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Banning the Burqa: It’s Simple, Stupid

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A Sri Lankan vendor shows a niqab (full-face veil) at a shop selling clothes for Muslim. The government banned face covering in public after the Easter Sunday suicide attacks (Photo: ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Sri Lankan vendor shows a niqab (full-face veil) at a shop selling clothes for Muslim women. The government banned wearing face coverings in public after the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide attacks (Photo: ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: Tunisia became the latest country banning the burqa after two recent suicide bombings wracked the capital in late June. The government said access to public buildings to anyone with their face covered would be forbidden for security reasons.

Tunisia joins France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Quebec, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Congo-Brazzaville, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Switzerland in enacting full or partial banns of face coverings in public and or government institutions.

London’s burqa ban controversy seems less like a debate after another man was attacked by two people wearing burqas. The attack on vendor Djamil Mogdad took place during the early morning hours last month and was one of two incidents in which three people had acid thrown on them.

A violent and disfiguring form of attack, acid throwing is prevalent among certain populations in South Asia. Although acid attacks have nothing to do with Islam (except for the most regressive interpretations of the religion), in this case burqas were worn to conceal the identities of the attackers.

In the UK, the debate over banning the burqa kicked off in 2006 when then-Foreign Minister Jack Straw published that he preferred talking to women who didn’t wear a face veil. Specifically, Straw was also concerned about “implications of separateness” and preferred to see the veil abolished entirely.

His opinion was met with mixed reviews along with the usual accusations of racism and prejudice against minority communities (even though then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and then-MP Boris Johnson, along with well-known British politicians such as Gordon Brown and Nigel Griffiths agreed with the sentiment — albeit not always so eloquently).

As the case of the latest round of acid attacks show, the burqa poses a security risk, making it much more challenging (if not impossible) to identify assailants. However, defenders of a woman’s right to wear the burqa criticize calls for a ban based on colonialism.

In the lead-up to Quebec’s recent banning of any religious symbols by public school teachers, government lawyers, judges, police officers prison guards and others while at work, a article in the New Statesman America argued that banning concealing religious attire (including the burqa) is “a reflection of the colonial undercurrents that structure society.”

The article went on to say,

“Viewed through this colonial lens, Muslims are understood to be trapped in the past. Women wearing the hijab are thought to be a visible symbol of a lack of progress. This perception is not just a result of the old colonialist’s idea that Muslims are more traditional or “backward”; it is also founded on the notion that Muslim ways of life are incompatible with western modernity.”

The article then shows the adaptability of religious garments to the modern world, including the various ways Muslim women wear head scarves (i.e., fashionably and/or playfully) and why they wear it.

While this may be true, it is also true that there is a clear security risk when it comes to clothing such as a the niqab (face veil) or burka as demonstrated by the last round of acid attacks.

 

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