Banning the Burqa

via Broadsheet, we find another piece of misguided legislation, this time out of the Netherlands: Dutch officials, in preparation for the elections, are pushing a ban on the burqa.

Tracy at Broadsheet does a fine job of pointing out the fact that this ban is culturally motivated, but I’ll add that it’s problematic because it relegates an entire class of women to the private sphere. Many women who wear the burqa, by choice or by coercion, are not going to (or not going to be allowed to) take it off when they step outside. Instead, they’ll be prisoners in their own homes. I don’t like the burqa, and I can certainly understand the visceral reaction to it. But banning it only serves one purpose: To allow non-Muslim Dutch people to not have to see covered women. To save them their discomfort. And in the meantime, those women who wear the burqa are trapped. They can’t leave their homes. They can’t go grocery shopping. They can’t pick their kids up from school. They can’t go to the doctor’s office. They can’t seek out social services if they need them, like domestic violence help. They’re trapped because of their deeply-held religious beliefs.

I think their interpretation of that belief is incorrect. I think that the burqa is inherently misogynist. I think men need to buck up and take responsibility for their own gaze instead of requiring women to behave defensively. But I don’t think any of that is worth imprisoning women and effectively disallowing them from walking out their front doors. And bans on religiously-mandated clothing are always bad for the women who wear that clothing.


Similar Posts (automatically generated):

74 comments for “Banning the Burqa

  1. November 20, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    Not really anything to add, as that is very succinctly and clearly written, and I agree with it. It got me wondering though–can one actually drive in a burqa? It would seem that the visibility is very limited in one of those things.

  2. November 20, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    What Thalia said. Exactly how responsible is it to drive in a freaking Burqa in the first place?

  3. November 20, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    In response to the driving question—like the others, I have nothing to add to the brilliant analysis of the main topic at hand—not sure; however, a slight push to replace the netting or mesh or whatever covers the eyes, with mirrored/reflective plastic such as is often found in sunglasses, and push for that to be accepted as a replacement for the netting.

    As for the rest of things, we Westerners need to work around our hangups regarding this thing. We need a refresher course of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” In fact we need such a refresher course all over.

  4. November 20, 2006 at 9:52 pm

    What do you think about the fact that there are only 50-100 woman in the Netherlands that wear a burqa?

    There are obviously two questions at hand: religious freedom and misogyny. The narrow focus of this legislation seems to be a huge strike against religious freedom. And it’s being done largely under the illusory guise of national security, not a noble defense of women from religiously mandated clothing.

  5. November 20, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    This is such a ridiculous band-aid to put over the Dutch mistakes in integrating and accepting their immigrant population. Of all the problems of cross-cultural misunderstanding and enmity that Duch people (Muslim and non) are dealing with, people walking around in yards of cloth is not one of them.

  6. Raging Moderate
    November 21, 2006 at 6:02 am

    They’re trapped because of their deeply-held religious beliefs.

    I think their interpretation of that belief is incorrect.

    Then why do you believe the Dutch government has to respect such incorrect interpretations of religion?

  7. November 21, 2006 at 9:02 am

    Spot on, Jill, as usual.

    I also find something sinister about non-Muslim Dutch people making clothing choices for Muslim women. In the same-but-diferent way I have a problem with religious righters trying to make my reproductive choices for me.

  8. Hawise
    November 21, 2006 at 9:08 am

    While I feel that the religious undercurrent of the ban is a difficult one to deal with on a governmental level, the safety issues are a government responsibilty. I have seen bans on various types of clothing, toys, items and such instituted because they are a hazard. I personally would not be comfortable with seeing someone in a burqa on an escalator for fear of the fabric being caught in the joints. The vision issues are innumerable and if a government can ban dark windows on the driver’s compartment of cars then a ban on total face covering is in line with that. The burqa is only one of a variety of coverings that have been developped to deal with the modesty issue. It is not as if other options were not available to them.

  9. jennie
    November 21, 2006 at 9:09 am

    To those concerned about how well a person wearing a Burqa can drive, I would point out that in many European towns and cities (and some North American ones) it’s not necessary to drive in order to go about one’s daily affairs.

    Really. Lots of people manage quite well with public transit in cities that aren’t designed on the assumption that everyone has access to a car.

  10. Hawise
    November 21, 2006 at 9:10 am

    I wish to correct myself- if they ban only on the basis of the religious values then they are categorically wrong to do so, if the ban is on a specific garment with proven health and safety issues then we are talking about a different situation.

  11. jennie
    November 21, 2006 at 9:51 am

    Hawise, I periodically wear very long, full skirts—skirts that might be ankle-length on someone taller, but that sometimes brush the floor on me. Because I am a grownup, I manage these skirts just fine in all arenas of public life: Escalators, elevators, subway cars, you name it.

    Should my long skirts (worn for no reason other than that I like long skirts that go swoosh when I walk) be banned?

  12. Hawise
    November 21, 2006 at 10:10 am

    I also wear long skirts, also some with a train. I agree that responsible adults can manage them just fine. One caveat- I am not obscuring my vision while adhering to rules that make lifting the skirt off the floor a moral fault. There is a huge difference between a skirt that goes swoosh and an all-encompassing full body cover that resembles a polyester Halloween ghost costume from the thirties.

  13. bmc90
    November 21, 2006 at 10:31 am

    You miss the long term point, folks. More and more goverments are using face recognition software to spot people on watch lists and create records of who was where when. Look for a lot of legislation banning anything that covers the face and body so that it can’t be recognized by the software. Also, look for bans on bulky clothes except for coats when it’s cold that could be used to hide suicide bombs. I agree that this particular piece of legislation has a jingoistic flavor, but there WILL be religously neutral regulation of this kind of thing, especially after the first female suicide bomber (or someone pretending to be one) strikes a European city.

  14. jennie
    November 21, 2006 at 10:34 am

    Hawise,

    People learn to manage their clothing. Whatever that clothing is. As someone who doesn’t wear a burqa, I can’t say what accommodations women who do wear them need to make for their own safety and that of others. I would note that any time my own clothing preferences pose a risk, I’m the person most at risk, and I take precautions accordingly (I don’t wear droopy sleeves in the chemistry lab, for example).

    Because I’m a responsible adult, society assumes that I can manage the risks posed by my own clothing.

    There’s no law that says I have to wear my glasses (unless I’m driving, which I don’t), even though without them I’m kind of a danger to everyone and everything in my path. There’s no law that says I can’t wear 3-inch stiletto heels, even though I’m a klutz and can’t be trusted not to step on people’s feet or not get my shoes caught in a sewer grille. There’s no law that says that I can’t wear open-toed mules on a bicycle, no law that says that I can’t wear a veil and wimple (though I really shouldn’t drive in them), no law that says I can’t carry a great bl**dy backpack on crowded public transit where it can bash people in the face.

    If we’re all that concerned about the impact of clothing choices on public health and safety, then we can’t stop with banning burqas.

  15. Roy
    November 21, 2006 at 10:48 am

    If the concern were really about whether or not they can see while they drive, then that should be what the law addresses- and that’s the sort of thing that can be tested. I’ve seen women driving with a burka on, and they didn’t seem to have any problem handling their car. Honestly, I don’t see how this would make it any harder to drive a car than half of the things I see other people wearing- hats pulled way down, obnoxious sunglasses, huge coats, scarves wrapped around faces, massive ear-muffs, etc, etc.
    I’m not at all convinced that the average burka represents nearly so much of a visual problem as some of you think- I’ve worn full face hats in the winter before, with very little effect on my vision. I find my vision effected far more by sunglasses and baseball hats than by close fitting facial coverings.
    Also of note: I believe that the dark windows on cars are usually banned because they prevent police from seeing in, not because they make it harder to see out.
    Finally, as others have pointed out, they may not be driving at all.
    As the “why should it be respected” aspect- why shouldn’t it?
    How is it harming you, so long as it was her choice to wear it?
    I don’t care if a woman wants to wear a burka, as long as it’s her choice. I recognize that a lot of women don’t see it as a choice, and that is a problem, but if a woman wants to wear one… how does it hurt you?
    The problems that Jill pointed out can’t be dismissed- if you ban the burka, you’re not going to make most women stop wearing it- you’re going to be driving them indoors. I don’t see how that helps anyone, aside from making a few people more comfortable because they don’t have to see something that challanges their notions of normalcy.

  16. November 21, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Then why do you believe the Dutch government has to respect such incorrect interpretations of religion?

    It’s called “religious freedom.” And “incorrect” is an opinion in this case, hardly any justification at all for demanding people abandon their own interpretations for your “correct” one (which is never the government’s job to decide upon in any case).

    And not respecting it, in this case, would effectively put these women under house arrest purely on the basis of their religious beliefs, or single them out for isolation or abuse based on their husband’s or brother’s or father’s religious beliefs. The law doesn’t ban men from preventing their female family members from leaving the house, it just bans the burqa. What’s really disturbing is the entire Western culture’s habit of hiding uncomfortable things—like ostrich syndrome for the powerful: If I can’t see it, it isn’t there, so keep it out of my sight so I don’t have to see it. These women are facing opposing cultural dictates from both cultures that take the same form of oppression: seeing them without burqas disturbs men of one culture, so they are supposed to wear the burqas so men don’t have to look at them, and at the same time, seeing the burqas disturbs people of the other culture, so they are supposed to not wear the burqas so those people don’t have to look at them. Both place the burden of avoiding viewer discomfort on the person being viewed, and not the viewer. Once again I must point out the effort involved of dressing a certain way, and of trying to meet two sets of opposing standards, compared with the effort involved in averting your damned eyes, and ask what it says about the comparative worth of the people involved, if the one class feels it acceptable to demand significant effort from the other so that they themselves can avoid insignificant effort, all to accomplish something valued mostly by themselves.

    I’m talking mostly about the Dutch government, here. If you want credit for being halfway decent you better mind the actual effects of what you do, and not just the intent.

    I wonder, do winters get cold there? ‘Cause I’d bet they don’t ban similar amounts/coverage of clothing if it’s something like a parka.

    Wonder if one could improvise by wrapping a blanket around oneself and covering one’s face with multiple layers of mosquito netting? Would that still qualify as sufficient covering for women? Would it be considered a burqa under the law?

  17. November 21, 2006 at 11:05 am

    Raging Moderate asked:

    Then why do you believe the Dutch government has to respect such incorrect interpretations of religion?

    Because when the government (Dutch or otherwise) begins passing laws based on their interpretation of religion, we end up with government imposed laws that violate our right to make personal decisions – laws that are based on someone else’s religious belief system instead of our own. Like others, including the original author, I despise what the burqa stands for. As a feminist I understand and support what the author and some other posters had to say about the burqa, but I also cannot support passing a law that will impact the freedom and lives of citizens of a country. Outlawing the burqa is not the answer. Recognizing misogyny, working toward social change that eliminates racism and sexism, these are the things that will make a difference. Governments would better serve their people by becoming models for the elimination of violence against women in all forms than by passing laws like outlawing clothing.

  18. Raging Moderate
    November 21, 2006 at 11:09 am

    The law doesn’t ban men from preventing their female family members from leaving the house

    I’m gonna guess that the Dutch already have some kind of false imprisonment law that would handle that problem.

    seeing the burqas disturbs people of the other culture, so they are supposed to not wear the burqas so those people don’t have to look at them

    That’s your interpretation. The Dutch government says otherwise. From the Reuters article:

    “The cabinet finds it undesirable that garments covering the face — including the burqa — should be worn in public in view of public order, (and) the security and protection of fellow citizens,” the Dutch Justice Ministry said in a statement.

    Read bmc90’s comment #13 for another interpretation.

  19. November 21, 2006 at 11:13 am

    Are you bloody kidding me? This is NOT about long skirts, driving, or any other minor thing.
    People are all so busy being liberal we’re bending over backwards to accept one of the most offensive items of clothing known to women.
    The Burka is a cultural object, not a religious one, the Qu’ran does not say ANYWHERE that women should wear a burka, only to dress modestly. It should be banned. I can’t wander around town in a blasted Balaclava.
    Would you be so accepting if a group of men demanded their wives walked around in thongs and nipple tassles? Would you be saying ‘oh poor things, they can’t leave the house unless they wear them, so it’s best if they do?’
    Well?
    Of course not, you would be outraged. You should be outraged here.
    And might I add, here in Europe it is mostly not down trodden women wearing the Burka, but a newer generation of highly educated ladies who wear it. Women who yes have a choice, but who fail to see that if their ‘right to dress as they see fit’ becomes the norm what is then expected of the next generation? Who is then holier and more chaste than whom?
    As the end of the day ethnic groups should follow the law of the land where the choose settle. I would not walk about Saudi Arabia in shorts and a vest. In the same way I would not scamper about the Bronx in a kilt and hornpipe shoes. The burka has no place in modernised society and I am astounded that Feministe, a site I like to read and have a good deal of respect for, has not the gumption to say so out loud.

  20. November 21, 2006 at 11:55 am

    Then why do you believe the Dutch government has to respect such incorrect interpretations of religion?

    Just because I think a religious interpretation is incorrect doesn’t make it inarguably so (especially considering that I’m certainly no Islamic scholar). I also think that interpretations of the Bible used to argue against abortion are incorrect, but a whole lot of people disagree with me. There isn’t an unambiguous answer to a lot of these questions.

  21. Hawise
    November 21, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    jennie,

    Actually governments ban specific articles for health and safety reasons all the time, they even issue recall advisories. We rarely feel the impact because the ban takes place at the retail level and all that happens is that it is unavailable to us to purchase. The fact is that many of the things that we take for granted, like escalators, are dangerous pieces of industrial equipment and because we are unwilling to eliminate them from our lives, we have to manage the risk. Sometimes governments step in as they have in the past and regulate on specific items. This does not appear to be what the Dutch government is doing and so it is definitely wrong, however, having seen the effect of mixing modern machinery and modern material, I can see the merit on putting some limit on a burqa, either in terms of flow, vision or any other aspect that would make them safer.

  22. jennie
    November 21, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    Hawise,

    Admittedly this argument is something of a red herring. The Dutch government is, as you pointed out, not stating that burqas pose a health and safety hazard to the wearers. The Dutch cabinet cites “public order, (and) the security and protection of fellow citizens,” as reasons for the ban.

    However, I think you’re still making some assumptions and drawing some less-than-entirely-accurate parallels in your argument.

    Governments and standards agencies ban items of clothing that have flaws in design or materials where the flaws might make them inherently unsafe.

    Specific types of clothing are also prohibited at certain venues (see my point above about long flowy sleeves in a chemistry lab. Very unsuitable. Also not allowed. Also something I wouldn’t do even if they were permitted.) Other venues place requirements on workers to wear specific safety garments (safety boots, flame-retardant coats, or whatever). These requrements are usually policies of the industry or venue–so it’s possible that a chem lab at one university will require students to wear lab coats, while another will simply proscribe flowy clothes that might pose a hazard and ask students to wear long sleeves. Ultimately, the students are responsible for their own safety, though lab techs and TAs will enforce the policies of the lab.

    When governments and standards bodies examine clothing for safety, they’re generally not about banning entire types of garment. They’re looking for very specific flaws in materials or design that pose specific risks: usually not risks that sensible adults would be able to forsee for themselves.

    A very cursory google found a number of recalls in clothing for children. Of the first 10 of these recalls I looked at most were for bits that could detatch (zippers, ribbons, toggles) and pose a choking hazard for small children. A couple were for a flammable material, and one was for sandals that might cause laceration to little feet.

    This sort of ban pertains to specific features of certain garments, not to an entire class of garment. The recall of one specific design of cargo pants for children has not led to calls for a ban on cargo pants. A recall on a pair of lacerating sandals has not led to a ban on open-toed shoes for children.

    I find it rather disrespectful to think that women who wear veils, burqas, or headscarves every day of their adult lives can’t figure out how their clothing might pose hazards and modify their clothing or actions accordingly. We don’t need governments to tell us that someone else’s choices might hurt them.

    I worry far more about the people who talk on their cell phones while driving than I do about veiled women drivers.

  23. November 21, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    Three points:

    1. I have very poor vision, especially with my glasses on. Think narrow rectangles with thick (very trendy hipster-ish) frames and thick lenses. Outside of those rectangles, I cannot see anything. This gives me the equivalent—or even smaller—field of vision than someone wearing a burqa would have. Despite this handicap, the Ontario government (and presumably, the Dutch government, if I took their exam) still allow me to drive a car.

    2. “Then why do you believe the Dutch government has to respect such incorrect interpretations of religion?”

    I wasn’t aware that governments—theocracies aside—were in the business of determining which interpretations of religion were correct and which are not. I’m an atheist; they all seem silly to me.

    3. Why aren’t more progressive people disturbed that this all boils down to a case of (primarily) white men dictating how women of colour should dress?

  24. November 21, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    This isn’t about safety, religion, or fear of bombers. It’s an attempt by an increasingly conservative government to push cultural assimilation. Politcially, it’s much like GWB talking about banning flag burning. US flags get burned in the USA maybe twice a year; as someone noted above, only a handful of women in The Netherlands wear a burqua. It’s political grandstanding.

    Still, even as a leftwinger, I tend to like the burqua ban. Several times walking through Heathrow airport I’ve seen women wearing burquas. It makes me crazy. It’s hot and humid in the concourse, and the men with them are dressed comfortably in robes or western suits with open collars smiling and laughing while the women are covered head to toe in what appears to be heavy cloth with nothing but a slit to look out of. It’s modern day slavery.

    I’m not sure Jill’s right about burqua wearing women not being allow out of the house if the ban passes. The groceries still need to be purchased and the kids picked up after school. Someone has to do those things and it sure won’t be the men.

    So, as flawed as the law might be, in the end it just may accomplish something positive for women who have no voice.

  25. November 21, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    Fatcatmammy, I hear what you’re saying. I don’t like the burqa either. My point isn’t that the burqa’s ok — it’s that we can’t ban everything we simply don’t like or that we recognize is sexist just because we don’t like it, especially when banning it will have tangibly negative effects for real women.

    I don’t like lots of items of clothing. A lot of them are sexist. I particularly dislike the burqa. My point, though, is that banning it will have inevitable bad effects for some women, and I’m not really seeing what the benefit is.

    And this isn’t as simple as a group of men forcing their wives to wear something, any more than it’s as simple as a bunch of privileged women wearing something out of pure choice. It’s complicated, and it varies from woman to woman. But it’s definitely not fair to make policy based on our assumptions about the lives of the women in question.

    As the end of the day ethnic groups should follow the law of the land where the choose settle. I would not walk about Saudi Arabia in shorts and a vest. In the same way I would not scamper about the Bronx in a kilt and hornpipe shoes. The burka has no place in modernised society and I am astounded that Feministe, a site I like to read and have a good deal of respect for, has not the gumption to say so out loud.

    That isn’t necessarily true. Not everyone has a choice in where they settle; not all of the people who wear the burqa in Western nations are foreigners. While you might not walk around in the Bronx in a kilt, I’d be willing to bet that we could all agree that it would be stupid for Bronx leaders to legally ban the kilt. And while you wouldn’t walk around Saudi Arabia in shorts and a vest, I’d be willing to guess that we all agree that it’s phenomenally stupid that Saudi Arabia legally bans women from wearing just about anything other than a full body-covering (with some concessions made for Westerners and non-citizens). Many religious leaders would argue that “immodest” clothing is inherently sexist and degrading to women, and therefore modest clothing should be legally required. Do we really want to go down this path?

    I’m not sure Jill’s right about burqua wearing women not being allow out of the house if the ban passes. The groceries still need to be purchased and the kids picked up after school. Someone has to do those things and it sure won’t be the men.

    So, as flawed as the law might be, in the end it just may accomplish something positive for women who have no voice.

    Ok, I’m really not trying to be condescending here, but examples abound of countries where the burqa/chador/headcovering/whatever item of clothing has been banned. We’ve seen what happened. In Iran under the Shah, many religious women were trapped indoors. In Turkey, many religious women were unable to attend school. Even in secular countries, younger women use their wearing of the headscarf/chador/burqa/some sort of covering as a bargaining tool to get what they want — i.e., “I’ll wear the burqa if you’ll let me go away to university.” It’s not as simple as “If you ban it people will just stop wearing it.” Yes, some women will stop wearing it in public. But there will undoubtedly be other women who will simply not venture out into public. And is it really a huge victory for women’s rights if we force a woman to dress a certain way in exchange for her freedom to move through the public space?

    I also take serious issue with the assumption that women who wear the burqa “have no voice,” but that’s another post.

  26. Ivy
    November 21, 2006 at 3:41 pm

    I’m always fascinated when I see people defending Islam. Saying that you think the burqa is an “incorrect” interpretation of the Quran makes me wonder. I often see liberals who frequently slam Christian fundies for their hateful ideas turn around and stick up for the Muslim fundies and their hateful ideas. I’m not criticizing here – I just wonder why we have gotten to a point where we are only comfortable criticizing our own culture and we feel a need to defend other cultures in the name of open mindedness. I used to be very much that way. I criticized homophobic, misogynist Christians but talked about how Islam was a peaceful religion that was twisted by terrorists. Then I read the Quran. Holy mackerel! It was the most hateful screed I have ever encountered. Having read many major religious texts, I feel comfortable saying that the Quran is by far the most hate-filled, violent and misogynist of them all. I swear, “Kill the infidels!” was every other sentence. So I always have to wonder when I see liberals saying that the Muslim fundies are misinterpreting the Quran… why can’t we just say that Islam is inherently violent and misogynist, when its holy book is so filled with those ideas?

  27. jennie
    November 21, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    Ivy asks

    I often see liberals who frequently slam Christian fundies for their hateful ideas turn around and stick up for the Muslim fundies and their hateful ideas. I’m not criticizing here – I just wonder why we have gotten to a point where we are only comfortable criticizing our own culture and we feel a need to defend other cultures in the name of open mindedness.

    See, I don’t see anyone proposing banning fundamentalist Christians from wearing … whatever fundamentalist Christians wear (some sects require women to cover their heads, I think, and some of the Mennonite/Amish groups have “modest” clothing for both men and women … that’s all that comes to mind right now).

    I condemn hatefulness, oppression, and small-mindedness in any guise or affiliation, whether it’s presented as a brand of Islamic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism, or bloody-minded rationalism.

    If we’re to condemn Islam for being violent and misogynist, we must also examine every other world religion with the same lense. It’s been a while, but I seem to recall a fair bit of stoning, smiting, shaming, and otherwise hating infidels, non-Jews, and women in the Old Testament.

    It’s also my belief that in a freethinking pluralistic society we must permit people to believe whatever suits them. We can forbid people to act in ways that limit the freedoms of other people or that pose a danger to other people or that make it more difficult for everyone to get along. So whatever I think of a religion’s tenets, I’m far more interested in what people do to each other.

    Not my business to tell women (or men) what to wear. Even if they wear burqas. Unless they’re in my dance class, in which case I get to tell them to please wear proper dance shoes.

  28. Raging Moderate
    November 21, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    We can forbid people to act in ways that limit the freedoms of other people or that pose a danger to other people or that make it more difficult for everyone to get along.

    From what I’ve read, that is exactly why the Dutch government is banning facial coverings of any kind in public.

    Unless they’re in my dance class, in which case I get to tell them to please wear proper dance shoes.

    Even if their religion forbids them from wearing proper dance shoes?

  29. jennie
    November 21, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Even if their religion forbids them from wearing proper dance shoes?

    Raging Moderate, I’m really hoping you’re joking.

    My dance class is private space.

    Do you seriously not understand the difference between not accepting government bans on what people wear in public and sartorial requirements imposed on people choosing to attend classes?

    Here’s a hint: if it’s out of doors or in a space that’s supposed to be open to everyone, it’s public life. If it’s inside a private business or home, it’s private life.

    Proper footwear is an occupational safety thing, just as proper clothing in a chemistry lab is. Moreover, one’s life, liberty, or general pursuit of happiness aren’t going to be compromised unduly if one is barred from wearing shoes that will 1) ruin the dance floor, 2) increase the possibility that one will be injured in my class, thereby disrupting the class and probably driving up the premiums on my liability insurance or that of the facility, and possibly causing one to bleed all over the floor.

    Okay, moving to your earlier “point”:

    The source cited does not indicate that the Dutch government is banning sunglasses, balaclavas, mufflers (the wooly-scarf kind, not the kind that go on cars), or the sunglass-and-scarf combinations that celebrities sometimes don in order to hide from annoying photographers. It specifically says “burqas and other Muslim face veils in public” [emphasis mine].

    Just how many women in burqas or other enveloping garb perpetrate crimes every year? Given the small number of women who wear such garb in the Netherlands, it doesn’t seem likely that Dutch town are facing a rash of burqa-clad criminials running about wreaking havoc. Which causes me to believe that the legislators using public fear as a shield for their fear of the other.

    Otherwise, they’d ban everything that might prevent people from identifying someone, and we’d all have to trade in our sunglasses.

  30. Raging Moderate
    November 21, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    It specifically says “burqas and other Muslim face veils in public” [emphasis mine].

    That line comes from Reuters, not the Dutch government.

    Once again, the government quote is:

    “The cabinet finds it undesirable that garments covering the face — including the burqa — should be worn in public in view of public order, (and) the security and protection of fellow citizens,” the Dutch Justice Ministry said in a statement.

    The source cited does not indicate that the Dutch government is banning sunglasses, balaclavas, mufflers (the wooly-scarf kind, not the kind that go on cars), or the sunglass-and-scarf combinations that celebrities sometimes don in order to hide from annoying photographers.

    Nor does it indicate that these items are exempt from the ban. Do you have a cite that shows they are exempt, or are you just making an assumption?

    Which causes me to believe that the legislators using public fear as a shield for their fear of the other.

    That’s possible. It’s also possible that it is a genuine security concern.

  31. Ivy
    November 21, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    Jennie –

    I never said Christianity/Judaism don’t have lots of violence and woman-bashing. They certainly do. My points are 1. lots of people condemn those very things in the Bible and fail to recognize them in the Quran, and 2. Having read both texts, I do feel that the level of hatred in the Quran is kicked up a bit. I have yet to encounter ANY religious text that lacks hate, violence, oppression and other negative content, but I think that the Quran contains the most. Yet many liberals I see are less willing to admit that Islam contains these ideas and very willing to admit that Christianity has it. I think it’s an example of familiarity breeding contempt – most of us have more personal exposure to the ideas of fundamentalist Christianity. Personally, having read many religious texts, I am amazed that there are in fact good Christians, good Jews, good Muslims, good Hindus, and any other religion out there. There is so much negativity in the texts of all these religions that those particular people are blessed with a real ability to separate out the good content apply it.

  32. November 21, 2006 at 8:57 pm

    The burka has no place in modernised society and I am astounded that Feministe, a site I like to read and have a good deal of respect for, has not the gumption to say so out loud.

    It’s easy for us modernized types to forget, but there’s a darn good reason why liberalism as a political philosophy basically grew out of religious toleration (and not just the Wars of Religion): because religion matters to people, damnit. To go up to someone for whom a given mode of dress or ritual practice is bound up in the religious and cultural fabric that gives their life meaning, by which they define their own identity–to go up to such a person and say, “Well, I don’t see the point, so why can’t you just be like me? Can’t you see it’s just barbaric and oppressive?”–and then back it up with the coercive force of the state … well, that doesn’t strike me as particularly liberal at all.

    Somebody had some principle about state action once … what was it …

    That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise.

  33. November 21, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    Jill,

    I also take serious issue with the assumption that women who wear the burqa “have no voice,” but that’s another post.

    Since you also say part of your concern about the burqua ban is that women will not be let out of the house this is really interesting. How is it that a women trapped in the house could have a voice? I eagerly await the future post. (I mean that sincerely. I always look forward to your posts and while I might quibble with the details am entirely in your corner on the big issuses.)

    X. Trapnel,

    To go up to someone for whom a given mode of dress or ritual practice is bound up in the religious and cultural fabric that gives their life meaning, by which they define their own identity–to go up to such a person and say, “Well, I don’t see the point, so why can’t you just be like me? Can’t you see it’s just barbaric and oppressive?” – and then back it up with the coercive force of the state – well, that doesn’t strike me as particularly liberal at all.

    Yep, at first blush it might not seem liberal, but consider slavery in the USA during the 1800’s. By all accounts, some slaves expressed no interest in freedom. “My master treats me well. Why would I want to be free and have to fend for myself?” Similarly for many abused children and women. I trust you understand the sort of conditioning that leads a person to that sort of statement.

  34. November 21, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    Andy,
    I won’t pretend to speak for Jill, or burqa-wearing women, but it’s fairly easy for me, personally, to imagine how I might be trapped in the house in such a situation yet still have voice. I could simply, as a voice-bearing, thoughtful, and reflective person, come to decide both that my commitment to God required me to wear a burqa when outside in mixed company, and that my commitment to the democratically-enacted law required me to not wear one at all … thus leaving me no morally permissible choice but to stay inside. Why does someone have to leave the house to have a voice that deserves a hearing? If a hypothetical person like that kept a blog, would you automatically discount it?

    And regarding your question to me: if you honestly believe that choosing to wear a burqa–when everything in the wider Dutch society not only permits but positively begs you to do otherwise–is more analogous to slavery than to, say, wearing a yarmulke or wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday or wearing a Sikh turban or wearing a kilt … if you genuinely believe slavery is the appropriate analogy, even after (because I assume you’d do this before coming to such judgments) listening to the voices of those who partake in the practice … I just don’t know what to say, because your moral compass just isn’t any model I can navigate with.

  35. zuzu
    November 21, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    I’m not really sure what’s so difficult to understand here — neither the Dutch government nor the Muslim men they’re trying to target through the burqa ban really give a great goddamn whether a woman wants to wear a burqa or not. As far as both sides are concerned, the woman in the burqa is just a club to beat the other side with.

  36. November 21, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    That was a bit harsher than I intended, Andy, let me try again. I accept there really may be women in the Netherlands, who do wear the burqa, who really are trapped in oppressive marriages or other social relations, women for whom the slavery analogy might start looking reasonable. That said, for those women, the burqa is a symptom, not the disease. Any woman you believe to be so enmeshed, whether by false beliefs or by the social networks surrounding her, is by your very assumptions someone the law is incredibly unlikely to help–she’s the most likely person to become a shut-in, if such a law is passed.

    To continue your analogy, which, as I said, I believe thoroughly inappropriate: your view seems to entail imagining a world where chattel slavery were enforced only through social norms, rather than legal mechanisms–slave contracts could not be enforced, slave-beatings would be assault, etc.–and then, having imagined a world with such powerfully efficacious informal, extra-legal sanctions, claiming that the solution to such a moral nightmare would be to outlaw anyone from saying “Yes, Master” in public. The very assumptions that generate the hypothetical make the ‘solution’ absurd.

    Sorry again for the intemperate remarks in the previous comment.

  37. November 22, 2006 at 12:25 am

    the woman in the burqa is just a club to beat the other side with.

    Exactly. This is what I’m trying to get at — thanks, Zuzu, for phrasing it better than I could.

    AndyS, I hear what you’re saying, but my point isn’t that every single woman will be trapped in her house by someone else — that’s probably true for some women, but others who feel that they are religiously mandated to wear the burqa will keep themselves out of the public sphere in order to behave in a way that they feel is required of their belief system.

    Do I agree with it? No. In my ideal world, would anyone give two shits about how women dressed? Of course not. Please don’t misundersand me — I am in no way defending the burqa. You won’t hear me argue that it’s a “choice” and therefore it’s fine. All I’m arguing is that banning it will have tangibly negative effects for women. We should battle the philosophies underlying the covering of women (be that through the burqa, the headscarf, the chador, or “modest” Christian garb) rather than simply illegalizing articles of clothing that make us uncomfortable.

  38. November 22, 2006 at 2:02 am

    The best analogy of opposition to this ban is the ACLU’s defense of Nazis’ right to march. No matter how offensive a certain statement or garment is, it’s protected as part of free speech and privacy.

    By the way, it’s not just burqas that are getting banned. Nobody wears a burqa outside Afghanistan anyway. It’s also niqabs (Saudi-style veils), and as far as I can tell even Iranian-style headscarfs. These don’t really restrict motion, unlike the Afghan burqa, and are no hazard to driving; headscarfs aren’t even a problem for facial recognition software.

    On another note, saying that the ban is necessary as an anti-terrorism measure is wrong. In Europe, the primary cause of terrorism is the growing sense of alienation ghettoized Muslims feel, combined with Bin Laden’s inspiration to commit terrorist attacks. The US and Canada, where Muslims aren’t so ghettoized, are almost entirely free from domestic Islamic terrorism. Laws like this ban will only encourage more terrorism and fuel more riots.

  39. micheyd
    November 22, 2006 at 7:09 am

    We should battle the philosophies underlying the covering of women (be that through the burqa, the headscarf, the chador, or “modest” Christian garb) rather than simply illegalizing articles of clothing that make us uncomfortable.

    Absolutely, Jill. But (honest question) how do we do that? I’ve had dialogue with hijabi muslim women about covering/modesty, which has been enlightening, but how can we engage the philosophy of the burqa without coming across as attacking?

  40. Ariel
    November 22, 2006 at 9:42 am

    Just a thought, and a polemic one at that: would banning clitorectomies have a negative effect on women as well?

  41. zuzu
    November 22, 2006 at 9:45 am

    Gosh, Ariel, is there a difference between clothing and body parts?

  42. Ariel
    November 22, 2006 at 9:48 am

    zuzu:
    I see your point, but: you didn’t answer the question.

  43. jennie
    November 22, 2006 at 9:55 am

    Okay, so I checked the Dutch Justitie’s English website, and all I found was the supremely uninformative Press Release, which states

    The Cabinet has adopted a proposal of Minister Verdonk for Immigration and Integration to submit, as soon as possible, a bill regarding a general ban on wearing garments covering the face in the (semi-) public space. The fact is that the Cabinet deems it inappropriate that garments covering the face – among which the burka – are worn in the public space, based on considerations of public order, security and the protection of (fellow) citizens. For the time being, the Cabinet will avail itself of the existing options to disallow garments covering the face in the (semi-) public space.

    1) Interesting that there’s a Dutch Ministry for Immigration and Integration.

    2) The burqa is the only specific face-covering garment mentioned. The press release doesn’t feel that it’s important to mention ski masks, cycling masks, motorcycle helmets, scarves, or any other non-Islam-related garment. Which supports Jill’s contention that this is a cultural thing.

    3) Notwithstanding Jill’s contention, the reasons given for the proposed ban are nebulous concerns for a) public order (which I interpret as “not making people scared and unhappy”), b) security (because the 150 or so burqa-wearing women couldn’t be identified if any of them decided to rob a bank), and c) the protection of (fellow) citizens (from either the hypothetical violent burqa’d hordes or the actual small number of “scary looking” women and from having to address their own prejudices).

  44. micheyd
    November 22, 2006 at 10:20 am

    If I may attempt to answer that, part of the reason for banning FGM is that it is performed on babies or young girls, who have absolutely no say in their parent’s choice to irreversibly alter their sexual function. If an adult woman wants to slice off her own clitoris, I’m going to be super squicked, but she can go ahead and do it.

    A body covering, on the other hand: while it can certainly be forced, we can’t assume it is always coerced on these adult women (and note Alon’s point about the niqab above). It’s a reversible process, putting on clothing, and can be negated by a change in belief about covering up.

  45. November 22, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    Just a thought, and a polemic one at that: would banning clitorectomies have a negative effect on women as well?

    How would banning clitorectomies have a negative effect on women? Can you answer that question?

    The reason that it’s bad to ban certain clothing items that some women believe to be religiously-mandated is because banning those items will mean that the women who believe they must wear them simply will not go out in public. The bans also target certain ethnic/religious groups. I don’t like the burqa, but it isn’t physically mutilating. Disallowing clitorectomies won’t keep women trapped in their own homes the way that banning burqas/niqabs will. It won’t keep religious women entirely out of the public sphere.

  46. November 22, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    Women can drive in some kinds of Niqab, with the greatest of ease. They can also eat, drink, be merry, etc.

    The comment about using the women as a club for one side to beat the other with about encapsulizes the whole issue.

  47. Raging Moderate
    November 22, 2006 at 6:07 pm

    but others who feel that they are religiously mandated to wear the burqa will keep themselves out of the public sphere in order to behave in a way that they feel is required of their belief system.

    And that’s a bad thing?

    Personally, I am in favor of religious nuts (men or women) voluntarily keeping themselves and their strange beliefs out of the public sphere.

    I wish more would do so.

  48. November 22, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    We already have legal rules about clothing in public spaces. Everyone must cover their genitals. Women must cover their breasts. If someone said being nude when weather permits is part of my religious belief, would we say that’s okay? What if they also said “I’m teaching my children this as well. When they turn 16 (or 15 or 14, pick a number) they will go out in public nude too.”

    I bring this up only to make the case that we already regulate dress in public spaces and doubt that many people actually think making a religious-belief claim allows one to opt out of those regulations. The questions are about how far can the state go with restrictions and when are religious exemptions tolerated. Seems to me there is a significant public interest in disallowing complete face covering in public spaces with temporary exemptions for harsh weather and health reasons — but not religious ones.

    If, as Jill and others are saying, a religious woman freely chooses to follow her religious belief that her face must be covered and so not leave the house, that’s her free choice. My concern is only with the woman who is forced to go vieled by a domineering husband or family.

    Christian Scienctists’ beliefs about medical care (that only prayer is permitted) are tolerable in adults but not when adults try to impose it on their sick children. Still, I think teaching their children to follow such a belief when they become adults is abusive, as is teaching children that a wife must do as her husband commands or that a women must cover her face in public. Freedom is a good thing but even it has its limits. I’m sure you can find Islamic women who will claim that stoning adulterers is right. That doesn’t mean it should be permitted.

  49. exangelena
    November 22, 2006 at 9:13 pm

    Well, I’ve always agreed with Jill on this one.
    But I’d like to throw this out here as well – what I find problematic about the anti-headscarf/niqab/burka meme is the way that it demonizes Muslim WOMEN. Many of these Muslim women in Europe have enough crap to deal with (just look up Samira Bellil or read “Murder in Amsterdam”) and now they are made into a symbol of dangerous religious fanaticism. Although I know that there are Muslim women affiliated with radical/violent political movements, the majority of radical Islamists are men. And the people perpetrating the misogynistic practices associated with Islam (not necessarily Muslim per se, many of them are cultural), such as honor killing, wife beating, female genital mutilation, forced seclusion, gang rape? Men. Yet in the end, we are all pointing our fingers at the women.

  50. November 23, 2006 at 12:57 am

    Personally, I am in favor of religious nuts (men or women) voluntarily keeping themselves and their strange beliefs out of the public sphere.

    I wish more would do so.

    Women who wear the burqa or the niqab aren’t all “religious nuts.” But your desire to have them all confined to their homes is telling — after all, nothing bad could come out of isolating very religious people, making it clear that they aren’t accepted in the general community, and thereby really only giving them access to even more religious people in their communities who will radicalize them, right?

    If, as Jill and others are saying, a religious woman freely chooses to follow her religious belief that her face must be covered and so not leave the house, that’s her free choice. My concern is only with the woman who is forced to go vieled by a domineering husband or family.

    That’s all fine and good, but it’s impossible to legally regulate that. There are most certainly thousands of Christian and Jewish and secular women whose domineering husbands make them wear certain articles of clothing, or dress modestly so as not to attract male attention. We can all agree that that’s bad. But would the solution be to ban modest clothing? Of course not. That doesn’t even begin to address the problem. And it’s not her “free choice” to decide whether or not to leave the house when her sincere belief is that men shouldn’t see her in public without her covering. If a country wanted to ban the yarmukle, would you argue that it’s a religious Jew’s free choice to leave his house or go to temple without one?

    We already have legal rules about clothing in public spaces. Everyone must cover their genitals. Women must cover their breasts. If someone said being nude when weather permits is part of my religious belief, would we say that’s okay? What if they also said “I’m teaching my children this as well. When they turn 16 (or 15 or 14, pick a number) they will go out in public nude too.”

    Well ok… but these are long-standing social rules, right? This ban on the burqa is clearly motivated by intolerance and bigotry. If the concern was only with face coverings, wouldn’t the rule have stood long ago? After all, we’re talking about a place that certainly gets cold in the winter, and where people undoubtedly have been covering their faces for a pretty long time. This ban only comes up when there’s an influx of Muslim immigrants. Do you honestly think that’s a coincidence?

  51. zuzu
    November 23, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Keep in mind as well that the burqa/niqab is really a cultural practice justified by an interpretation of the Quran. You don’t see a whole lot of them on Muslims in Indonesia or Bosnia, for example. Or, for that matter, among second-generation immigrant Muslims in the US. So it’s not necessarily a “religious nut” thing per se.

    And people who feel threatened will cling to certain cultural signifiers, even if they had long abandoned them.

  52. Sally
    November 23, 2006 at 10:27 am

    We already have legal rules about clothing in public spaces. Everyone must cover their genitals. Women must cover their breasts. If someone said being nude when weather permits is part of my religious belief, would we say that’s okay? What if they also said “I’m teaching my children this as well. When they turn 16 (or 15 or 14, pick a number) they will go out in public nude too.”

    I bring this up only to make the case that we already regulate dress in public spaces and doubt that many people actually think making a religious-belief claim allows one to opt out of those regulations.

    I don’t know where you are, but in the U.S., the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue. What they have said is that it is acceptable to pass laws, including laws regarding clothing, that discriminate against members of religious communities and require them to violate their beliefs. However, it is not Constitutional to pass such a law if the intent of the law is to discriminate or force someone to alter their religious practice. The Supreme Court ruling strikes me as falling way short of an acceptable standard of religious tolerance (and I say that as a Jew, not a Muslim, because we’re adversely affected by that, too), but it seems to me that anti-burqa laws would fail even that test.

  53. November 23, 2006 at 11:17 am

    If, as Jill and others are saying, a religious woman freely chooses to follow her religious belief that her face must be covered and so not leave the house, that’s her free choice. My concern is only with the woman who is forced to go vieled by a domineering husband or family.

    Further, wouldn’t banning the burqa just exacerbate this situation? If she’s being forced to wear the burqa by a domineering husband/family (which I would argue, in Western nations, is less often the case than her wearing it by choice, but we’ll go with it for now since it certainly does happen), banning it leaves her trapped inside the house with that domineering husband/family. It makes it far more difficult for her to negotiate her rights to leave the home. It makes it dangerous for her to violate her husband/family’s wishes and leave her home to seek out social services, like help from a domestic violence organization. It means that she probably won’t have access to education. In short, it only makes her life worse.

  54. November 23, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    “Further, wouldn’t banning the burqa just exacerbate this situation? If she’s being forced to wear the burqa by a domineering husband/family (which I would argue, in Western nations, is less often the case than her wearing it by choice, but we’ll go with it for now since it certainly does happen), banning it leaves her trapped inside the house with that domineering husband/family.”

    BINGO. And also, as women are the only ones who are affected, the domineering/extremist men are still free to roam around doing whatever mischief people think they are doing to the Western society they are living in.

    What the hell are people trying to do with these insane laws? Besides just let Muslims know they are not welcome in the country and that they don’t give a bloody damn about women?

  55. zuzu
    November 23, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    I don’t know where you are, but in the U.S., the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue. What they have said is that it is acceptable to pass laws, including laws regarding clothing, that discriminate against members of religious communities and require them to violate their beliefs. However, it is not Constitutional to pass such a law if the intent of the law is to discriminate or force someone to alter their religious practice. The Supreme Court ruling strikes me as falling way short of an acceptable standard of religious tolerance (and I say that as a Jew, not a Muslim, because we’re adversely affected by that, too), but it seems to me that anti-burqa laws would fail even that test.

    Sally, what case are you referring to here?

  56. Sally
    November 23, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    This is totally not anything on which I have any expertise, but I think it was Employment Division v. Smith.

  57. zuzu
    November 24, 2006 at 12:54 am

    test

  58. zuzu
    November 24, 2006 at 12:57 am

    Well, this is really fucking annoying. I can’t post my comment, and I can’t figure out why.

    Suffice to say: Employment Division v. Smith isn’t really applicable to the religious-clothing context, because it involved an issue of criminal law — namely, drugs used in Native American religious ceremonies. Religious clothing gets a pass unless there’s some specific interest involved, like safety or licensing requirements or what have you.

  59. November 24, 2006 at 1:18 am

    And that’s a bad thing? [Hijabi women withdrawing from the public sphere]

    Yes. The main fuel of terrorism in Europe is Muslim alienation. The countries that are relatively good at inviting Muslims to participate in society as full-fledged members, e.g. the US and Canada, don’t have the same problem as France or NL or even Britain. Accepting group identities is a necessary evil for a modern state, just like taxes, zoning laws, private property, and state-controlled education.

    Case in point: Canada has Sikh immigrants, many of whom remained true to the Sikh tradition of enlisting in the military or joining the police, and joined the RCMP. The Sikh turbans conflicted with the RCMP uniform, and Sikh community leaders started insisting that Canada permit RCMP officers to wear turbans. Canada’s solution was to issue an optional RCMP turban, which Sikhs would wear as part of their uniform. Can you imagine France coming up with something like that?

  60. Sally
    November 24, 2006 at 1:37 am

    Suffice to say: Employment Division v. Smith isn’t really applicable to the religious-clothing context, because it involved an issue of criminal law — namely, drugs used in Native American religious ceremonies.Religious clothing gets a pass unless there’s some specific interest involved, like safety or licensing requirements or what have you.

    We’re talking about criminal law here, though, right? Under Smith, a state could enact a statute that made it illegal to cover your face, if they wanted to prevent crime or something. Burqas could be included, as long as they weren’t singled out. They couldn’t make a law making it illegal to wear a burqa, just because they thought burqas were divisive or oppressive or something.

    I’m not the lawyer here, but nothing that I’ve read about Smith suggests that it only applies to criminal law, by the way. I don’t know how the surviving bits of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act change the situation, though.

  61. November 24, 2006 at 3:30 am

    Ivy, what the hell Qur’an did you read? I’ve studied the whole damn thing pretty closely, and I think you’re running a gross mischaracterization here. Seriously. Chapter-and-verse me. I’m sure Anna-in-Portland can back me up.
    That added to your “I’m a liberal! And I used to believe the Muslims were okay, but now I know better! Why do you liberals–I mean, liberals, since I’m one–hate on Christians so much, but always give those Muslims a free pass?” when the bloggers and commenters on this site do no such free-passing or–in my experience–general Christian-hating…what are your motivations, here? I’ve seen these arguments a lot of times from, well…you know. Starts with a C and a T and ends in ‘oncern rolls.”

  62. November 24, 2006 at 3:33 am

    Ooop–sorry about the tags on my moderated comment. If anyone can fix ’em? I can’t from here.

  63. zuzu
    November 24, 2006 at 10:41 am

    We’re talking about criminal law here, though, right? Under Smith, a state could enact a statute that made it illegal to cover your face, if they wanted to prevent crime or something. Burqas could be included, as long as they weren’t singled out. They couldn’t make a law making it illegal to wear a burqa, just because they thought burqas were divisive or oppressive or something.

    The problem is, any such law that wasn’t narrowly drawn (such as New York’s anti-mask law, which bans masks, but only during public demonstrations, and is targeted at the Klan) would wind up discriminating against veiled women because, even though it would be facially-neutral, it would have a disparate impact. Because who else covers their faces on a day-to-day basis?

    The law at issue in Employment Division was a facially-neutral narcotics law that the plaintiffs weren’t challenging as invalid or designed to discriminate — they were simply saying that because they were using a banned substance as part of a religious ceremony, they should have been granted an exemption from its enforcement.

  64. Sally
    November 24, 2006 at 11:41 am

    Before the RFRA, wasn’t Smith found to uphold the military’s right to require members of the military to take off their hats at various times, even though such regulations essentially barred Orthodox Jewish men from enlisting? Also, I think it was found to exempt prisons from providing special food for prisoners with religiously-based dietary restrictions, as long as the rule that everyone had to eat the same crap didn’t single out religious people. It wasn’t a narrow ruling about cannibis. It was actually pretty sweeping, which is why it was greeted with so much horror pretty much clear across the political spectrum. Why would Christian and Jewish groups have freaked so much if it were just about American Indians and drugs? I think that a law against any face covering. be it a balaclava or a halloween mask or a burqa, probably would be found to be Constitutional under Smith, unless you could prove that it really was intended to single out Muslim dress. What am I missing here?

  65. zuzu
    November 24, 2006 at 11:56 am

    You’re missing the state interest. Prisons, the military, criminal drug laws — all involve a particular state interest which is strong enough to override religion-based First Amendment issues. What’s the state interest in banning face coverings when someone’s just going about their day?

  66. zuzu
    November 24, 2006 at 11:59 am

    Ariel,

    First, what the hell did you do to your formatting?

    Second, what countries are you discussing where clitoridectomies aren’t banned?

  67. Sally
    November 24, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    You’re missing the state interest. Prisons, the military, criminal drug laws — all involve a particular state interest which is strong enough to override religion-based First Amendment issues. What’s the state interest in banning face coverings when someone’s just going about their day?

    You’d have to make a case for there being a state interest, which I suspect would have to do with preventing crime. It would be ludicrious, but not any more ludicrous than the compelling state interest that supposedly would make the military crumble to bits if Jewish men were allowed to wear small peices of cloth pinned to their heads. Smith sets the bar very low and leaves religious minorities very vulnerable. And yet, as I said, I think the Dutch ban still wouldn’t fly under it.

  68. zuzu
    November 24, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Sally, the military is something that you have to join, and you have to agree to certain conditions to join, such as wearing the uniform. There is at least an arguable claim to be made for unit cohesion, yadda yadda. You may think it’s ludicrous, but the military takes that shit very seriously. There are all kinds of other restrictions to joining the military that might otherwise be considered discriminatory — i.e., weight and age limits, physical condition requirements, security clearances, heterosexuality, etc. Nobody serves in the military by right.

    But that’s not the same thing AT ALL as banning burqas in public. There is NO legitimate state interest in banning particular items of religious garb from the public square. The “crime prevention” justification would have to be accompanied by some kind of finding that the covering of faces in, say, a public library or on a public street, without more, is strongly correlated with crime. Banks may be justified in refusing to serve customers wearing face coverings, but my sense is that they realize that a niqab is not the same thing as a ski mask and make some accommodations for those customers, such as having female tellers verify their identity.

    All Smith does is say that when there’s a legitimate state interest in conflict with religious expression, religious expression may not always come out the winner. A Dutch-style burqa ban would not pass muster under the Smith analysis. It’s just too damn broad and serves no purpose. Neither, IMO, would a French-style ban on religious symbols in public schools. But note that the French ban is limited to public schools and bans ALL religious symbols, including crucifixes, ankhs, yarmulkes and headscarves.

  69. Ariel
    November 24, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    2 things:
    1. Mammycat THANK YOU for your entry! I have noticed that my European friends and I see this issue v. differently than Americans.
    2. Zuzu: I don’t like your tone so I’m just going to back out now.
    Cheers.

  70. November 24, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    Ariel-

    Just because you believe something doesn’t make it so. The very reason that a headscarf ban would keep women inside is because the purpose of wearing the headscarf is to protect her from the male gaze. Clitorectomies simply aren’t comparable; you can’t tell if a woman has had a clitorectomy or not by her appearance in public, given that we appear in public clothed. While families may dislike the fact that their daughters can’t be circumcised, and while this may make them less marriable in some communities, it doesn’t logically follow that they’ll be trapped in the home, since the purpose of clitorectomies has nothing to do with the public. Coverings, on the other hand, are worn only in public and in the presence of non-family-member men. The entire point is to cover; these women feel that it is an offense to their belief system and their dignity to be seen without a covering. Therefore, it does logically follow that they wouldn’t go into public spaces if they weren’t allowed to cover themselves.

  71. November 25, 2006 at 1:01 am

    But note that the French ban is limited to public schools and bans ALL religious symbols, including crucifixes, ankhs, yarmulkes and headscarves.

    No, it doesn’t – it only bans large crucifixes. It’s basically a way to exclude Muslims and responding to accusations of racism with “We’re not racists; we’re excluding Jews, too, as well as hypothetical ultra-Catholics who have to wear large crucifixes.”

  72. November 25, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    what I find problematic about the anti-headscarf/niqab/burka meme is the way that it demonizes Muslim WOMEN

    Thank you exangelena for that very clear and concise statement about this issue.

Comments are closed.