There seems to be a storm brewing around the issue of women wearing burkhas in public. As you may well know, the French have recently introduced and passed a ban on the wearing of the Islamic veils. The ban went through with a vote of three hundred and thirty five to one. Women who go against the ban will be liable for the equivalent of a £700 fine and men who force their female relatives or wives to wear such clothing will face an even heftier fine.
The French Prime Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy outlined two main reasons for this ban. The first was that the wearing of a full face veil was out of place in a secular society, intimidating and alienating non-Muslims. The second reason was cleaner cut; Sarkozy described the veils as subservient and debasing.
While these reasons may be controversial, there is no doubt that it is a topic that needs serious addressing. Countries such as Belgium, Spain, Italy and countless others have already introduced bans on clothing that masks the face. Syria has even gone as far as to ban female students wearing a full face veil on University campuses.
Should this ban be introduced in Britain? Is it ethical? During a time where national security has had many shake ups it is arguable that, in public spaces, people should not wear clothing that hides their face. What, for example, happens in relation to passports and security checks? It also seems unfair that people are not allowed to wear hooded tops in some public spaces but Muslim women are allowed to wear burkhas.
However, there are a number of different types of veils and head scarves worn by Muslim women, some, such as the Burkha, conceal the whole of the face, while others, such as the Hijab hides only the hair and neck, leaving the face clear. However, if it is simply a question of security then it seems necessary to only ban those veils that cover the face and body, and there should be no ban on the simpler head scarves. But is it just a question of security, or a failing to understand the more subtle parts of minority religions in dominantly Christian societies? Or is simply an extension of ‘Islamaphobia’
So far Britain has no plans to ban the Islamic veils, in fact, earlier this year, Ed Balls former Schools Secretary stated that such a ban was ‘not British’ following a call by the UKIP party for the ban. The British National Party has also called for the veil to be banned in Britain’s schools.
There are of course, a number of not only moral and social objections but indeed legal ones. For example the European Court of Human Rights states that such bans could limit religious freedom. There is no clear cut answer here. Has France ended oppression or begun a different form of it? It seems for many Muslim women the decision to wear a Burkha is being made by everyone other than themselves. We have to ask ourselves, is this right?
Written by Rebecca Schwartz (Birmingham University Student)