Muslim group calls for burka ban
The Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) has released a statement asking the Government of Canada to ban the wearing of the burka and niqab in public. The MCC says the garments – which cover the face and are worn by some Muslim women as a sign of modesty – marginalize women and have no basis in Islam.
The burka covers the entire body with a mesh screen covering the eyes, while the niqab covers virtually all of the face with a slit left open for the eyes.
According to Farzana Hassan, a spokesperson for the MCC:
To cover your face is to conceal your identity. If a government claims to uphold equality between men and women, there is no reason for them to support a practice that marginalizes women.
In general, Islamic modesty standards call for women to cover their bodies, with the exception of their hands and faces. This is interpreted by many Muslims to mean that women must wear headscarves, or hijabs. There is no religious requirement for Muslim women to cover their faces – and most don’t. But the fact that only a small minority of women wear the full veil hasn’t stopped governments in the Netherlands, Italy and France from considering a burka ban, just to name a few.
Earlier this year, French President Nicholas Sarkozy delivered a keynote parliamentary address in which he said of the burka:
The problem of the burka is not a religious problem. This is an issues of a women’s freedom and dignity. This is not a religious symbol. It is a sign of subservience; it is a sign of lowering. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France.
Following his comments, the French National Assembly announced an inquiry into whether women in France should be allowed to wear the burka. French Muslim leaders responded by saying that raising the issue this way stigmatized Islam and the Muslims of France (keep in mind the French colonization of Algeria in the 1930s and the hard truths of racism in modern France).
So, should women be allowed to wear the burka and niqab in public? And does allowing them to do so conflict with the commitments of countries like Canada and France to promote gender equality? In my opinion, the answer is yes to the former and no to the latter.
While I don’t agree with the ideology behind the burka and niqab, I also don’t agree with the ideology behind high heels and shaving armpits (although, interestingly, I do both). If the purpose of the law is to demonstrate Canada’s commitment to gender equality by banning a symbol of misogyny, then why isn’t the government being asked to ban other practices that degrade women (wet t-shirt competitions and Burger King’s oral sex-infused ad for its “BK Super Seven Incher” immediately come to mind)?
In a country where women still earn an average of 70 cents for every dollar earned by men, banning the burka and niqab isn’t the best way – or even a good way – to improve the status of women and doesn’t remove the real barriers to women’s participation in Canadian society. Increasing the availability of educational opportunities and job training programs, for example, gives women the tools they need to protect and empower themselves, and is a more appropriate way for governments to promote women’s economic security.
Canada should let women choose freely what to wear. Like high heels and Spanx, women put on the burka and niqab for different reasons. While people view these garments – and what they symbolize – differently, to claim that all women who wear them are oppressed and require government intervention is unreasonable. Some women cover their faces against their will, but this is a symptom of a much bigger problem that extends far beyond a small number of Muslim Canadian households.
As The Daily Show’s Kristen Schaal adeptly put it while mocking Sarkozy’s attempt to stand up for women by banning the burka:
You gave me the little extra push I needed to empower myself – now I’m a free woman!