As I walked past the cash register on my way into the store, I noticed three Muslim women in full burqa like in this photo. They were totally covered, with just slits for their eyes….
I won’t pretend it wasn’t surprising. It was. There were several reasons for this, not all of them fair or rational. Firstly, because I couldn’t see their faces which somehow feels sinister even if it’s not. Secondly, because I can’t help but feel that these women are repressed and controlled by a faith that doesn’t allow them the simple liberty of breathing unencumbered by thick fabric. Or allow them to feel the air and sunlight on their faces.
As the women paid for their purchase and moved off into the shopping centre, I overheard a snatch of conversation between the next customer and the sales assistant who had just served them. “Wow, that’s a bit full-on, isn’t it” said the customer, gesturing to the Muslim women who were now out of ear shot. “Yeah” replied the sales assistant. “Whenever they come in here like that I’m worried they’re going to blow me up!”I winced when I heard this but it was simply a clumsy articulation of my own discomfort. For me, it wasn’t about the likelihood of a bomb under the burqa and all the racist cliches implicit in that idea but seeing women in full burqa did make me uncomfEdit HTMLortable as a woman, a feminist, a westerner.
The pressing question is, is that discomfort a good enough reason for a government to legislate about religious dress? I think no. France’s President Sarkozy thinks yes. He has called for the burqa to be banned in his country.
The Times Online reports: “In our country we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” Mr Sarkozy said to applause in the parliament’s ceremonial Versailles home. “The burka is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement,” he added. “It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”
Mr Sarkozy was adding his voice to a strong consensus that has emerged this
month against women in France’s five million-strong Muslim community who
wear the full or nearly-full cover of their bodies and faces.
Muslim leaders reacted cautiously to Mr Sarkozy’s words on the burka. Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, called the
President’s remarks “in keeping with the republican spirit of secularism”.
Moderate Muslims also saw full face-covering as a symbol of submission, said
Measures against face cover are supported by two of the three women Muslims in
the Cabinet but other ministers are questioning the wisdom of legislation
that could be impossible to enforce.
Yeah, it does seem a bit of a stretch. As uncomfortable as I find it to see a woman fully covered under a burqa, I’m equally uncomfortable with the idea of a government legislating on what people choose to wear. Should we really ban everything that makes us feel uncomfortable?
As Tory Maguire so beautifully puts it in The Punch:
I would never argue for a ban on burqas, as in this country people
should be free to express their faith however they choose. If it means
whipping themselves on the hour every hour, dancing in the forest in
the light of the moon, or demonstrating total subservience to men by
donning what is effectively an invisibility cloak, so be it.