We might be oppressing the woman who wants to wear a burka

Quebec is following suit on the anti-veil sentiment, alongside a number of European nations.

France has gone so far as to pass a law that if a woman wears a niqab she will be fined 150 Euros or have to take citizenship lessons. If a man forces a woman to wear the facial covering, he will be fined 30,000 Euros and face jail time.

I’m hardly surprised to hear that the French or the Brits want control over women wearing the burka in public. After all, these are the countries that colonized the vast majority of the world forcing their religion, languages, and “appropriate attire” on the conquered. (If I had my choice of a corset, lacy dress, tall wigs, lead infused make-up and uncomfortable-heeled shoes versus buckskin clothing, a braid, and moccasins, you know what I’d choose.)

I was very surprised, when a July survey showed that 54% of Canadians and 73% of Quebecers believe that we should follow France and ban burkas in public. Aren’t we supposed to be the tolerant ones?

The burka covers the whole body and head with mesh over the face. The niqab is the veil that leaves only the eyes uncovered. The hijab is the head and neck covering. I have to wonder if those surveyed even knew what they were being asked to ban; the burka, the niqab, or the hijab? Do we really know if Canadians are opposing the facial covering or the head and neck covering? If they are against the latter, traditional nuns best watch out as well.

Of course I agree that to board an airplane or gain access to a restricted area that identification and faces need to be shown. But in public in general, if we are to ban things that cover the face and body unduly, we should also ban large floppy hats and sunglasses and trench coats.

Aside from the security aspect, what right is it of any one culture to tell anyone else how they should behave or dress, if they are not bothering anyone else or hurting themselves?

Is this comparable to the Chinese tradition of foot-binding? No. To my knowledge it does not physically hurt the woman to wear a burka
(though they sure would be hot near the equator).

This is not an easy issue. A knee-jerk reaction makes me want to ban facial coverings too, but why? Because they look sweaty hot in the summer and would be uncomfortable under a toque in the winter? That just makes them inconvenient.

We hear they are supposed to be for modesty reasons and curbing desires, but if that is the case, I can’t understand why the men aren’t then wearing them too because desire is a two-way street. That makes them more than just inconvenient — it starts to make them sound like an unfair or inequitable burden.

The security argument is a good one too, as you can’t expect to or apply for official documents, or board a plane without showing your face. I suppose banks might even worry that a rash of robbers might start wearing niqabs and be unidentifiable by security cameras. Sure, there are some grey areas to sort out here and security workers need to know they must enforce the lifting of the veil, but that could be made to work. After all, the courts already have a preliminary solution.

Since I’m throwing out a bunch of different angles here, how about a medical one? All women need their daily vitamin D from the sun and, if they are covered head to toe, how can they get it naturally?

Without knowing if women are being forced to wear the coverings or not, there is no easy answer. I want to know what the women wearing niqabs and burkas think. Unfortunately, their answer might be as veiled as their faces, by cultural, religious, and familial pressures.

Liberal and progressive Muslim women support the ban calling the tradition an abomination and oppression of women’s rights. But to play devil’s advocate, except in a security situation, if a women wants to wear the veil are we not oppressing her by telling her to take it off?

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