By William Hallowell | Editor
"Behind every successful woman" by Neil Moralee
At what price can we value democracy when a democratic decision infringes on the individual liberties of a targeted group?
The notion of banning the burka is becoming increasingly popular as a result of predominantly far-right extremist groups motivated by race and sectarianism; this challenges the idea that Britain is tolerant of religion and therefore compromises our proudly held values of liberty and freedom of expression.
It seems that in recent years, a growing number of the British public believe that we should follow in that path of some of our European friends who have outlawed the female garment esteemed to Islam – the latest to join in with the burka ban is Switzerland after a referendum - which achieved a narrow majority - was held on whether to ban it from being worn in public. Other countries include: France, Belgium, Germany and even Denmark.
To me, and to others who value religious freedom, liberty and equality in the eyes of the law, the notion of banning the burka is counter-progressive, and some may argue, oppressive towards Islam and Muslim women in particular. Our values are what makes the UK one of the best countries in the world. Our proud strive for liberty and freedom is part of our national identity, and to go against that by banning the burka, strips us of this.
However, it is those who fight against the burka, who commonly argue the oppression it represents against Muslim women. Perhaps this is true in less progressive countries such as Afghanistan, where the Taliban have the self-appointed right to force women into wearing the burka, which is obviously disgusting. Such extremism also includes other acts of oppression like revoking women’s human right to an education; it is not fair to say Islamic practice under an oppressive regime is the same under a liberal, free state such as that in the UK.
In such a scenario of the Taliban in Afghanistan, I would agree that yes, this is the highest form of sexist oppression, besides a mass gender-genocide. However, in the UK where we enjoy true liberty and freedom, it should be a choice – and that vast majority of Muslim women I have spoken to agree, whether they personally choose to wear it or not.
A common argument against the burka is that ‘it isn’t in the Quran’, though I am certain that undocumented practices occur in all faiths, be it Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism etc. Whether it explicitly dictates that women must wear the burka is irrelevant – there are aspects of all religions that people pick and choose, adapt and mutate for their own benefit. In the west however, if we truly value (religious) freedom, this would be a non-issue.
The most prominent argument against the burka is ‘security’ – the idea that a criminal could take advantage of Islamic attire and use it to commit acts of theft, for example. However, it seems more likely that opposition to the burka does not come from a sense of protecting Muslim women or upholding ‘security’ and the prevention of crime. Rather, it comes from an opposition to Islam as a whole – in fact I think opposition to women wearing a burka in the west is driven largely by Islamophobia, as opposed to any concern for security or ‘oppression’ of Muslim women. Usually I am not one for using the ‘racist’ card, but I am yet to find – or be compelled by – a convincing argument against the right to wear a burka on the grounds of security risks or oppression of women (in the west). In my eyes, opposition must be motivated by racism and Islamophobia.
I fail to see how the decision of some women to wear religious clothing – as is their right in a country that values liberty – will impact the rest of society. For once, why don’t we listen to those it concerns? Why not take the voices of Muslim women into account? If they say the burka is oppressive and that it re-enforces medieval, patriarchal values... ban it – but if Muslim women support the right to wear a burka, we should support them.