Monday, 19 July 2010

Banning the burka (2)

Never let it be said that I'm not open to argument. A ban on burkas and face-veils made sense to me on Saturday, but after a weekend of impassioned media debate, I've changed my opinion somewhat.

After reading several articles and letters either by Muslim women or people who know a lot of Muslim women, I can see that the demand for a ban seems to be an over-reaction to something that really isn't that disturbing.

Muslim women insist that for most of them wearing a burka or face-veil genuinely is a personal choice and isn't forced on them. Neither are they oppressive, they say. They don't impede communication* or identification**, they don't desexualise or ghettoise the wearer, they don't stop you working, and in hot climates they help to keep out sun and dust.

They say that those calling for a ban are simply misinformed about the actual experience of veil-wearers and how it affects (or doesn't affect) their dealings with other people. In reality it doesn't reduce their quality of life. If anything it improves it because they feel more comfortable and free from constant aesthetic and sexual judging.

They also point out that freedom of dress is a basic human right, they're as entitled to wear a burka or niqab as other women are to wear miniskirts, bikinis or make-up. As long as they're not harming other people, what's the problem? Any legal ban on particular types of clothing could easily lead to more draconian bans.

Well, the arguments against a ban have been very well put and I'm prepared right now to accept them. I'm not one to stubbornly maintain an ill-judged view when I'm clearly being outflanked and out-thought by those who are far more knowledgable than myself.

So keep those burkas coming, if that's what some women really prefer to wear. Sorry, Mr Hollobone, but I've just deserted your cause.

* Eyes, ears, mouth and hands are sufficient
** Face-veils can be lifted for identification if required

37 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

Well Nick, it takes a very big person to admit they could be wrong in their opinion. Hats off to your open-mindedness!
XO
WWW

Scarlet Blue said...

I've read your previous post and comments, Nick, and I've concluded that this proposed ban is the result of a load of misinformation generated by our press. Sigh. I don't know.
Sx

Rummuser said...

There is just one answer to that argument Nick. In my house, let us say, my wife and daughters do not wear the burkha. I will not let my daughter in law wear one either, as she has chosen to come into MY house. Now, if you can define the house in this case, and who is the me and who is the daughter in law, the answer stares you in your face.

niamh said...

To offer my ideas as a non-Mumlim woman, the issue seems so complex that using a blunt instrument like a total ban just doesn't seem like the right answer. Reading and talking to people gives you many answers but what it will come down to is police arresting women for wearing something they don't approve of. Sounds more than a little fundamentalist? One of the things which I don't understand is how to differentiate between women who willingly wear this clothing and women who feel pressured to wear it?

nick said...

www - I'm always aware of my father's stubbornness, and how he was forever convinced he was right about everything.

Scarlet - Certain sections of the press are spreading misinformation, but others are being surprisingly open-minded. The Daily Mail actually headlined Caroline Spelman MP defending women's right to wear a burka.

nick said...

Ramana - Hmmm. So someone is being equally as dogmatic about NOT wearing the burka?

Niamh - A total ban is not only a blunt instrument but a mistaken one. Police arresting veil-wearers would indeed be fundamentalist. And yes, how do you distinguish between willing and unwilling wearers? I guess if they were unwilling, they would have to protest, the same as a woman who was unwilling to wear a bikini.

Grannymar said...

I thought I left a comment yesterday, but it seems not to be the case. In the current climate we have become less trustful of our neighbours. If someone, on a dark winter's night, came to my door in a burka or with a full motorcycle helmet on I am not sure I would want to open the door. I would consider it an insult on the part of the motorcyclist, so why would it be any different with someone wearing a burka.

Nick said...

Grannymar - I'm not sure I would want to open the door to someone in a burka either, unless I had some idea who it was. Not that it's very likely - are there any burka-wearers in Northern Ireland, I wonder?

Wisewebwoman said...

Nick:
You might enjoy this post:

http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/07/are-we-missing-anyone.html

Wherein of all the people interviewed for opinions, apparently the Muslim women themselves were forgotten. Long live the patriarchy!

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Well, that's predictable! The same applies to what I've seen in the UK press. Friends and relatives of Muslim women but not many actual Muslim women - except for Nesrine Malik in the Daily Telegraph.

Eryl Shields said...

If I were to ban clothing it would be above the knee shorts and vest tops.

On a less glib note: what's the point of turning a woman into a criminal for the clothes she wears, especially if she wears them under duress? It may not be quite so easy to fathom expression in someone whose face is covered, but it's not impossible.

Very impressed with your about-turn.

Nick said...

Eryl - I suspect that some of the men who want to ban the burka are afraid women won't be baring their flesh so much!

Indeed, why should clothing choices be criminalised? Are we talking serious anti-social behaviour here? I think not. And as I said, it could lead to a whole range of garments being outlawed.

Los Angelista said...

Well said, Nick. Just one question, can we ban baby-doll tops if you're not pregnant? ;)

Rummuser said...

Nick the reverse is also true. In my home, if I were a Muslim, I would not let my daughter in law be without a burkha! How does that sound?

Nick said...

Liz - Yep, I've just signed the banning order, effective next week.

Ramana - What the head of the household says goes, huh?

Scarlet Blue said...

I'm thinking of starting a new trend. Tomorrow I will go out with a pair of pants on my head... no just any old pants mind... these will be M&S pants...
Sx

nick said...

Scarlet - That sounds uber-cool. Is this for religious reasons? The Church of Sacred Underwear? Or is it just to cover the embarrassing haircut?

Kate said...

hmmm ... thought long and hard before commenting and, in fairness, as a child of the 50's in England, the fact that i was Irish and a Catholic brought me many problems both at school and at work - this is about religion, just the same and, although my face was not covered I did not escape prejudice, particularly as a telephonist in the 70's during the bombings at telephone exchanges.

I have also aways been a hippy and believe in peace among people - live and let live should be what matters not what we wear or how we look.

Nick said...

Kate - Well, I'm glad you decided to comment! As we all know in Northern Ireland, religious prejudice is still a worldwide pestilence. Whether or not your face is covered, as you say.

My personal philosophy has more than a smidgeon of hippy as well, me being a child of the sixties. Live and let live is an excellent principle to follow. The desire to repress other people causes so much misery.

Suburbia said...

As always there are 2 sides to every argument. I am torn. However, during my medium sized life, I have to say I don't think I have ever felt 'constantly aesthetically and sexually judged'!

Brighid said...

I'm not commenting because... I have recently been sent way too many Wal-Mart pictures and my mind has gone into sleep mode...

Megan said...

I still don't know where I fall on this. Not the ban, per se. I pretty much disapprove of the banning of things, in general. But on all the other questions that are raised by this issue in particular...oy vey!

Nick said...

Suburbia - You haven't? Lucky you. You must manage to keep a very low profile with other people. Or perhaps it's because you're an invisible single mum!

Brighid - Sleep mode? You could probably sleep very well in a burka - big, warm and cosy.

Megan - I know, it's a tangled issue, isn't it? Especially if you don't even know any burka-wearers. Are they really choosing the burka option or are they being subtly manipulated?

Scarlet Blue said...

Ha! Subtle manipulation! - I've also been subtly manipulated into wearing a gel filled bra that takes me from a B cup to a D cup.

I've found this post really difficult, Nick, because it's an important issue but there are so many angles on it. I still can't make my mind up.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - The trend towards bigger boobs seems to be growing by the day. Quite absurd. It's such a complex issue (burkas that is, not boobs). But I'm impressed by sources that as I say rely on direct contact with Muslim women.

Scarlet Blue said...

What I mean is that we are all subtly manipulated within our own cultures, aren't we?
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - Oh yes, I got your point! Absolutely true, we're all being subtly influenced by our own national preconceptions. Like the British idea that women should show as much (perfectly proportioned and depilated) flesh as possible.

Liz said...

I have to say that I think I'm with you, nick. I have heard intelligent women speak about choosing to wear a burka, and there's the issue of freedom to choose which clothes to wear.

Yes, I think I'm with this - until someone comes along and convinces effectively not just with stories they've heard from someone.

Nick said...

Liz - That's it, we should listen to women who have some first-hand experience and not just people with dubious anecdotes and gossip.

Leah said...

Wow, what a fascinating series of posts and thoughtful comments...

I agree with Megan--banning anything can be dangerous, and I'm very uncomfortable with outright ban--however, I still feel the wearing of the burka speaks to the terrible institutionalized deep-seated misogyny of that culture. I simply can't be convinced otherwise. Of course, in a way, that's a whole other argument.

I love your open-mindedness however, and admitting a turn-around is admirable.

Nick said...

Leah - The idea that the burka is automatically oppressive and misogynist is hard to shake off. But if Muslim women and people who know Muslim women say that's generally not the case, I guess I can only believe them.

Nick said...

Hello Nick.

I'm more than agreeing with your point of view. They shouldn't be banned.
I've discussed these arguments quite a lot, as a French (atheist)(it is now banned in France) and because I have lived in Muslim's countries (and still do).

For me it is just a question of basic freedom of expression, so any law against it should be anti-constitutional. People dress as they want and that's it.

Nick said...

Hello Nick from Kenya! Of course freedom of expression is never total freedom, it's always subject to certain restrictions. The same goes for freedom of dress, which obviously doesn't include nudity or indecency. But I can't see any valid reason why the burka or face-veils should be banned.

Val said...

I have disagreements with several people over this issue. I knew (lost touch with, so don't know anymore) several muslim women and all wore the burqa or hajib, sometimes some would alternate depending upon where they were. All of the women adamantly said that they wore them out of choice not because any man had told them to do so, but because they wanted to. One such was brought up not wearing them but chose to later on. Of all of them - it was their choice. That said, these women did not live in a country in which they were likely to suffer severe punishment for not wearing them as women in some countries or under some regimes now or at another time might.

To my mind, a burqa is simply a covering, like any other covering. There isn't this fuss about nuns wearing habits or monks wearing robes, is there? There isn't this fuss about bee-keepers wearing protective covering or about astronauts wearing spacesuits (or whatever they're called). So why should muslim women be singled out?

There are only a couple of things I don't like about the Burqa. One is that most of those I see being worn in the UK are black (though they needn't be) and the looming image of someone in all-over black garb can be a bit worrying for a western mentality, I think! (And that might be at the root of the problem, really - that we associate black with death because of centuries of our own superstitions) - then again, there are nuns... but I suppose some people are equally disturbed by them!

The other thing is that the attitude by some (not all) Muslim men that their women should be covered up begs the question - why shouldn't the men also be covered up? Why single out women? Presumably it's the old thing of no men on the planet (apparently) being able to control their urges. Which, when you come to think about it is mostly a load of old b*ll*cks.

It's not my religion, but each to their own. It's their choice. Except for where there is no choice at all, of course... and there are always exceptions.

As for your previous post and what that politician said about not being willing to communicate with women in Burqas because apparently it's impossible to communicate with someone if you can't see their body language... To extend that argument logically it would mean that blind people who cannot observe anyone's body language can also not communicate.

As for hajibs... (the scarf/shawl they wear) the Queen of England is fond of wearing headscarves... can't see anyone banning her from doing that, can you?

Most of this so-called problem is just people not using their brains, it's just lack of logical - and rational - thinking. While I'm new to your blog, I'm glad that you're able to change your opinions by thinking things through. I wish other people could, too.

Nick said...

Val - You make some excellent points. I also wonder why men in countries where the burka is mandatory aren't required to wear the burka likewise. Are they not sexually attractive as well? Should they not be concealing their tempting bodies?

The reality is of course that women are far more likely to suffer unwanted attentions than men are. Men really have no need to wear burkas for protective reasons. But it should be entirely the woman's choice whether to wear one or not.

Cheri said...

Hey nick.
I'm glad your anti-burqa ban...
It's really nice seeing people stand up for us. (i wear the Niqab/burqa)
The phobia towards Burqa/Niqab/Islam is so bad that I fear going out on my own... The Media isn't giving us freedom but making our lives dangerous... Everyday I face threats, being spat on, things thrown at me and I fear for my 8 month old son as these things are thrown at me and to his pram, People try to run us over when we cross the road...ect: It's really scary, and I'd love to go out without bothering my husband or waiting for him to come home from work and only have 2 hrs to do shopping ect: (as I am still a learner driver , so cannot drive atm)
I chose the Burqa before marriage when I was 16, my family are Christian (and I am disowned for choosing Islam). I had no male-force to wear it, I am an Aussie revert/convert to Islam.

I understand why people fear the Niqab...we look like giant black boxes in a way , but whenever I go to an airport/policestation/hospital/ect: I give my driver's liscence and LIFT the veil to be identified (many non muslims don't realize we DO this)

Men have their Hijab also, they have to lower the gaze, wear pants that cover the knees and dress that cover the naval. (out side they need to cover their legs below the knee's , their arms & Chest), Also they are to have a beard, not speak to women who they can marry & also wear a Hat (also known as a topi or kufi or skull cap) or they wear a turban

There's so much that men & women must do according to Islam but the media , government & people just see/hear/read the one sided things.
(just like death for adultery)-both get punished the SAME.

Take care & may you be blessed with a beautiful life.

Nick said...

Cheri - Thanks for that very informative account of your experience as a burqa-wearer. But I'm rather confused here. You say you had no male pressure to wear the burqa, but you also say that men and women have to do certain things according to Islam. As I understand it, the Koran says nothing about wearing burqas or veils, and the requirement actually originates with (male) Islamic leaders.