by Shihang

It’s an issue of great simplicity, isn’t it? Crystal just asked me for my thoughts on this chest-thumping piece (which seems a bit Orwellian in its use of tolerance). Well, I recalled reading about it the other day, and I figure that the issue boils down to whether there is any reason for legislating against a burqa.

I don’t think there is any case at all for arguing that religion should take precedence over law. After all, you wouldn’t allow human sacrifice, public nudity or breach of fire safety laws in the name of accommodating religious views. The difference is that burqas in themselves do not seem to be things we can objectively legislate against, based on a harm principle. There is more to be said about this issue, especially the argument of emancipating women forced by zealous males to don the garment (God knows why…oh wait). But ultimately, it is a second-best solution.

Since this issue is a legal one, we must find legal justification for such legislation. One particularly persuasive argument is that the burqa is a gender issue, not a religious one, that a burqa “erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it”. If this is true, and I would need to know more than the nothing I current do of Islamic theology to make a sensible judgment on the issue, then a burqa is a violation of the notion of equal rights for genders. However, banning it for this reason is incredibly clumsy legislation; perhaps it can be more targeted at the specific coercion that makes it an instrument of female oppression.

Sometimes the argument becomes ridiculous. This op-ed ends with “through a legal ban, French parliamentarians want to uphold a principle that should apply to all: the visibility of the face in the public sphere, which is essential to our security and is a condition for living together.” It could have been written by someone who really hates fancy dress parties.

Well, personally, I disapprove of the ban, but only because it’s clumsy and draconian, a bit like banning football because forcing young boys to play football is a popular way to impose repressive machismo on them. You can surely just get rid of the bad nasty men forcing people to do things, and leave the rest of the weirdos who like this stuff (football, that is) alone.

Also worth reading for the perspective.