Saturday, June 20, 2009

Burqa - Personal Rights and Community Obligations

The debate in France about whether to outlaw the wearing of the Islamic burqa by women, raises a number of interesting secular and religious issues.

The debate within France seems to include the concern that some women are wearing the burqa because they have to rather than choose to. The French are our closest neighbours and despite historical emnities are possibly closer friends now than our
American cousins have been in the recent past (whose poodle was Tony Blair said to be?).

However France sometimes seems even more committed to a nanny-like state
than the UK currently does. Should the state really be interfering in the private lives of citizens to such an extent that spouses should be forbidden from placing huge pressure upon each other as to what to wear? Coercion within marriage is the antithesis of what married life is supposed to be about but is the pressurising of a woman to wear a burqa any worse than pressurising her to wear kit a la Anne Summers say? Should the State ban the latter as well? Why stop there - who within the state will decide what else is and is not allowed to be worn and what criteria will he (or she?) use?

I prefer the more modern attire for Catholic nuns than their wimples and dress codes of old but still respect and admire present day Carmelite sisters for example, who wear their brown habits. But surely the point is not what I prefer but what the wearer prefers, even having regard to the external pressures upon her preferences? Who knows, not incurring mother superior's wrath might be the main reason for a Carmelite to dress in the her distinctive brown habit rather than following some other religious communities by dressing in civvies.

A husband's wrath like that of mother superior, might be wrong perhaps unacceptably so but in the absence of violence seems mainly a matter for regulation within the family or religious community. Violence actual or threatened, should attract state intervention but individually on a case by case basis.

On the other hand if someone who chooses to wear her burqa also then choses to work in the wider community, say at an infants' school where the little ones are unsettled or worse by the teacher's face being hidden, the interests of the children should be given priority over those of the adult.
In the wider community, one would not expect say an hairdresser man or woman, to hide their own hair.

So I would be against banning the burqa except where either the wearing of the same would not be in the best interests of children or other vulnerable people who are supposed to be being guided by
the wearer but are distracted or frightened by her covered face or where the wearer
should know that the job she is doing would be interpreted by reasonable customers as best done without a mask.

Hopefully the French will not impose uniform bans.

1 comment:

  1. Jerry,
    Excellent. I have responded in my own blog, but not in a very convincing way, I fear. The truth is I don't quite know where I stand!


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