It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally I do not have a clear opinion. Really! Right now the only issue that comes to my mind upon which I’m undecided is:
Should the burqa be legally banned?
(I’m leaving the legal small print about whether I mean here or in Belgium, state-wide or local, &c, OK so no nitpicking)
Pro: I don’t like to see anybody wear them
Con: Unfortunately for me (and the general public), not liking something is not a basis for banning something. I also don’t like fat woman wearing spandex leggings, British men wearing nothing but shorts in summer, and chavs wearing… everything that chavs wear. The argument I read that in one Belgian town women wearing burqas were stopped by police because passers-by found them ‘annoying’ or ‘upsetting’ doesn’t sound like an argument to me.
Pro: It’s a signal of oppression to women
Con: The main problem here is that women who wear them fall into two categories. The ones that have been so brainwashed that they truly believe that they are wearing them out of free will, and the ones that are under so much pressure by their male relatives/spouses that they will claim to be wearing them out of free will. So trying to go this route doesn’t get one very far.
It’s like asking children if they are abused by their parents – you get the same two groups as above and no child will readily admit that their parents are abusing them.
(In my opinion this is really the same issue as with muslims wearing ‘ just’ headscarves except that these are less noticeable, but this would be too long a discussion here)
Pro: It’s a signal of religious fundamentalism/religious symbol
Con: Unfortunately, we live in a free society where everybody can follow any religion they like, however fundamentalist, as long as they don’t enforce it onto others.
But: Definitely true when it comes to public roles, where the state (at least on the continent) is bound by its constitution to be non-religious. You can’t have a police officer or judge wear religious symbols; what faith would a muslim have in a fair trial if (s)he takes a christian to court and the presiding judge is wearing a big fat cross around their neck?
We’ve had court cases here in the UK on a related issue – public sector christians who refused to marry gay couples. They’ve been resoundingly slapped down by courts forcing them to follow the law and not let their religions get in the way of their work.
Pro: It makes people impossible to identify. It’s a public safety issue.
Con: Only true in cases where you indeed have to identify yourself. In France apparently even when you withdraw money from a bank but come on, how often do we need to be recognisable? What about all these hoodies? I can grow a beard and dye my hair, too. This to me is a ‘technical’ reason, not a ‘real’ one.
Pro: it’s a health issue (vitamin D and all that)
Con: bikinis and UV
Con: It’s against freedom of religion/it’s islamophobic.
Pro/neutral: Freedom of religion ends where other, more important, freedoms begin. Whether women’s equality, public safety and the secularity of state are less important is up for debate.
It is my personal opinion that as long as in islamic countries women are forced not to wear short skirts, muslims have no grounds to complain if they are similarly forced to not wear something ‘here in the west’. I know that most religions have difficulties understanding they are not special, though, and they usually also have no problem with the asymmetry of claiming all their rights (under ‘freedom for our religion’ claims) whilst denying others theirs (under ‘freedom for our religion’ claims).
It’s not really about the burqa is it?
The real problem isn’t with the burqa, it’s what it represents. Shaving your head, wearing a bomber jacket and waving English flags isn’t bad in itself either (and isn’t prohibited, and won’t be, also in equivalent forms in Europe), it’s that it represents xenophobia, a penchant to fascism, and other signs of mental retardation.
On the flipside of the argument, it’s also not about the burqa but about people being scared of the perceived large number of muslims in europe and the islamisation of western society.
How to go about it?
So I can’t think of an easy solution to this problem – I actually think there isn’t one else we would have found it by now.
But I do think a solution might be found in carefully looking at how we deal with related problems, such as far right political views, and nationalism.