Margaret Wente

Ban the burka? No, but ...

Only religious dictatorships tell women what to wear. But should liberal democracies tell them what not to wear?

Margaret Wente

Jun. 25, 2009

herever Islam clashes with the West, women's bodies are the fiercest battleground. In Iran, women shrouded against their will in black are the greatest proof of the regime's oppression. Their courage and defiance are inspiring. Now they even have a martyr - Neda Agha-Soltan, a beautiful young woman who secretly took singing lessons in a land where women are forbidden to sing in public. Last week, she was shot dead during an election protest. Some have suggested she was an obvious target, because she wore her hijab too loose on her head.

Only religious dictatorships tell women what to wear. But should liberal democracies tell them what not to wear? That's the question of the day in France, where Nicolas Sarkozy devoted most of a speech this week to denouncing the burka. He called it “a sign of subjugation, of degradation of women” that has no place in a liberal democracy. “We cannot accept in our country that women are prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social contact, deprived of all identity,” he declared. He has thrown his weight behind an inquiry to determine whether the burka and its more common companion, the niqab (the face veil with an eye slit), should be banned.

Well, good for him. No politician would dare say anything like that in Canada, where all diversity is supposed to be equally good. He'd be denounced for racism and intolerance, just as Britain's Jack Straw was when he observed that the burka and niqab were “visible statements of separation and of difference.”

Luckily for Canada, it's no issue. Veiled women scarcely exist outside certain Toronto neighbourhoods. The only current dispute over veiling involves a sexual-assault victim who doesn't want to remove her veil in court when she testifies against the accused. (I think she should.) The courts will resolve the matter any year now.

I feel sorry for the veiled women I see taking their kids to school. Nobody can convince me that they are treated equally by their husbands, or that they are about to assimilate into Canadian life. Nobody can tell me that they are basically no worse off than ultra-conservative Jewish women who are obliged to wear wigs and long sleeves. (At least they get to keep their peripheral vision.) The burka and niqab are defended only by a small slice of arch-conservative Muslims – along with certain Western feminists who argue that all women ought to have the right to choose. Some of these women even argue (as do the arch-conservative clerics) that the niqab can be liberating.

In Europe, the debates over Muslim women's dress - and whether to regulate it - have been furious. The Dutch toyed with banning the burka but backed off. In France, which has an explicit commitment to la laïcité,the defence of secularism is believed to be the only way to guarantee national cohesion. The hijab and other religious symbols, including Christian ones, are already banned in state schools. A burka ban is strongly endorsed by left-wing feminists such as Fadéla Amara, who calls it “a kind of tomb for women.” She argues that such garb is not a choice. It is imposed by men.

But in Britain - where a growing number of Muslim women are veiling their faces - the left wing is on the other side. They argue that the defence of pluralism is the only way to guarantee people's freedom. Women should be able to dress as they please, without being judged.

But maybe we should judge. When Zaynab Khadr (Omar's big sister) stares angrily from her eye slit, perhaps she's telling us that her values are not aligned with ours. Perhaps we ought to be concerned if large numbers of women don the niqab (as they have in Britain) and refuse to integrate into Canadian life and have families and religious leaders who prefer sharia to our laws. Luckily, we don't.

Should we have a law against the burka? No. Not in Canada. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.




Another great article from Margaret Wente.

A niqab is is only a symbol, as is a nun's habit or a clergy dog collar. Just as a nun's habit is of a subdued tone so is a niqab.

A burka is more than a symbol, it sends other messages and there is a big observable difference in the behaviour of children in the company of a mother with a niqab or a buka.

If you are at a playground just watch the behaviours of the children with mother's wearing the niqab or the buka. Those with a mother wearing a burka are far more likely to show signs of agression towards other children and this starts very young and is a symptom of what goes on at home.

Contrast that to children with a mother in a niqab and you see generally a better than normal standard of behaviour and respect to others, that of course is speaking generally but is widespread.

In Ontario you don't see men wearing a buka but there from birth, males are treated as second class human beings. It starts early with day care and schools that see feminine behaviour as correct, little boys who behave like boys are suddenly ADHD and need "medication". Their attention spans and motivational triggers are very different from girls.

At schools, male teachers are sparse due to the risks of false allegations. Boys in schools have few role models, they are expected to be "feminine".

There is an assumption that men cannot be parents, that children should automatically live with mothers after separation.

The Ontario Male Sharia Law is not written, its unwritten but it means that there is a legal reverse onus on any man faced with allegations or who goes to court asking for an order to allow children to have a relationship with him.

The Ontario male Sharia law is enforced not according to "Statutes" but to "judge made law" that is, for example virtually no man in Ontario receives spousal support from a woman and men routinely have all legal rights removed without a trial.