On Banning Religious Attire

Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A while ago, I made a post about variety of practice and religious head coverings. To summarize what I covered there, in countries with secular governments like the US, people are generally free to practice their religion to whatever extent they feel is best, and in whatever way they feel is the correct way to practice it, so long as they don’t infringe on other people’s rights. Some people in a religion will follow every teaching to a T, while others may pick and choose what aspects are important to them. Head coverings are a great way to observe variety of practice because they’re visible. I go to a fairly diverse school, and live in a fairly diverse area. I’ve met Muslim women who wear the niqab, or hijab, and other Muslim women who wear their hair loose and enjoy the freedom of spaghetti straps and shorts. I’ve also seen Sikhs who cut their hair, and Sikhs who wear turbans. I’ve even met Christian women who choose to cover their heads for religious reasons.

While I think religions are a complete waste of time, I respect and support the rights of people to practice their religions as they see fit, so long as, again, they are not infringing on other people’s rights. To be clear, I don’t support parents or spouses of adult women insisting that those adults wear certain clothing, but if a woman wants to make that decision for herself, who am I to tell her what to wear?

In light of the recent events in France, there has been a new push to fight against radical Islam, and with it (partially thanks to a woman being a suspect in those events), there have been an influx of posts on social media seeking bans on Muslim religious attire. While it’s no secret that I dislike religion, I can’t get behind posts like this, which a friend of mine shared from Britain First’s Facebook page:

Image from Britain First's Facebook page.

Image from Britain First’s Facebook page.

Do Burkas and other garments that conceal people’s identities make me uncomfortable? Somewhat. Do they make a lot of people uncomfortable? Yes. But so do ski masks, and I don’t see a huge push to ban those. Frankly, in the winter, ski masks are very useful. In a bad storm, even I will cover my head and face and hardly show any more skin than the woman in the above photo. The discomfort we feel from not knowing someone’s identity does not mean he or she needs to reveal it.

I do think that some religious garb might not always be acceptable in the workplace, but a good reason for banning the religious attire should pertain to the article of clothing hindering the person’s ability to do the job. A waitress, cashier, or business owner wearing a hijab (headscarf) is not a problem. Restrict the same person to a burka though, and you might have an argument for requiring different garb, because it might get in the way.

In preparation for making this post, I read some arguments for banning the burka, and many of them didn’t really apply to the article of clothing itself, but rather to the attitudes surrounding them, and to other issues it might somehow hide. Some arguments pertained to domestic violence. Can the burka cover up abuse? Potentially. So can long sleeves, hats, scarves, and gloves…should we ban those too? One article argued that domestic abuse is higher in countries that allow the burka. What it didn’t mention, is that a fair number of those countries in question actually require the burka–and I’m not advocating for that. When you’re talking about women choosing to wear an article of clothing rather than being forced to wear it, the whole picture changes. Some say it isolates women, and I’ll concede to that point. But some religious people WANT to isolate themselves. I don’t like it, but if a person says “I’m not going to talk to anyone for a year,” that’s that person’s decision to make, not mine. That’s a pretty isolating thing to do, but I’m not going to call for that person’s arrest, nor will I call for the arrest of a person choosing to wear a garment that hinders social interaction. That’s the individual’s decision.

I’m not involved in Islamic communities, nor am I particularly experienced with the religion, so I don’t know what people in these communities are saying, but I think western countries need to think about the laws they make and how they’re worded. Entire groups of people can feel alienated and angry over being forbidden to practice their religion in some way, so any rule prohibiting some form of religious practice needs to be well justified. No, child sacrifice is not allowed–that’s murder. That’s well justified. But banning the burka throughout an entire nation? I’m not convinced.

I would argue, though, that Muslim women should consider the reason behind their choice of attire. Don’t do it to satisfy someone else. Do it because it makes you feel happy. If it doesn’t, then don’t wear it. If it’s making your life difficult, is it really worth it? I suspect that burkas can contribute to objectification of women because they cover their faces–the body part that makes them recognizable as individuals rather than simply as a generic woman. As with many pro-modesty arguments, people on the other side might say just the opposite:  that it prevents women from being objectified. However, I think that a focus on preserving individuality is necessary to prevent objectification.

From my experience in a strict religious upbringing, (albeit Catholic rather than Islamic), I feel that the main problem when it comes to clothing in devout communities isn’t the clothing itself. It’s the attitude behind it and the way it is enforced. It’s the fact that religious leaders and parents often force their children–usually daughters–to dress and act a certain way, well after they’ve reached legal adulthood. It’s the emphasis on ideas that hurt both genders like the incorrect notion that all men are extremely sexual and women are responsible for preventing them from lusting. Those things need to be corrected from within each religion’s culture, but ultimately, a woman walking by in a burka isn’t harming me or the people around me. I just hope she’s genuinely choosing it for herself.

What are your thoughts on banning the burka? Are there arguments I didn’t cover that you think are worth considering? Do you disagree? All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think your comments through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

 

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