The Saturday debate: Burkas – to ban or not to ban?

Here’s your starter for ten for our Saturday slot posing a view for debate:

Although it is estimated that no more than 2,000 people in France wear a burka, it has become a hot topic of political debate:

A parliamentary commission [has] proposed a ban on the garment in all public services facilities, including transport.

The commission’s report stops short of recommending a complete public ban on the head-to-toe covering, which conceals the face, wanted by many politicians. Instead, it calls for those wearing the garment to be denied access to hospitals, buses, welfare offices and all other public facilities. (FT)

As the French plan to impose a ban on the burqa attracted criticism from different quarters around the world, French ambassador to India Jerome Bonnafont said that the burqa and naqab were in contradiction of principles of freedom and equality … The French ambassador further said that the burqa was `unacceptable’ in terms of security and for the women rights movement. (The Economic Times)

Agree? Disagree? Comment away …

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Feb '10 - 9:04am

    Only if there is a genuine and extremely compelling security consideration in a particular place.

    Not because you believe in the state telling people what clothing is “acceptable”.

  • No of course they shouldn’t be explicitly banned. They should be subject to the same restrictions as any other head gear that conceals the face – no more than that, but certainly no less than that.

  • Liberté, égalité, fraternité – it doesn’t sound like this meets any of those three goals unless the majority of these 2000 women are being forced to wear burkhas against their will.

    If they are being forced to wear burkhas, then perhaps the French government’s efforts should focus on the source of that coercion rather than creating laws that may end up even further restricting the freedom of burkha-wearing women.

  • Of course they shouldn’t be banned. It is not the job of the state to tell people what clothes to wear and the idea that it is is completely unacceptable.

    That doesn’t stop me thinking that wearing a burka is an attempt by the wearer to be deliberately offensive.

  • No to a ban – but I feel absoltutely free to show my disdain (and despair). We cannot ignore that it is essentially a horrible mysoginyst practice (not explictly linked to belief) that is at odds to a free society.

    I would feel unesassy at making it female-only attendednts at airports, in that that implicitly concurs and supports the absurd position that all the men will instantly start lusting over someone’s property (or is that daughter?)

  • Andrew Suffield 20th Feb '10 - 12:22pm

    There are a number of people who like wearing the things. It doesn’t matter why, or how often they do so. Any attempt to prevent these people from dressing as they choose is inexcusable.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Feb '10 - 12:54pm

    Nice to see Google supplying an advertisement for Jilbabs on this thread …

  • Paul Pettinger 20th Feb '10 - 3:41pm

    This is a ghastly alliance between secularists and racists. Of course the Burka should not be banned. The non-religious will probably out number the religious in the next twenty years and we (the non-religious) must make sure that we don’t abuse our dominant position in ways like this, like Christianity continues to do so today.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 20th Feb '10 - 5:38pm

    How on earth do they manage to keep this on the right side of the European Convention on Hunan Rights?

  • James, there are moves afoot to ban topless sunbathing in France, if that’s close enough an analogy for you.

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Feb '10 - 1:53am

    I don’t think I’d be allowed to follow the medieval tradition of flagellating myself in public

    There’s a few places in London where you can do that…

  • ” The non-religious will probably out number the religious in the next twenty years and we (the non-religious) must make sure that we don’t abuse our dominant position in ways like this, like Christianity continues to do so today.”

    Latest poll put the non-religious in the UK (those with no religion or who say their religion is purely cultural) at 60%

    see UK polling report for details

  • “However we have to recognise that some Muslim women will have had immense peer pressure from their community to wear them. And they can be ostracised from their communities for not doing so. ”

    Yes its only Muslim women who can’t think for themselves, yet when normal women face immense peer pressure to wear short skirts or bikinis its a matter of choice? Of course not, trashy media outlets (normally male run) dictate what is fashionable and acceptable or even beautiful, and young girls take it on as the normative fashion of their peers.

  • We don’t want to ban them, just require that they have warning labels printed on them.

    Or maybe that was something issue involving women and peer pressure…

  • Lizzie –
    pretending the reason for banning is a mixture of racism and sexism isn’t helping in looking at the issue. As I said, I am against banning – not because I think the burqa is a great testament to the freedom of ‘non-normal’ women (or is that Muslim women?), or that there is any difference in their freedom of thought (who said that?) – but because I don’t think the sate should assume that power, and I don’t think it would help community cohesion.

    However, to pretend, in arguing against a ban, that there is not an issue with highly oppressive families and social pressure to conform to this practice, or to draw a false equivalence with “trashy fasion” is surely betraying vulnerable people. For hierarchies to consciously direct women to utterly cover themselves, because they are vessals of sin, is completely different to the mores of whatever fashion is in.

    Indeed you seem to want it both ways: ‘non-normal’ (Muslim) women are utterly capable to decide for themselves and want to not be seen at all, whereas white women and young girls are manipulated to wear what the fashion industry wants, against their own interest.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Feb '10 - 8:26am

    “However, to pretend, in arguing against a ban, that there is not an issue with highly oppressive families and social pressure to conform to this practice, or to draw a false equivalence with “trashy fasion” is surely betraying vulnerable people.”

    As no one is pretending that, it’s a bit of a straw-man argument.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Feb '10 - 9:22am

    A language thing – why has the term “burka” come to mean any all-covering outfit which some suppose Islam asks its female followers to wear?

    My understanding is that correctly “burka” is a loose garment which hangs from the top of the head to the ground, with netting to see out. I have never seen anyone wearing such a thing.

    However, working in a part of London with a high Muslim population, I frequently see women wearing another sort of
    garment, which unlike the burka involves two parts, the separate head part covers all of the face apart from the eyes, the whole thing is tighter than the burka.

    I’m assuming it’s this latter garment that is being referred to when people write here of “banning the burka”. I think it is actually called something else.

    There’s something of a fashion for it where I am, female students who opt for extreme intepretation of Islamic dress codes tend to be more forward types, “bolshy” as we used to say. Definitely not submissive types who have been pushed into it.

    Secularists who have no idea of how religion works just don’t know how to argue about things like this, and tend to adopt positions which only encourage the extremists. It needs to be challenged from within Islam. The challenge would go something like this – true faith is what comes from the inside, not the outside. The wording in the Koran is not to dress in an outlandish fashion, but simply to dress modestly. Wearing all-encompassing outfits is not dressing modestly, it is dressing with a desire to draw attention. Therefore it is not in accordance with a more true interpretation of the Islamic ideal.

  • Anthony A S –
    People aren’t explicitly, I agree. But the idea that this is all a matter of strong women choosing to wear the thing – niqab or burkha – deminishes the importance of the actual problem of coercion.

    Matthew – I am sure that many students do wear it for identity empowering assertion type reasons or the like. But taking students perhaps begs the question?

    The idea, also, that this is secularists who are pushing it is odd, in this country anyway, since it is the decidedly non-secualar UKIP who have adopted the policy in the UK. In France I understand that ‘secular’ takes a slightly differnt meaning, and cannot be used interchangeably across the Channel (it is a ‘secular’ country, with a strong tradition in its form of secularism). Many secularists may support it, for example Maryam Namazie, but can we please get away from the insinuation that secualrism is a strange evil.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Feb '10 - 12:33pm


    The idea, also, that this is secularists who are pushing it is odd, in this country anyway, since it is the decidedly non-secualar UKIP who have adopted the policy in the UK.

    You have missed my point.

    What I was trying to say is that well-meaning secularists often fail to put their point over effectively to those who are not secularists, because they have no idea of how the religious mind works. Rather they base their lines on stereotypical and pejorative images they have of how the religious mind works. The same applies, of course, exactly in reverse.

    The result is that both sides go off with a satisfying feeling that they are right and the other side is wrong, and what debate takes place is more a form of mental masturbation than anything else.

  • What an odd comment. I know plenty of religious secularists, and most of the non-believers I know were previously religious at some point in their life. I also know a couple of religious people who used to be non-believers (or at least apathetic). Where do these people fit into your little dichotomy of non-comprehension?

    I’ll tell you what I think. I think you just have a big chip on your shoulder about all the bad press your Catholic Church is getting and you need to behind “they just don’t understand us” because there is litteraly no other defense. That’s what I think.

  • Seeing you lot congratulating yourselves on how wonderfully broad-minded and tolerant you all are on this issue makes me understand why the Lib Dems are doing so poorly, despite Labour and the Conservatives being so unpopular.

    Do any of you talk to any of your fellow countrymen and women? Do you think there is widespread support in the population at large for increasing numbers of anonymous veiled women on the streets?

    According to an Angus Reid Public opinion poll in January, 72 percent wanted the burqa banned in all public places while 79 percent wanted a ban on burqas in schools, universities and airports. However, 75 percent said there should be no public ban on the hijab.

    What this tells me is that the hijab is seen as legitimate, while the burqa is not. Hiding your face is the ultimate rejection of the people and society around you. The French understand this.

    That so many of you support the development of a parallel Muslim fundamentalist society in our midst demonstrates how far the LibDems have drifted from mainstream British society.

  • James, just because you “feel” that this is to do with race and immmigration (which you may well sincerely do, and it is a legitimate idea, of course) I can’t help but think that this is obscuring the more fundamental issue of universal human rights that Sanjay was talking about. I feel all too often in these cases that defending minority groups (rarely expressed as individuals, although here there has been talk of that, thankfully) allows the most conservative and radical wings legitimisation, which helps stymie progress and debate – which could occour if we face up that these are *people* living in Britain (not Muslims, or anything else, primarily).

    We should treat them first of all in the same manner as anyone else. That demands that we deplore the burqha, not vehemently state how much we think they have a right to wear it (which, just to repeat, I think they do).

    On AlanF, I will merely mention, follwing James, that opinion polls do not create right or wrong.

  • James thinks any opposition to the burqa is ‘dog-whistle stuff’, i.e. racist, while Jock doesn’t think opponents are ever likely to have seen a burqa in real life, and presumably just want them banned out of bigotry.

    Not good enough, my friends. For too long we’ve had ‘progressives’ insulting those with different opinions on this and related issues, and attempting to stifle debate. How about trying to marshall some real arguments?

    My own experience is anecdotal which is why I quoted the Angus Reid poll, but it exactly reflects the conversations that I have had as a former activist in Derby and Luton, where the increasing presence of the burqa is seen by many as a takeover by Muslim fundamentalists of the public space.

    These are towns where there is already deep polarisation between Muslims and other communities, with the establishment’s coddling of fundamentalism often cited by non-Muslims as a big problem. And when I was back in Luton last September, a spate of crime by burqa-clad thugs was causing real anger.

    Now I can foresee all sorts of problems enforcing a burqa ban but I think the French experience is interesting. Their refusal to allow secular values to be infringed by religious garb in schools has been broadly welcomed by liberal Muslim organisations, which recognise that the ever-more restrictive clothing imposed on women by fundamentalists is deeply misogynistic and a way of fracturing civil society .

    A lesson we would be well advised to heed.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 24th Feb '10 - 10:48am

    “According to an Angus Reid Public opinion poll in January, 72 percent wanted the burqa banned in all public places while 79 percent wanted a ban on burqas in schools, universities and airports.”

    So what? I daresay you could produce all sorts of illiberal and intolerant garbage from opinion polls if you asked the right questions.

    The point is that it isn’t up to the state to tell people what clothes they can and can’t wear. Calls for that to happen are far more threatening to our society than some women choosing to cover their faces in public.

  • Jewellery shops have been targeted by burka wearers in the West Midlands, Glasgow, and Oxfordshire, travel agencies in Dunstable and Luton and a securicor van in Birmingham in the last year alone. Gangland attacks in London are increasingly being carried out by thugs in niqab-style face coverings who use the anonymity to evade CCTV.

    How about WPC Sharon Beshenivsky’s murderer Mustaf Jama slipping through Heathrow on his way to Somalia wearing a niqab and using his sister’s passport? You see, for the security services to ask him to show his face might just have been considered Islamophobic, and that’s the last thing we want, eh, folks?

    And then there was would-be tube bomber Yassin Omar, who escaped in a burka after his mates had killed 52 and injured 700 in London. Laughable, James? I think not.

    It’s kinda weird, isn’t it. You have to take off your helmet in banks and government offices and everyone else is frisked and photographed to within an inch of their lives at airport security, but in tolerant, progressive modern-day Britain, Burka wearers get a free pass.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 24th Feb '10 - 12:52pm


    So you’re arguing that the burka is undesirable because it frustrates attempts to keep tabs on everybody’s movements using CCTV?

    I suspect you may have come to the wrong website …

  • There is no blanket burka ban in France. Current proposals are that it will only extend to public transport, hospitals and government buildings.

    Beyond that, French legislators regard this as a line in the sand. The basic message being sent out is that Islamic fundamentalism has no place in French society and that the state will take action to safeguard the founding principles of the Republic.

    I spent a good part of last year in France and was impressed at the sophistication of the debate on this issue and the many different opinions expressed, both for and against. There was a real debate.

    What I find dispiriting here is that here is no debate at all. The progressive consensus, as defined by government, NuLab, the LubDems, the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent, is that any opposition to any manifestation of Islam or Islamism is ‘racist’, and as such must be shouted down.

    This is meant to be a discussion site for Liberals. Why no mention here of the pressure put on Muslim girls to wear this barbaric clothing, or the vile beliefs of the Salafi groups who impose this on their womenfolk? Why are the opinions of the communities who live cheek by jowl with this ignored? This would have been meat and drink to the members of the party I joined back in the 70s. Instead, the prime issue here seems to be that anybody should be able to wear what they want. Talk about missing the wood for the trees!

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Feb '10 - 7:41pm


    I’ll tell you what I think. I think you just have a big chip on your shoulder about all the bad press your Catholic Church is getting and you need to behind “they just don’t understand us” because there is litteraly no other defense. That’s what I think.

    Yes, and the same applies for secular liberals as viewed by Catholics. There is often a ridiculous misunderstanding of where liberals are coming from within conservative Catholic circles.

    The consequence is that while both sides feel self-gratified attacking each other, neither side is getting anywhere doing so. But within the religious circles, these sort of arguments tend to bolster the conservatives at the expense of the liberals.

    I can see this happening within Islam. That is why I suggested an alternative attack on the niqab, which I think would actually serve the purpose rather than just make us feel good.

  • AlanF, do you deliberately enjoy misrepresenting and misreading? Can you not see that there is a debate going on, right here, and that you are part of it?

    Immigrant burqha wearing men causing increase in crime: panic! panic!….I’m sorry, as an argument, that is laughable. Using the London bombings (I would reccommend Simon Jenkins recent piece on terrorism) to try and give a solemn obligation on the discussion is disingenous.

    James, OK, I’m sure I agree to much of your views on this. It is a matter of emphasis, perhaps: I think that liberals should say much more clearly that the thing is terrible, and it is just that we shouldn’t ban it, rather than talk about rights and unfair attacks and racism, which makes it sound as if we want them to wear it.

  • robert vasey 30th Apr '10 - 5:12pm

    What right has any government to ban the wearing of any clothes. I am a male Christian and if I choose to wear a head covering of any kind, no matter what the reason, I am allowed under law. I understand covering ones face in a bank or similar must not be allowed, but if i want to wear a hood, or balaclava in the street it is my right to do so, providing I am not intenting to stir up trouble, or causing incetement. i dont know the full legal issues, but BANNING someone from wearing clothes must contravene the human rights act.

  • I’ll get my self one of these Burqha and rob a few banks and post offices. No one will challenge me before I get to the counter. (Unlike motorcycle helmets). If you would like to join my Burqha Gang we can walk down the high street and see how many people cross the road to avoid us, we can also give the Chavs outside the off licence a run for their money.

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