Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Europe's new obsession with the Burqa and why you cant beat oppression by being oppressive!

Recently the lower house of the French Parliament passed a ban on any veils that cover the face (including the burqa) in any public place in France. The legislation passed 335 - 1. Yes, you read that right. Only 1 lawmaker voted against the bill which makes wearing a veil punishable with a 150 euro fine. It doesn't matter if its your own choice to wear it, as someone who wants the freedom to practice one's own religion would want to. Belgium already has a similar law and Spain, Austria and Italy are thinking of enacting something on the same lines.

What's their logic? In the NYT piece, entitled “Tearing Away the Veil” the leader of the French National Assembly, Jean-François Copé, puts forth his arguments as to why such a ban is necessary. Let's discuss a couple of his arguments:

"This face covering poses a serious safety problem at a time when security cameras play an important role in the protection of public order. An armed robbery recently committed in the Paris suburbs by criminals dressed in burqas provided an unfortunate confirmation of this fact."

Hmmm... One armed robbery. Mr. Cope - How many armed robberies have occurred where the criminals had ski masks on? Or some sort of other disguise like a wig or even a Darth Vader costume (as this recent NY robbery). Should we ban all ski masks, wigs and Halloween costumes because they can be used as disguises?

Here's another one:

"Let’s take one example: The fact that people are prohibited from strolling down Fifth Avenue in the nude does not constitute an attack on the fundamental rights of nudists. Likewise, wearing headgear that fully covers the face does not constitute a fundamental liberty. To the contrary, it is an insurmountable obstacle to the affirmation of a political community that unites citizens without regard to differences in sex, origin or religious faith."

Wow! Seriously? Did he just compare the right to practice one's religion with strolling nude down 5th avenue? Let's make this clear Mr. Cope - no one is saying that the freedom of expression and the right to practice one's religion gives a person the right to break the law. In fact, it is well settled law that someone's religion does not give that person the right to violate societal norms and laws but at the same time enacting a law aimed specifically at banning one religious community's beliefs and customs on no real public safety or law and order issue violates basic human rights!

The main reason that advocates for the ban generally state is that they are trying to liberate women from oppression. That by passing this law, fathers and husbands will no longer be able to force women to go out in a veil. But have these lawmakers considered that now perhaps these same fathers and husbands will no longer allow "their women" to go out except when absolutely necessary? Isn't that oppressing these same women a LOT more? And what about women who want to wear the veil of their own volition? Their fundamental right to practice their religion should be denied because these lawmakers think they're being human rights champions? John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination in Europe said this about the ban - "A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab in public as an expression of their identity or beliefs."

Obviously, I am against anyone forcing their views and beliefs on another and I am all for prosecuting men who force women to wear the burqa or suppress them in any other way. But a blanket ban like this sends the wrong message. You are empowering fundamentalists who will use this ban to flame resentment in the community. Perhaps a better alternative is to fund organizations who work towards empowering women in these communities? A better government sponsored outreach program that provides education and jobs to women so they are independent and can stand up against oppression?

C'mon Europe - you cant beat oppression by being oppressive!