this means covering their breasts, which most people would agree is reasonable in normal circumstances. The “mainstream” interpretation extends this to the hair, which is why most muslim women wear a scarf that covers their hair and shoulders. The “hardline” interpretation mandates the full face covering. This has become more common as Saudi money has flooded into British mosques, and reflects Saudi practice, where women are rarely seen unaccompanied or uncovered. For them, it is definitely a religious requirement, and they have the scholars to back it up. That it serves as a means of controlling and repressing women is a bonus.

    If you can find any non-islamic culture where women are routinely shrouded like that, I’d be very interested to hear it.

  • Chris Bertram 8th Dec '16 - 1:13pm

    @Paul: “The issue of a Burqa ban has already been addressed by the ECHR. They ruled it is not a violation of human rights. ”

    Good. Then we should support institutions and businesses that wish to require removal of full-face coverings on their premises, with a guarantee of impunity for refusal of service to anyone so covered, and protection from adverse consequences from that refusal.

  • Chris Bertram 8th Dec '16 - 1:46pm

    And on the subject of Saudi, isn’t it a shame that on the one occasion when Boris Johnson tells the truth, the government decides to disown his remarks?

  • Psi 8th Dec ’16 – 11:29am…I have yet to see a hoodie or scarf designed to completely cover the face ( a hijab is their equivalent) or, more importantly, to reinforce gender inequality and to control women’s sexuality….
    As for “women being “forced” to wear”…How many would it take for you to support a ban; 100, 1000, 10000?…… IMO one is too many…

    Nick Baird 8th Dec ’16 – 12:49pm…..@expats – “What about the same argument (religious freedom) to cover female circumcision”……Hardly the same thing. You can always take a burqa off, but you can’t put a clitoris back on……

    In Roman times slaves were often branded with their master’s mark… However many wore badges with the equivalent of “I belong to Julius Smithus, if you find me, send me back.”….
    Different degrees; same slavery!

  • The same thing occurs with churches in the eastern Mediterranean in terms of shoulder and hair covering – and I am sure there would be a biblical reference which could be quoted. So there is evidence that it was a cultural practice, and still is in many places in that area. That’s not to disagree that it is discriminatory, of course. In Britain, I have several times seen young Muslim women say it is a positive assertion of their faith and their right to dress as they wish.

  • If businesses can ban the wearing of hoodies and crash-helmets, we can – and should – ban the covering of the face by other means.

    Can we stop being apologists for non-integrationists and misogynists? Do we not yet know why people regards us as cringing apologists for ‘belief systems’ that despise us and, while taking happily everything we offer, regard us with animosity and contempt?

  • Chris Bertram 8th Dec '16 - 2:52pm

    @Tim13 – Shoulder and hair, yes – but full-face covering? I think not, and that’s what we’re discussing here. Let’s not confuse the debate. Muslim women who wear the niqab are also unlikely to share their views (or be allowed to) on whether it’s a “positive assertion” of their faith with the unclean kuffr anyway.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Dec '16 - 4:11pm

    I support a burka ban, but not punishing the women. Ban its sale and anyone asking someone to wear one.

    According to Yougov 57% of Brits support a ban, vs 25% who don’t (2016).

    I often think English speaking people on the left would be surprised if they got into a debate on the topic with their French speaking counterparts. In 2010 70% of French supported a burka ban against 26% who didn’t and Quebec has similar attitudes towards it.

    In Germany too, 62% support banning the burka against 27% who don’t.

    In the United States it is 59% against a ban versus 27% who support it. It seems to be the debate in the English speaking world is different to elsewhere and Merkel must be looking at these German opinion polls and her own party base.

    Sources:

    https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/08/31/majority-public-backs-burka-ban/

    http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2010/04/26/97001-20100426FILWWW00543-70-des-francais-pour-interdire-la-burqa.php

  • Eddie
    Your figures: 62 : 27 Germany, 59 : 26 USA, 57 : 25 UK all look pretty similar to me. I accept that 70% for a ban in France is somewhat higher. Your issue with “the left” – the liberal left doesn’t generally favour banning things not harming others, whereas the conservative right would if it deviates from norms as they see them.

    Chris Yes, there may be those who describe non-Muslims in the way you describe, but there are many many others who genuinely regard Christians and Jews as “people of the book”. I have seen examples of women speaking positively on TV of their wish to wear the niqab. I think we have to be very careful NOT to stereotype here.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Dec '16 - 5:17pm

    No Tim, the figures are the opposite for the US – 59% are against the ban with only 27% who are against in Germany. The US seems to be the big outlier here, but they influence us a lot.

    My point wasn’t to criticise the left, it was to try to broaden the mindset by looking at the debate around the world. The women’s minister of the French social-democratic government supported banning even the burkini, which is more like a hijab, citing it as a symbol of inequality between men and women. I strongly disagree with a burkini ban though.

  • David Allen 8th Dec '16 - 5:30pm

    What does “ban the burka” mean? Does it mean ban anyone from pulling a burka over their head inside the privacy of their own home? Of course it doesn’t.

    Does it mean ban anyone from wearing a burka in any public place? That would be feasible. In my view it would be illiberal, because it would be an unjustified restriction on personal freedom. A burka is not offensive in the middle of Rannoch Moor, and in my view it is not normally offensive in Oxford Street either.

    It could however be reasonable to permit organisations to enforce a ban within e.g. shops, workplaces and public institutions such as schools and hospitals, provided a good practical reason could be put forward for the ban, and provided the organisation enforcing the ban had not shown evidence of having done so for discriminatory reasons. A shopowner could reasonably say that a shop assistant should be required to avoid dressing in a way that could annoy a (non-racist) customer by concealing facial expression. A shopowner could not reasonably demand that his customers also avoid dressing in such a way.

    Rules like this would discourage the burka without prohibiting it – A fair compromise.

  • Joseph Bourke 8th Dec '16 - 6:36pm

    We need to get the terminology right here http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/24118241.

    British values and the party of freedom cannot support a ban on individual freedom including the freedom to engage in activities that may prove harmful or detrimental to the individual, if it is not a cause of harm to others.

    The Burka is a Saudi/Gulf states tradition and not part of the national dress of most Muslim countries. I suspect it is something of a passing fad for women (and their husbands) not from those states where it originates. In time it will largely fade away from use among British Muslims for whom it is not part of their cultural heritage,

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Dec '16 - 8:17pm

    Edwin my friend well done !

    Psi is correct too and malc we can as professions and in certain circumstances insist with the current law , that dress is inappropriate. I do not think any doctor or teacher should wear them at work . That is not the same as a general public ban , it is saying good practice makes that intimidating and not acceptable .

    The German Chancellor , like the French leadership are showing , now that the Dutch have gone down that road, that Britain is best !

    Patriotic Liberalism , Liberty , Blighty !

  • I’m against a Burka ban, but I not believe that religion and religious practices are always a matter of choice and I find the willingness to letting plainly illiberal tendencies within religion off the hook as party and parcel of defending the rights of the religious to practice that religion. The reality is that the Burka is not a fashion statement or really a choice it’s a quite deliberate barrier to stop girls getting funny ideas about leaving the religion and becoming too westernised. The fact is the Muslims who go for this kind of thing are about as compatible with liberalism as the strictest right-wing southern Baptist. However, the mark of true liberalism is its ability to defend without condoning the rights of the illiberal. It is not liberals job to tell families and communities what values to have and to legally enforce them. Equally it isn’t liberals job to pretend this is because everyone and everything is liberal.

  • This is a difficult subject. First the BURKA is what we commonly see from Afganistan, the face veil with just eyes showing is the NIQAB. I have many Muslim friends, the woman i know do not ‘cover’ however they still choose to dress in a more modest way than many western woman. I have met and spoken with fully veiled woman, they most definatley have a voice and views of their own … but choose to fully cover.
    I would not support any attempted to ban the burka or niqab, and always it seems outside (mainly men) trying to impose bans without consulting the wearers

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 9th Dec ’16 – 8:15am
    ‘If you can find any non-islamic culture where women are routinely shrouded like that, I’d be very interested to hear it.’
    In my lifetime, some Catholic orders of nuns were so enclosed that they didn’t meet men at all, except their Father Confessor. Prior to the 1960s, nuns in the community, working as teachers and other good works wore a habit that only exposed their hands and face – no hair visible. Covering the female head at worship, by a veil or hat is a longstanding Christian tradition, less widely observed today…..

    Prior to the 1960s?????????? In the UK, because of religious doctrine, homosexual activity was punishable by imprisonment; Let’s hope we have moved on from then…And anyway nun’s faces/hands were uncovered (Hijab)
    Enclosed orders were female only; run by females, etc. How that has any bearing on burqas in a street only you know…

  • expats

    “I have yet to see a hoodie or scarf designed to completely cover the face”

    Not what I said. You can wear a Hoodie and Scarf in a way that covers the same, will the proponents ban them? In addition there are head coverings that are available that do cover the full face, not commonly worn as they make people look like bank robbers or rioters, will anyone ban them?

    “designed to”
    So we are talking about the intent in designing not the effect of it, making it a thought crime.

    “How many would it take for you to support a ban; 100, 1000, 10000?”

    The number is irrelevant, the question is what is the effective policy to reduce/prevent it. We could impose a curfew on all people we could reduce the amount of muggings, stranger rape, murders. ‘But’, say Janet to John, ‘it wouldn’t eliminate all those crimes’ ‘no’ says John to Janet ‘but if it reduced it by one that would be worth it.’

    The problem if you rely on an appeal to emotion, is that if you are open to it someone else will take it up and run with it too.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '16 - 11:05pm

    Tim13

    In Britain, I have several times seen young Muslim women say it is a positive assertion of their faith and their right to dress as they wish.

    Indeed. That is my experience. This recent rise in face-covering among Muslims in communities where it never used to be done is a fashion statement. When I see it, it’s a “Look at me, I’m holier than thou” thing.

    The Quran does not have anything that demands this. The passage that is interpreted that way simply calls for modest dressing. So I would say a truer way of meeting that is to dress in a modest and inconspicuous way, and togging so so that everyone can stare at you because you want to draw attention to yourself is just about the opposite of the real meaning of that passage.

  • Matthew Huntbach.
    I disagree that it is a fashion statement. It’s actually a religious one and possibly a political one. If you walk around in T shirt saying Jesus Saves, or whatever, you are doing it to make a statement about religion and to an extent about the culture you live in. If your parents or partner make you do it, it isn’t freedom of choice either. The reason you’re seeing more Burkas is because there are more Muslims from more different places in larger communities with different pressures. If you look around you will also notice that you see the thawb more often as well.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Dec '16 - 8:11am

    Glenn

    I disagree that it is a fashion statement. It’s actually a religious one and possibly a political one. If you walk around in T shirt saying Jesus Saves, or whatever, you are doing it to make a statement about religion and to an extent about the culture you live in

    Oh sure, I am using “fashion statement” in a rather contemptuous way. Yes, these people are doing it to make a religious statement, but as I said it’s a “I’m holier than thou” sort of thing, and to my mind it illustrates a rather shallow approach to religion. I am influenced in what I am saying here by the contempt Jesus is reported to have about those with a show-off attitude: it is one of the most consistent themes in the Gospels.

    If your parents or partner make you do it, it isn’t freedom of choice either.

    Oh sure, if that’s the case. However, the cases I know of are not that, they really are a personal choice, and it’s a show-off issue. I’m not saying all cases are like this. Given that I work in a place which has the highest proportion of Muslims of any part of the the country, and a high proportion of the students I teach are Muslims, I do know what I am talking about.

  • Psi 9th Dec ’16 – 10:22am….expats, You can wear a Hoodie and Scarf in a way that covers the same, will the proponents ban them?…….

    I could wear a stocking or a blanket to do the same. My point was that THEY, unlike the burqa, are not intended to…..

    As for your….”We could impose a curfew on all people we could reduce the amount of muggings, stranger rape, murders. ‘But’, say Janet to John, ‘it wouldn’t eliminate all those crimes’ ‘no’ says John to Janet ‘but if it reduced it by one that would be worth it.’….

    To put your analogy in context…If muggers, rapists and murderers all wore a distinctive ‘uniform’ then, imposing a curfew on those wearing that uniform, would reduce such crimes..

    As I’ve said before; banning the burqa might inconvenience those who ‘choose’ to wear it, but it would protect those who are ‘forced’ to….

  • Mathew.
    I live in and grew up in Leicester. So oh sure, I know what I’m taking about too. My experience is that it depends on what branch of Islam you’re talking about , where they’re from and what has become the local dress code. I’ve seen primary school children in the full burka when I worked in a primary school. . If you walk around Highfields you’ll see the burka a lot and it goes back decades. Less common in the past , but far from rare. That’s not fashion.
    I think there is an attempt to put Islam within a liberal context and there are no doubt plenty of liberal Muslims. However it like all religions can come with all sorts of social pressures and is not actually that liberal. I do not doubt your experiences in higher education, but do not assume that my views are born ignorance and lack of exposure.

  • expats

  • expats

    “I could wear a stocking or a blanket to do the same. My point was that THEY, unlike the burqa, are not intended to…..”

    So my point stands.

    You intend to ban clothing based upon you interpretation of the manufacturers/wearers intention. So a thought crime.

  • expats

    “To put your analogy in context…If muggers, rapists and murderers all wore a distinctive ‘uniform’ then, imposing a curfew on those wearing that uniform, would reduce such crimes..”

    Errr, no. In my analogy the wearers were potential (but unlikely) victims.

    You created a new analogy where they became rapists and muggers. Interesting.

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