Should the niqab be banned?

December 1, 2013 • 9:00 am

Two points to begin.  First we’re talking about the niqab, the face covering or veil that is often part of a hijab (a head covering), but is not the hijab itself.  (A hijab can be worn without a niqab, but not vice versa.) Do not confuse either of these with the burqa, the entire enveloping outer garment that is worn with both face and head coverings (I’ve never seen a burqa-clad woman with an uncovered head or face). Here is a niqab worn with a hijab:


A hijab without a niqab:



Second, although one rule of writing is that when a title is in the form of a question, the answer is invariably “no.” But that’s not the case today. I’ve come around to agreeing that both the niqab and the burqa should be banned everywhere, though perhaps not the hijab. And I do recognize that this is not an easy issue, because there are arguments worth hearing on the other side.

Though I’ve been on the fence on this issue, worried that prohibiting some dress violates religious freedom, I’ve been swayed by a new post of Maryam Namazie called “Britain should ban the niqab.” Namazie is a women’s-rights activist, spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and for the One Law for All campaign, and she writes meaty and thoughtful posts. Her activism is palpable and productive. Sadly, she doesn’t get nearly the readership she deserves since attention is often diverted to unproductive drama elsewhere in her vicinity.

The piece involves an introductory mini-essay by Namazie followed by her interview with Marieme Helie Lucas, described as “an Algerian sociologist and founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Secularism is a Women’s Issue.” There are many points made, and some are confusing to me (e.g., Lucas’s statement that “millions of women in predominantly Muslim set-ups have been assassinated for standing for their right NOT to be veiled”). Is that really the case? Millions assassinated for going unveiled? And I’m not sure about Lucas’s stand on other garments, or where banning should be done.

Nevertheless, both Namazie and Lucas are both in favor of banning niqabs—though Namazie seems to want them banned mainly the UK, and Lucas seems to want them banned only in schools and civil offices everwhere. Both women make good points that have swayed me. They include the following:

  • Veiling is not ancient “traditional” dress in most Muslim countries, but is a fairly recent innovation.
  • Veiling of the face is not mandated in the Qur’an; arose later as a Muslim custom
  • Veils have been banned in several Muslim countries or places in the Muslim world. As Namazie notes:

“This is not about East versus West. In Egypt, the Ministry of Health has prohibited the wearing of the niqab by nurses in hospitals. Egypt’s top Islamic school, al-Azhar, has issued a ban on wearing the niqab in classrooms and dormitories of all its affiliate schools and educational institutes. Al Azhar also obliges women to show their faces in court via a decree issued in 1880. In Iraq, the niqab has been banned by a fatwa. In Kuwait, women wearing the niqab have been banned from driving. In Azerbaijan and Tunisia, veils are banned from public buildings and schools. In Syria, until recently, teachers were banned from wearing the niqab…”

  • Many women wish to go unveiled but cannot: in some places it is illegal, and in other places they face murder, beating, or opprobrium of they try. Veils are, in many places, mandated even for young schoolgirls, which is hardly a “choice.”  It is indoctrination that persists into adult life. As both Namazie and Lucas note, veils are symbols of the oppression and subjugation of women.
  • The right to practice one’s religion publicly has limits.  One cannot practice polygamy in some places where that is religious tradition, for instance. Likewise for withholding medical care from children on religious grounds (a crime except in many places in the U.S.) If public religious practice creates social problems, as in making women second-class citizens, one must consider that religious “rights” should be curtailed.
  • Where veils are made “optional” in some public places, there is still social pressure for the unveiled to conform.  I saw this in Turkey with respect not to veils but to headscarves, which are  banned in Turkish universities and government offices. When I talked to some female college students in Ankara, they were grateful for the headscarf ban because, they said, if they didn’t wear them others would accuse them of “not being good Muslims”. That could produce a slippery slope of social opprobrium that leads to all women being veiled or “scarved”.
  • As Christopher Hitchens noted in his Slate article on the issue, covering the face causes problems in schools, banks, courts, and in the civil service. He further emphasizes that the idea of wearing burqas and niqabs is hard to see as a free choice:

“But, in fact, we have no assurance that Muslim women put on the burqa or don the veil as a matter of their own choice. A huge amount of evidence goes the other way. Mothers, wives, and daughters have been threatened with acid in the face, or honor-killing, or vicious beating, if they do not adopt the humiliating outer clothing that is mandated by their menfolk. This is why, in many Muslim societies, such as Tunisia and Turkey, the shrouded look is illegal in government buildings, schools, and universities. Why should Europeans and Americans, seeking perhaps to accommodate Muslim immigrants, adopt the standard only of the most backward and primitive Muslim states?

. . . Religion is the worst possible excuse for any exception to the common law. Mormons may not have polygamous marriage, female circumcision is a federal crime in this country, and in some states Christian Scientists face prosecution if they neglect their children by denying them medical care.”

In the end, trying to formulate my own views on the issue, I used John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance” argument (the pun is unintentional). It works as follows. If we are trying to decide what laws to make, or what distributions would be just, we should envision ourselves in what Rawls calls “the original position.” In this situation we see ourselves as a group of rational minds who know about humans on Earth but don’t yet live there. These law- and moral-makers would, however, eventually become randomly-chosen humans on earth, but you make the rules not knowing which person you’d become. In such a situation you’d dispense laws and justice from behind the veil of ignorance, and this would would prevent you from giving yourself an advantage. So, for example, you wouldn’t want laws that oppress gays, women, or blacks, because you could become one of those. (Rawls also favored a completely equal distribution of goods and legal rights, with the exception that if inequalities are permitted, they must work to the good of the least advantaged people.) Based on Rawls’s idea, in which I am to make rules assuming that I could come back as anyone, including a Muslim woman, I favor the following:

  • All mandatory wearing of niqabs, hijabs, and burqas in Muslim countries must be rescinded immediately. There is no justification for such laws.
  • The wearing of niqabs and burqas should be outlawed everywhere—and everywhere in public—not just in the West and not just in schools and government offices. That won’t happen in Muslim countries, of course, but such garments should be outlawed in such places because the garments (and, actually, hijab as well) are symbols of women’s subjugation.  If they are not outlawed everywhere, at the very least they should be outlawed in schools, in banks and places where they pose a security risk, in courts, on bus drivers and taxi drivers, and in official state offices such as the civil service.

I decided this because, in the “original position,” and given the social and religious pressure to wear such garments even when they’re optional, I would not want to experience such pressure. In fact, were I a woman (and, granted, I’m not one, Muslim or otherwise), I would not want to cover my face in public or experience pressure to do so.  (I take that pressure as a given, not something that can be controlled in the “original position”).  One of the most odious things I’ve seen—and I’ve seen it in airports throughout the world—is a man in western dress followed by a woman completely shrouded in a cloth sack and with face fully masked, inevitably with children in tow. It reeks of oppression.

  • I’m of mixed mind about the hijab. Although wearing it should never be mandatory, I’m not quite ready to say it should be banned everywhere, though I favor its banning in universities and public offices. By not covering a woman’s face or body, it’s harder to rationalize the hijab as a way to avoid tempting men—and thus denigrating women as temptresses.  Nevertheless it, too, is a symbol of sexual oppression, but its effects on society are not as harmful as those resulting from covering the face. So here arguments about “freedom to dress as one wants” have more logic.

As always, I invite readers to join in, fully aware that many won’t agree with me.

149 thoughts on “Should the niqab be banned?

  1. I agree with banning clothing that covers one’s face, wearing head scarves should be legal. Not everyone who wears a head scarf does it for religious reasons, and unlike face covers head scarfs does not impede social interaction. With the exception of public servants on duty, people should be free to decide whether they wear head scarfs, yarmulks or any kind of head gear.

  2. Although retired, I work part-time in retail and I see a far wider segment of society than I ever saw from my office in the We Say So Company.

    I see it all: sagging, shorts, too short shorts, too long shorts, skirts, tight clothes, loose clothes, robes, gowns, head scarfs, hats on forwards, hats on backwards, hats on sideways, nice tattoos, prison tattoos, piercings, more hair styles and colors than I could shake a curling iron at.

    The bottom line is this: does your credit card work?

    That’s really all I care about. You could come in riding a pole wearing a G-string and pasties but if you were waving a titanium AmEx card, welcome!

    Why people wear what they do is not my problem. I see no difference between a girl in a hijab and a girl wearing a Catholic school pleated checked skirt and white blouse.

    1. Why people wear what they weary might very well be your problem. If you live in a society that mandates that women must walk around in bags, then that society is going to be dysfunctional in may ways, credit cards aside.

      Why people wear what they wear matters greatly. If it is for reasons of personal expression, that’s one thing. If the reasons are due to a policy of enforcing social marginalization on half of the population, that’s quite another.

      1. I agree with you, gb.

        The Catholic school girls, and boys, have their dress code dictated to them and perhaps the hijab-wearing customers are coerced by their family.

        But, in the land of the free and the home of the brave it’s only a valid credit card that matters. Catholic school girls are just as much on their own as the hijab wearers. If they’re lucky they’ll revolt against their parents in college and that will be the end of it. (Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case because the Catholic school girls I knew grew up to be just like their mothers!)

        1. Coercion, subtle or not, goes on all the time in all manner of ways.But if someone is doing something for reasons other than coercion, the only question then is whether the potential harm to others of what they wish to do outweighs the harm of prohibiting what they wish to do. I don’t think the potential harm to others of wearing the niqab in public warrants a universal ban.

    2. I agree that for the purpose of relieving people of their money clothing standards are irrelevant, however society has greater concerns to which clothing is very relevant.

  3. I go back and forth on this all the time too and I think it’s an inner struggle of allowing people to dress as they want versus mandating what they cannot where. In other words, in an ideal society, we would not have to mandate anything because people would not inflict practices on others against the person’s will.

    But of course we do not live in an ideal society. A Turkish friend of mine hates seeing any veiling. It’s actually embarrassing to be with her if she sees a veiled woman (even the hijab) and that is because of the points already raised: 1) it is not mandated in the holy books (it is instead an Arab custom) and 2) women bully other women into veiling because they make the non veiled feel less holy.

    I personally abhor the face veiling and full body veiling. I would prefer to outlaw such garb but I don’t feel the hijab is so bad even if the reasons behind it are offensive to me. Any laws would have to take this into account (yes, everyone should just listen to me when making laws ;)). Quebec right now is trying to make its so called secular charter which forbids public sector employes from wearing any openly religious symbols. This includes turbans and hijabs and it’s going somewhat too far in my opinion. There is a lot of controversy surrounding it especially since turbans are allowed as part of the RCMP uniform.

  4. Yes, it would be hard to formulate a ban on the hijab that didn’t take in any sort of head covering that happened to cover the hair, including almost all kinds of hats. They’re increasingly common in London, and are very often extremely flamboyant in patterning, colour, abundance of cloth etc. Their original rationalization, by covering the hair, was to promote “modesty”. But their flamboyance makes them far more attention-seeking than uncovered hair would be, which makes me think that their wearers view them primarily as a stylistic fashion choice that indicates a specific cultural affiliation, rather than as performing some obligatory religious function.

    1. The hijab I agree is petty much immune to legalisation without going overboard.

      Plenty of my very much non-muslim female friends occasionally wear scarfs over their hair, just for the sake of fashion. And by the looks of it many muslim women treat it more as an accessory than as a symbol of modesty.

      Legislating against the hajib seems like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  5. I remember a TV programme, here in the UK, where a modestly dressed English girl was walking alongside some women on an Islamist march who were all dressed in Burkhas with hijab/niquab combo. She was trying to engage them on the issue, and the response she got was along the lines of, ‘why are you going around dressed so immodestly, showing off your skin? Who are you trying to seduce?’

    When your choice is to either dress so everything is covered but your eyes, or you’re a whore, then that is no choice at all.

    1. I believe this is the video you are referencing. Yes, it was unpleasant. As a woman, I have experienced this type of disdain as well. Usually it’s just dirty looks. I remember getting really dirty looks when I got out of my roadster car, top down on a sunny day wearing summer clothes (short skirt, t-shirt). I thought, “yep, I’m one of those western atheist whores”. 😀

      1. And the car was top down not me. I was wearing a t-shirt and short skirt. The car was also whorish with it being a convertible.

  6. Would you ban beards because the cover parts of the face? Hats because they obscure other parts? Maybe cowboy boots because they can be used to carry concealed weapons?

    Best to err on the side of liberty unless there is a clear and present danger to society. Spousal or child abuse and intimidation should be dealt with by laws directly forbidding these things, not by restricting the freedoms of society in general.

    1. I don’t think that’s a good argument.
      Why not say that female genital mutilation is okay too, because after all, it doesn’t pose a danger to society? Or spousal beatings?

      I agree that it is a very complicated issue, and bans are a very crude tool with which to address the problem. But when a section of a society’s population can be intimidated into dressing in a shroud, and those who suffer no such intimidation just shrug their shoulders; then I would say that society is very sick indeed.

      1. I like the way you phrased that – that bans are a “crude tool”. It reminded me of medical treatments which sometimes can be crude too but the best we have. It may be that we have no other choice but to ban, simply because we do not have a tool that works better.

      2. The real issue with mutilation is consent. Parents should not have the right to mutilate their children against their will for non-medical reasons.

        Genital mutilation is not limited to one sex, be it noted.

    2. Genital Mutilation is obviously unnecessary physical harm done before the age of consent and should be outlawed as with sex with minors. It is not a good analogy to use it with the banning of burqa.

  7. As with a number of other commentators I don’t think I’d want to try to regulate what people put on their heads – I’d like to put more hair back on my own but that seems to be a battle I’m losing year by year. I don’t find a turban, or for that matter a yarmulke, nearly as disturbing as a faceless person speaking from behind a piece of cloth. That being said seeing teenagers with obviously parentally-imposed religious head scarves is somewhat vexatious, since it is unclear how much this reflects a personal choice. I suppose, therefore, that I generally agree with your position.

    I’m not sure how much societies should try to accommodate minorities in their midst. Some of the recent examples such as seating segregation by sex (British Universities), or refusing to publish pictures (Danish cartoons) for fear of offending a violent sub-group seem to be several steps too far.

  8. Ban the burqa, ban the hijab with niqab, don’t ban the hijab without the niqab. I think allowing people to conceal their faces s a security risk, and makes communication more difficult, let alone drinking and eating.

    1. The point about concealment is a good one – for instance, in Australia you are required by law to remove your motorcycle helmet when entering a bank. But the point about eating and drinking isn’t relevant as it only affects the wearer of the garment. After all, a glass bubble would make eating and drinking difficult too, but noone would legislate against it because it wouldn’t affect anyone else.

      1. I guess I have to agree, but I still resent that this archaic religion forces women into this situation with or without their consent. A couple in a restaurant I was walking past had a male-female couple at a table by the window, she was wearing a niqab, and I wondered how she could eat without getting roof all over it. I didn’t want to stare so I kept walking.

        1. I’m with you – it’s completely wrong in my eyes to restrict somebody so severely. However many Muslim women will tell you that they proudly wear the hijab, even the niqab, and don’t feel right without it – they’d likely protest vehemently at any government interference in what they wear. Of course it’s highly likely that their attitude has been encultured from infancy, so who knows just how free their decision is. Some kind of enculturation would affect more or less everybody though, to some extent, so I’m loathe to judge people too harshly.

          In fact my own dislike of the burqa is, almost certainly, a product of my own liberal secular culture which engendered a strong dislike of repression, of hindrance, of things like hiding women away in walking prisons and treating men as if they’re immature. This whole debate is an example of cultural incompatibility. Many, many cultures can thrive alongside one another, giving and taking and sharing things and bringing colour and vibrancy to each other but occasionally there’ll be something that jars, something that simply doesn’t gel. At that point you have debates like this and I guess in the end something has to give. Our culture (I’m in Austalia) might be able to give a pass to a partial face-covering (because tolerance is allegedly one of our hallmarks, though you wouldn’t know it going by the current government’s attitude to asylum seekers) but I don’t think hiding women away in bags would receive wide acceptance (that’s putting it mildly).

  9. I have long wished that the burqa and niqab were banned as well, and the ‘original position’ argument makes this case very short and clear. That is an excellent argument for a number of social issues besides this one. The other important front to advance in the area in question is to advocate the rights of women in Muslim countries, including the right to drive alone, to be out and about, to own property, to divorce, and so on. As these even more important areas improve, then the struggle over how women should dress can become easier.

  10. I’m going to speak as someone who teaches post-colonial literature, including that by women in the broadly cultural Muslim world, and as a former director of a Women’s Studies program.
    The scholar Leila Ahmed’s book “Woman and Islam” has a good discussion on the origins of the veil (it predates Islam). What she has to say about veiling and more is worth a read; she has more expertise than Christopher Hitchens on this issue.
    Before the niqab is banned in Britain, I suggest doing away with public funds for Islamic schools, which not only mandate hijab for young girls, but limit them in other ways. Cultural relativism has run amok there; both Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi have written eloquently on these matters. I was alarmed to see that several years ago Canada was considering allowing Sharia family law to take precedence over national laws–sharia law as interpreted by men to support their privilege. That I oppose.
    As for veiling: where any sort of face covering or mask obscures vision when it’s important to have it–driving, testifying in court, etc–that face covering should be removed. But banning any clothing–or any book–strikes me as the wrong move, just as mandating such clothing also strikes me as wrong. In Turkey, women may NOT wear a head covering in government buildings or schools; in Iran and Saudi, they may not appear in public without hijab. Both laws seem to me unwarranted intrusion into the freedom of citizens to dress according to their own principles. Where does it stop? Move out of Islam to ask the question: Should nuns be forbidden to wear a head covering? Should Orthodox Jewish women not be required–or allowed–to cover their hear with wigs? I find it wonderful that in Italy and France Muslims have challenged the banning of the veil as a religious symbol by pointing out the hypocrisy of allowing crosses in classrooms on walls and around the necks of fellow students.
    While it’s true that some women are forced to veil by family or social pressure (rather than law), some women have exercised their free choice to do so (as free as any choice is)according to their own vision of Islam; I favor their retaining that right. Would I prefer a secular world? Of course.

    1. I totally agree with you because you’re thinking strategically. The first areas to address IMO [in my UK at least] are the privileges, dispensations, funding & inspection of religion based charities, religion based schools & religion based quasi legal arrangements such as Islamic Sharia courts.

      On this particular issue though, I think it’s important to tackle the body & face covering of females when it’s applied to babies, toddlers & young teens. It’s absolutely morally wrong for growing, developing girls to be hindered from taking part in strenuous activity, sports & the manufacture of vital vitamin D because of this biased cultural/religious convention. And of course it has the effect of making males in the culture think that the girls/women who don’t comply are “easy”

      On the strategic level I think this is worth a look:- The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ~ 193 countries have ratified, accepted, or acceded to it, including every member of the UN except Somalia & the USA ! The US resistance is from political & religious conservatives including the Home School Legal Defense Association who regard it as a threat to their precious homeschools. Homeschooling seems to be on the rise over there [if I’ve read the stats correctly] & frankly I regard that as a step backwards, except for certain honourable exceptions to do with special needs children & the like where there’s nothing locally available from the school districts.

    2. February 2013, Mohammad Alyousei, Al Arabiya News

      A Saudi cleric has called for all female babies to be fully covered by wearing the face veil, commonly known as the burka, citing reports of little girls being sexually molested.

      In a TV interview on the Islamic al-Majd TV, which seems to date back to mid-last year, Sheikh Abdullah Daoud, stressed that wearing the veil will protect baby girls. The Sheikh tried to back his assertion with claims of sexual molestation against babies in the kingdom, quoting unnamed medical and security sources.

      Recently picked up on social media, Sheikh Dauod’s statement prompted wide condemnation from his fellow Saudis on Twitter. Some tweeps called for the Sheikh to be held accountable because his ruling denigrates Islam and breaches individual privacy”

  11. And what about those people who wear air filtration masks because of allergies or the fear of spreading or receiving cold germs? I have worn a bandana to cover my face when I was in a dusty or pollen-filled environment.

    This is a complicated issue. We cannot know when or if someone is compelled to wear something against their will – except by looking a pictures that show a disgruntled boy in a suit and tie all dressed up for the family portrait.

  12. This is going to be treacherous terrain, so I tread carefully, not completely sure of my own path.
    Suppose I am a well-educated woman in full control of my emotions and thoughts and I tell you that, having weighed carefully the pros and cons, I have come to the conclusion that I want to be your slave. Not in a metaphorical sense – I want you to be the sole owner of my person and of my offspring (if any), and I want to renounce permanently all my human, civil, and political rights.
    Should my clearly and freely expressed will be disregarded? Legally (at least in the UK) and ethically (certainly for visitors to this webs***, sorry blog) the answer is NO.
    Then why are so many western pro-islamists reeling out the argument that as many women freely choose to wear niqabs/burqas, interfering with their wishes is an instance of cultural imperialism?

    1. Obviously you can’t make anyone an “owner” of offspring, they are free individuals.

      As for slavery, it is outlawed. So don’t you mean “yes” here?

    2. The answer to your question “should [your] freely expressed will be disregarded” is YES-disregard any attempt by any adult person (well-educated or not)to abdicate her responsibility for her person and actions. (Even if you could “freely choose” to become a slave, which I doubt.) As to why ANY western commenter would characterize wearing face coverings under threat of social shunning, stoning and acid attacks as “free choice” and banning them in specified public areas as “cultural imperialism”, the fast answer is They Are Stupid-again, please disregard the opinions of stupid people as you would the opinions of the imams who issue fatwas on those cultural differences that threaten their hegemony. My view is that face coverings and body sacks should be banned in all public areas, and head coverings banned in government buildings, courthouses, banks, schools, shopping malls and entertainment venues (take off all outerwear when you enter, provide lockers or cloakrooms to hold and retrieve on leaving)-still leaves hats/scarves and everything else for self-expression in unenclosed areas. Don’t forget to smile for the cameras.

  13. Although I feel strongly about the oppression of women in Muslim countries, and I see mandatory covering as the most visible symbol of that oppression, let me be a devil’s advocate for a moment.

    The woman’s right to choose a garment that she feels comfortable wearing is an important factor here. One can argue that the need for “modesty” is an effect of brainwashing, but it is present in every society to a degree. I wouldn’t want any laws forbidding me from, for example, covering my breasts in public, although I am aware of societies where women are not expected to cover their breasts and they feel comfortable with it. If I visited such a place, it would be nice if they showed some cultural sensitivity and not force me to take my top off.

    I can imagine that a Muslim woman could feel exactly the same about head covering – she would feel uncomfortably exposed without it.

    Having said that, I am leaning towards banning face covering in public. Security issues aside, seeing each other’s faces is fundamental to human interaction since the beginning of our species. It is no accident that our brains are so good at face recognition.

    So: no to niqab and burqa, but a (reluctant) yes to hijab.

    1. This issue of comfort is one that doesn’t seem to be considered sufficiently.
      I remember when Indians began immigrating to Canada in numbers, the adult women among them tended to cling to the sari for years, adapting it when necessary to winter weather. this was never remarked upon – it was clear that this was the sort of dress with which they were comfortable.

  14. I’d like to see the niqab banned for people working in public service jobs, appearing in court, voting etc. I would be reluctant to establish a more global ban because it would impinge on one’s freedom of expression.
    I personally find the niqab a disturbing symbol of oppression, but I would like to keep the government out of my clothes closet as much as possible.

    1. Agreed that the niqab in the world of today is all too frequently a sign of oppression. It needn’t necessarily be so, however. With no security risk and with genuine “free will” I see no reasonable case for a ban.

      1. In the situations I mentioned I see the need for either positive identification of a person (voting/court) or the need to be seen for effective communication and interpersonal interaction (court/public service). It could also be a security issue in situations where it is important for someone’s identity to be confirmed. Otherwise I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what people wear, even though it happens to have negative connotations for me.

  15. For me it comes down to the question of whether the veil changes a young girl’s or woman’s sense of self worth. Does it give her a sense of belonging to a community or a constant reminder that she is less than a man in that community?

    1. And you are the one who is going to answer that question for those women? If no and these women argue that the niqab and burqa do not make her feel less than a man in that community, then what?

    2. Both I expect, it gives her a sense of belonging to a community where she is considered the property of her male relatives.

  16. I can’t find a final answer as well, but there is an obvious argument that usually doesn’t get considered:
    The veil of ignorance approach does not help for one case. What if, when the niqab is outlawed, you find that your men (father, brothers, husband) decide that not going out at all is better than showing yourself as indecent? This isn’t a highly speculative possibility, I’m almost certain some women will find themselves in this position, and when this happens they will disappear. We would not see the oppression, because we have hidden it away. And made it worse.
    If I had to make the decision for a single country (UK, in my case) I wouldn’t push a full ban on all public places precisely because it will surely make things worse for some, and I would not want to be responsible for it.

    1. This is the point I would have made. I consider all such coverings repellent in a free society as I have no doubt that the wearing of them is rarely a free and independent choice. If it is the case that banning them would reduce Muslim women’s ability to go out into the world then we must conclude a ban is not in their interests. The answer must be better education and the equipping of women to make their own free choices in life.

      1. I feel that the answer (in Canada, at least) is to lay criminal charges against the religious communities that discriminate against women, because they are in blatant violation of the Charter of Rights which specifically forbids any discrimination based on gender. This goes to the source of the problem. I feel that’s the main problem with bans of specific garments – they are trying to treat a symptom, not the root cause of the issue.

        1. One would hope that would be the answer. But for many reasons here (UK) it’s even difficult to prosecute for female genital mutilation, so it’s pretty obvious that women may remain segregated at home for years without anyone noticing (or caring). In fact, we’ve had something very similar in the news just a little ago (unrelated to the issue of this post).

        2. I’m afraid that the Canadian charter of rights does no such thing. It prohibits certain specific acts of discrimination by governments, public school boards, and probably certain private entities which receive public money. If I want to establish the Church of Steve and exclude redheads (and even preach that redheadedness is an abomination), there is nothing in the charter to prevent that. I don’t think that any government, especially acting at the constitutional level, is going to be able to prevent most forms of institutionalized stupidity. Do you really imagine that we are going to see a charter challenge to the Catholic church’s habit of ordaining only male priests?

  17. One minor thing I noticed; the headscarves aren’t symbols of women’s subjugation; they are the direct tools of it. Saying the hijab and niqab are the symbols of subjugation is like saying the slave’s wrist and ankle shackles are the symbols of their lack of freedom; they are more than that. They are what is directly responsible for this lack of human dignity.

    1. Hmmm.. I think this simile is apt for burqas and niqabs, but goes too far for hijabs, which are (or can be) no more constraining (shackle-like) in most of daily life than a hoodie or an ordinary headscarf worn for non-religious reasons. Hijabs still carry a lot of symbolic freight, much of it harmful and absurd, but they are not physically disabling like a shackle.

    2. I think the analogy goes a bit too far, in that the damage and restraint caused by clothing coverings is mostly physiological and perceived by a society, while the shackles have a very real physical reality to their restrictions on the person wearing them.

  18. There are several notable circumstances where one’s face should be visible, nearly all pertaining to bona fide situations where identification is required: on one’s driver’s license, for example.

    Apart from these situations, no one may appoint themselves as an authority over what a woman wears–not clerics, not bureaucrats, not well-intentioned individuals.

    Legislating or mandating what a woman wears as a matter of her own choosing is an acceptable violation of her autonomy and her civil rights.

    That said, women who voluntarily submit to appearance mandates are nutballs.

  19. I have a strong intuitive revulsion to the niqab and the burka, but I question my intuition. Every society has its norms. How would we feel about a society where women were prohibited from covering their breasts?

    I definitely think niqabs and burkas should never be allowed to be required by any school or other institution. But banning strikes me as going too far. Yes, women could feel pressured by their culture into wearing them, but that can be said about many other things that we don’t ban. And women who grew up wearing those garments might be profoundly uncomfortable being forced into public without them. With the exception of court testimony, security checks, and similar circumstance, I think a ban would be wrong.

    1. If women didn’t cover their breasts in western society we’d all get used to it. It would probably take about 3 weeks before it seemed quite normal.

  20. Lucas’ use of the word ‘millions’ may be a translation error, it crops up sometimes in texts written by speakers of Romance languages.

  21. Seems to me that our species has evolved to recognize one another primarily from our faces. Protecting the imposition of the niqab enables prevention of recognition of individual women.

    We also have evolved to communicate by facial expression, and thus the niqab blocks free expression/communication. This is especially important if the niqabee is behind the wheel. (Is this partly why the Saudis don’t want women driving?) This was brought home to me, as I think I’ve mentioned here before, when I came upon one of them behind the wheel of a big black Impala about to exit a gas station. I had no idea if she saw me coming or was about to pull out in front of me.

  22. I’d hate to live in a country where women in niqabs were arrested in the street. I find it odd that so many people are advocating that.

    I’d rather no women wore them, but that’s a different issue.

    1. Well, men would be arrested too, so there is no implied misogyny there. It is a consequence of misogyny in fact.

      This doesn’t pass the smell test. A simple substitute would give: ‘I’d hate to live in a country where persons in cars breaking the traffic rules were arrested in the street. I find it odd that so many people are advocating that.’

  23. I wonder what muslim women think of a ban?

    They are the ones who primarily will feel the consequence of the law, after all.

    1. That’s a tricky one. The oppressed can sometimes accept their oppression because of peer pressure or other social conditioning, so people don’t always know if they should accept their answers of “yes, I want this”.

      Considering this seems paternalistic but it’s probably still accurate.

      1. There could be that off course, but the question then might be how to help these individuals instead of banning their attire. I don’t think a ban is going to help those women who are oppressed, but rather I fear it would isolate them further from society.

        Those that voluntarily wear the niqab because of various reasons ( some could simply be doing it because they consider it a cultural thing ) should imo be free to do so, and off course they should be required to identify themselves when needed just like everyone else.

        I find a cross around a neck just as strange as wearing a burqa or a niqab, but I see no justification of banning that particular flavour of jewelry on those grounds.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that I see no security risk towards society and other people that justifies a ban, and I don’t think it would be helpful at all towards those that might actually need help.

        1. I think I struggle with the same considerations and I liked how Grania put it above – banning is a crude tool.

          As crude a tool as banning is, would the net benefit from banning be better than the net benefit of not banning? I lean toward banning and yes these women could disappear but how much are they really participating in society now and how likely is it that they would disappear?

          1. I think one of the problems is that nobody seems to know exactly how big a problem it is for muslim women.

            How do we decide on their behalf whether a ban would do them good or bad?

        2. “they consider it a cultural thing”

          What else could it possibly be considered?

          Yellow swastikas on jackets, shackles and chains to enforce compliance by subordinates, and slavery itself are all cultural things.

          Just because these religious symbols of second class status are bits of human culture doesn’t make them acceptable.

          1. Religious and personal reasons. For all I know some muslim women may think it brings them the closer to their god, or actually likes the anonymity I’d reckon wearing one would give you.

            There could be tons of different reasons for why some would choose to wear it.

          2. In what world is religion not part of culture? A “personal reason” that is separate from culture? Do you know what the word “culture” means?

          3. Nah, I’m an idiot mate and I obviously have no clue what culture is.

            Let’s leave it at that and agree to disagree, shall we?.

    2. The original post contains at least part of the answer. It is Muslim (and former Muslim)who are cited as favoring a ban on wearing body bags.

      1. I think Maryam Namazie is an ex-muslim, don’t know about Lucas, but a quick google confirms that none of them would have their choice of attire constricted by a ban.

        AFAIK we don’t know how big a problem coercion is reagarding those who are wearing the niqab and furthermore these reasons may greatly vary from country to country and individual to individual.

        To me it smells like we’re trying to ban a piece of clothing because we don’t like what we think it primarily stands for, and not so much because we consider it a threat to our safety.

          1. No, an ex-muslim because I was talking about input from women who actually wears these things.

          2. So women who formerly wore them and their reporting of what Muslim women think about this subject don’t count?

  24. Banning any form of clothing makes me uncomfortable, unless there are safety reasons to consider*.

    As someone who lives in a Muslim-minority country and has no cultural ties to a Muslim-majority area, a ban wouldn’t affect me, so I’m going to shut up and listen to those who would be affected by it. And I don’t think there is a consensus (but I’d have to do more reading and be extra careful to make sure I wasn’t just putting myself in a bubble).

    (The problems are also different in Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries: I imagine the social norms in the latter are only familial or within an immigrant community, with general societal norms being discouraging of any sort of ‘foreign’ head covering.)

    * For instance, making sure all head coverings don’t get caught in equipment, or allow for visibility.

  25. The wearing of niqabs and burqas should be outlawed everywhere—and everywhere in public—not just in the West and not just in schools and government offices.

    I disagree. While Miryam makes good points about this not being an historical religious tradition, the freedom to dress basically the way you want is also covered under freedom of speech. Its a form of expression, and should be protected as such, even if it isn’t protected under freedom of religion.

    Having said that, I don’t think we should be giving these outfits any exceptions from reasonable, secular legal limitations on dress. No, you can’t cover your face on a drivers license. Or in a bank. If your work or school has a dress code, you must abide by it (assuming the codes are reasonably related to job function or maintaining a learning environment). And so on.

    Sure, as long as it’s an option there is social pressure on women in these cultures to conform. But the same is true for designer jeans, Nike tennis shoes, or whatever the western fashion statement of the decade is. You don’t fix the problem of “social pressure to conform” by banning some expression of it; it just moves on and pressures people to do something else. Secondly, if you do argue for banning such expressions, you’d better be willing to make that argument even-handedly. You also going to argue for making lower back tattoos illegal? Are you going to say bell bottoms should have been illegal? Jeans worn low on the hips? If your answer to those things is “no, they should be legal, the niqab is different,” then I submit to you that you have cultural double standard. The person with such a double standard is clearly with western American forms of social pressure to conform being legal, they’re just not comfortable of other culture’s social pressures.

    1. ” Secondly, if you do argue for banning such expressions, you’d better be willing to make that argument even-handedly. You also going to argue for making lower back tattoos illegal? Are you going to say bell bottoms should have been illegal? Jeans worn low on the hips? If your answer to those things is “no, they should be legal, the niqab is different,” then I submit to you that you have cultural double standard. The person with such a double standard is clearly with western American forms of social pressure to conform being legal, they’re just not comfortable of other culture’s social pressures.”

      Sorry, eric, but I’d say the one who is being inconsistent is you. A back tattoo isn’t the same as a face covering.

      I’ve been a bit on the fence on this issue for much the same reasons as Jerry, because I generally think people should be able to wear what they want. On the other hand, as has been noted in this thread, the niqab isn’t just symbol of oppression, it is one of the very tools of oppression that take women out of society and turn them into anonymous specters, out of sight out of mind.

      When we allow niqabs, we give an inch and some Muslims attempt to take a mile, demanding to keep the niqab on at all times, even during court testimony, in schools, in driver’s licenses. A UK court decided that a woman defendant couldn’t wear here niqab while testifying but allowed the extraordinary measure of prohibiting court artists from drawing her face, an exception I’m sure *all* defendants would prefer, but one only granted on an unequal basis to a woman demanding unequal treatment based on her religion.

      I don’t care whether the niqab is “truly” religious or whether it is a more modern cultural addition. And neither should anybody here. The science minded among us don’t care about such distinctions when people claim a religious or cultural exemption to not give their children vaccines or to not give them medical treatment. And I don’t think we should care in the case of the niqab. Instead we should care only if it is a tool of oppression and if many of the women wearing it have a version of culturally/religiously indoctrinated Stockholm Syndrome that causes them to say, yes, they appreciate the niqab and want to keep wearing it. It may even be the case that some Slaves in the South were afraid to be thrust out into an uncertain job market in the racist south, but those kinds of issues that cause social upheaval don’t mean that there shouldn’t have been an emancipation.

      Banning the niqab is a thorny issue, rife with complications and nuance, but so is not banning the niqab. We already have laws on the books about concealment of identity. They just haven’t been enforced much in the US against Islamic women or the patriarchal society that masks them.

      The list of anti-mask laws across the US compiled above brings up one of the confounding factors in wanting to ban niquabs, which is that air filtration masks also cover the face.

      Can we ban misogynistic masking in a way that doesn’t center on religion? And allows for medical exemptions? And if a medical exemption is reasonable, how can we say a religious one is not? (I’d say that actual medical exemptions are reasonable, but, for the most part, I think religious exemptions are a different matter…) Tough questions, but I don’t think that means we can’t work something out that is reasonable.

  26. Thank you! “Veil of ignorance”, I had forgotten it, a sound basis.

    I have an added argument for too much of garments with religious (or other semi-official) styles. It becomes a uniform that befits religious leaders, not the followers at large. We regulate some of these to avoid confusion and conflict, we can as well regulate them all.

  27. “When in Rome, live like a Roman” should be applicable anywhere in the world, including the UK. If one immigrates to a foreign country, he/ she should abide by the laws of that land. Most people from the Muslim world immigrate to western countries for security and freedom but want their own traditions and laws implemented. In which case, they should stick in their own countries and behave the way they want. Niqab, hijab and burqa should be banned if it is not the norm of that country. They shouldn’t bring their out dated, oppressive, primitive habits to the modern world- especially if it is a first world country where they have come solely to benefit by the system.

    1. I might phrase it a bit less firmly, but is agree with your point. It is ironic that when “we” travel to another country, we are strongly advised to adapt to the other culture, lest we be guilty of cultural imperialism. Yet, when “they” come here, they insist on retaining and enacting cultural and legal frameworks from whence they came.

      It seems to me that Western nations have evolved, throughout painful religious wars and a boat load of philosophical discourse, to arrive at a way of dealing in human rights. We should not throw that “progress” out in the name of religious accommodationism.

  28. I think we should ignore entirely the religious aspect and instead take a broader perspective. Should we allow people wearing motorcycle helmets and ski masks except when appropriate (namely when driving a motorcycle or when skiing)? I don’t think so. The same applies to the niqab and the burqa, except in private and in mosques.

    1. Excellent! And then you “catch them out” in real intent, whether Muslim or Christian: seeking to expand the borders of what is their “religious free exercise” (at least here in the States) at the expense of the general public… If it’s a part of your “exercise” then no one can limit it by law.

      Stopping the “mission creep” of religions should indeed be where the focus is placed!!

  29. The veil of ignorance idea by Rawls, isn’t that a complicated way of saying simply : How would you like it to be subjected to that law?

    Banning is desirable but difficult to implement. How about first trying ridiculing the wearing of the niqab and the burka? Ridicule works. Once they started ridiculing the mankini, I was put off ever trying to wear one! (just kidding)

  30. Masculine Insecurity, fear and hatred.
    It should be absolutely outlawed in the U.S. The U.K. is in a hell of a quandary as is France.
    I’m not much for conspiracy theories, but it is pretty clear that many, even most Muslim men who migrate to the West want universal sharia law. All the mullahs do.

    1. Truly, this does seem to be the strategy. If Islamic expansion was not a goal, then assimilation would be the approach, instead of insisting on injection of Shariah.

  31. At my health clinic there is a lab tech who wears the hijab, and she recently lost her job for harrassing women who were not “covered”. I always felt uncomfortable going to her for blood-drawing, for example, because her long sleeves and covered hair and chest seemed so unsanitary, despite the fact that she wore gloves. I think this is as good a reason as any to ban all of these face coverings.

  32. I have been on the libertarian side of this; but have come around on the burqa and niqab- the hajib seems to hard to differentiate from any other head covering worn for whatever reason.

    I just came back from a trip to Hong Kong, and noticed quite a few Muslim women in miniskirts, short-shorts and the newly fashionable extremely tight and sheer “skinny pants”- yet wearing a head-scarf for modesty.

    Here in Taiwan it is a custom, especially for older women working outside, to wear scarves wrapped fully around the head, wide-brimmed straw hats, face masks and gloves,leaving their eyes the only part showing (if they’re not wearing sunglasses) from fear of getting suntanned- dark skin is looked down on and women spend a fortune on skin whiteners.

    Here, you’ve got sexism and racism (against more southern darker -skinned Asians) combined- should it be banned?

    1. I’m envious of a culture that likes paleness since I am very pale and put on stuff to darken my skin, having endured endless taunts and when young the disdain of total strangers who would tell me how disgusting my pale skin was and therefore how ugly I am. They felt I purposely decided what colour I should be.

  33. As an American I don’t think any garment should be banned. Each individual has the right to wear whatever he or she pleases. Whether or not the garment is required by a religion is irrelevant, because we live in a secular society, and religion shouldn’t govern law. Since the niqab, hijab, and burqa are not hurting anyone I don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed. The exception is if a photo needs to be taken for ID, like a Driver’s license or Passport photo.

  34. Isn’t Rawl’s idea flawed? First you accept that you’re making laws for women, and you’re not one. So you imagine that you might be one. In which case you can also imagine that you might be a muslim women who believes it is right to wear a niqab. But I agree with the rest.

    I would like to seed this thought: we’re social creatures with a highly evolved, in-built, reflexive focus on the features and expressions of a face. If you want to take part in society, and partake of its benefits, you cannot deny others this core feature of being human (and incidentally denying yourself the opportunity to be human).

    1. This is a version of the naturalistic fallacy. And in any case because this feature is natural – adaptive in some contexts – does not mean necessarily that other evolutionary social traits cannot trump the “face is important” trait in appropriate contexts.

  35. Yes. The whole purpose and consequences of the niqab are oppressive. It labels women as chattels and deprives them of dignity and person-hood. It is an abomination. The video below of two women being humiliated in public while trying to eat says it all really.

  36. I thoroughly disapprove of the Niqab for lots of the reasons presented.

    But there is one other thing I disapprove of more.

    -“banning things becuase I disapprove of them”

    If you want to ban something you have to also provide details on how you

    A) define the proposed offence
    b) how you plan to enforce the proposed law
    c) what penalties do you apply and who do you apply them to.

    None of which are straightforward in this case.

    1. A) People may not cover their faces with clothing in public except for purposes of weather protection, disease control, or safety.

      B) The same way we enforce traffic laws and parking restrictions.

      C) Fines similar to those imposed for traffic violations, noise nuisance, and such offenses.

      It isn’t all that hard, although we will disagree about details, just as we disagree with one another about appropriate penalties for traffic violations.

      1. What would be your justification for making the voluntary wearing of a veil illegal if no harm to others could reasonably be anticipated?

        1. If pigs could be shown to live in trees then I’d have no objection to arboreal swine pens.

          My response was to your challenge regarding the purported difficulty of implementing these kinds of law. Your comment, to which I responded, suggested that impracticality was the impediment to doing this. I don’t think it is. If you have other objections to to the proposed bans, fine. But this one doesn’t work very well. Let me put it back to you this: If this kind of ban would work, would you favor it?

          1. No. Kindly first answer my question. To elucidate further: what harm to others might arise from the voluntary wearing of the niqab on the high street?

          2. Your post, at #38 above, does not contain a question. My response was to that post.

            Your question is an attempt to change the subject. The condition it contains is in direct contradiction to the assertion of the OP and of the view of many of us that bans are warranted.

            If no harm to others could be reasonably anticipated directly contradicts the premise and obviously nobody would object if no harm was involved. The point is that harm to an entire class of people IS involved.

          3. I am addressing a question to you as a follow up your answer to Robin Brown. I think you do not see the importance of his question. In practice women will be stopped in the street by the police and penalised in some way for the wearing a veil. I suggest that this is not a matter to be treated lightly.

            You do not appear to take seriously the idea that a woman might wear the niqab as a matter of personal choice. I do take that idea seriously. I would need convincing evidence to the effect that the vast majority of niqab wearing women are doing so under duress.

            Without such evidence to even talk of making it illegal to walk down the street in niqab is preposterous.

          4. I offered (elsewhere on this page) as evidence what happened when the Taliban was forced out of cities in Afghanistan. Women came out without their burkas.

            I’m sure that there are a few women who are so committed to their brand of Islam that they would prefer to wear these things. The problem isn’t these few women. The problem is that there is a broader cultural coercion going on that causes women to comply whether they want to or not. If there was a more straight-forward way to address this sort of social coercion it would be nice to hear about it.

          5. What is the evidence regarding subsequent wearing of the niqab in Afghanistan?

            I live in the UK with a Muslim population of around one million females. Niqabs are seldom seen in public. To ban them completely from the public arena would be an act of real oppression in my view. The effect might well be to recruit more Muslims to terrorism. It might encourage some women to wear the niqab as a point of principle. To make it illegal would be bonkers, basically.

      2. So there’s a loophole for any woman who wants to wear a niqab because she doesn’t want to catch a cold?

        1. First, provide evidence regarding effectiveness of niqab wearing as a prophylactic. Then we’ll talk. Until then, regular face masks are generally used for that purpose and do so without branding the wearer a second class citizen.

  37. I go back and forth on this issue. It’s not an easy one.

    One problem I have with the argument for banning the niqab is the use of examples from non-Western contexts to argue for the ban in Western countries. Certainly, the wearing of the niqab is a form of oppression in Saudi Arabia, but it can be a form of anti-government political expression in Turkey. And in the West, it can be a voluntary expression of ethnic and religious identity and pride.

    I also see the security/identification issue as something of a red herring, a tool for the xenophobes to promulgate their racism. Yes, the state should be able to require temporary unveiling for purposes of identification in contexts where that is necessary, much like you can’t use a hat to obscure your face in a driver’s license photo. But it doesn’t extend beyond that.

    What is at issue is the *forced* wearing of these articles of clothing. That should be banned. That may mean, in Britain for example, the withholding of public funds for schools that require they be worn. It may mean making wearing the niqab a requirement for a job illegal. Etc. But if a woman freely chooses to wear it, even if you or I disagree with that choice, the state should not interfere. If it does, it is heading down the same path as the government of Saudi Arabia.

  38. Like many others I’ve also gone back and forth on this, but these articles and the comments above seem to sum it up pretty well:

    The hijab (scarf) is a *symbol* of oppression.

    The niqab and burqa are *tools* of oppression.

    Banning a symbol of oppression gets very morally dicey apart from extreme cases (swastikas in Germany), but banning tools of oppression is just the normal thing to do.

  39. Here, of all places, I would have expected someone to highlight the evolutionary aspect of this question.

    It has been shown that human babies can recognise the faces of many different species. By the age of nine months they begin to specialise in human faces and this erodes their abilities in respect of other species.

    One researcher, Robert Hampton, from Yerkes National Primate research Centre, says: “Face recognition is a fundamental part of human social life. Our research indicates the ability to perform this skill probably evolved some 30 million or more years ago in an ancestor humans share with rhesus monkeys.”

    Thirty million years of evolution, negated by a piece of cloth! Can there be a better argument for banning the niqab and the burqa?

  40. I find veiling in general a vile practice and exercise in misogyny in every religious context I have encountered it. I would also quickly add that I am categorically against religious exceptions for laws with secular purposes.

    I still balk at legal bans for the niqab or burqua. Muslim women are not pawns for me to dress as I see fit to push my worldview, and I cannot simply reverse what the Islamic clerics are doing and justify it solely on those grounds. I cannot be so presumptuous as to play the white knight and attempt to save people from themselves.

    I also think that banning a symbol is not effective method. I doubt anyone would take a law banning shaven heads to stop skinhead ideologies, banning white hoods to stop the KKK, or forbidding the priestly garbs of Catholics to stop Catholicism at all seriously. Muslim head coverings are no different, and do not doubt that there are many women that fully subscribe and support the traditions that oppress them.

    I hate the idea that women must be shrouded to protect themselves from all men because all men are ravenous sex fiends that cannot be expected to control themselves, but I cannot combat that idea by crudely forbidding its expression.

    Programs to allow healthcare and financial support to assist those who freely choose to leave an oppressive Muslim society I think would be far preferable. As others have said, a ban is too crude a tool to be effective in changing cultural opinion.

    1. “Muslim women are not pawns for me to dress as I see fit to push my worldview”

      No, they are pawns of their husband, fathers, and brothers.

      This issue comes down to the question of whether we view the burka and niqab as an expression of the person wearing it or as an expression of someone else imposing it on the wearer.

      It would be nice if it reflected personal choice. Here in the real world, however, it is imposed on women by a religion that treats them as property of male family members.

      1. They are not pawns for anybody, myself included.

        You make some fairly heavy assumptions about the secret wishes of those who wear the garments in question. I do not doubt that the Muslim clerics are also very certain they are helping the poor women from being forced not to wear what they truly wish to. Be careful not to omit the agency of the oppressed people you are attempting to save.

        I would be far more comfortable with actions that focus on those who shame or otherwise malign people and not the victims who do not “tow the line” and dress in the religious fashion. It is far better, I think, to make the choice not to wear such things easier than it is to make to choice to wear them more difficult.

        1. The heavy assumptions are being made by those of you who prefer to see the world as it isn’t. You assume that a burka is worn by choice. Evidence suggests this is not true. When Taliban rule ended in parts of Afghanistan and women were able to appear in public without a blue bag covering them, they did.

          Your position could just as easily be used to allow girls to be excluded from shoals. After all they may just be choosing to not attend. Maybe their parents are just complying with the wishes of the girls. Who are we to judge?

          1. I take pains not to assume opinion and try to remain neutral until I have some indication one way or the other. A ban unilaterally makes an assumption on everyone it would take effect upon. I want to offer a choice and wait for a response, not assume I know what is best for someone else and give them no option.

            Shall we mandate that women must attend the beaches on the assumption that they are being forbidden from doing so? A counter mandate makes no sense, in the case of the niqab or the shoals alike. The real problem is eliminating the agency of the oppressed, and simply reversing the requirements does not remedy that. My position is not that nothing can or should be done, it is only that a ban backed up by the force of law is inappropriate.

            In the same way that I think chemical weapons are despicable enough a method as to never be justified by which country they are employed against, so too am I opposed to prohibitions on expression in the form of garb even when such things work in favor of a point of view I agree with.

          2. I think your beach analogy is not very good. A better one might be found that maps to the real world?

            If you put an asserted right to wear anything you want in public on equal footing with the right not to be killed by chemical weapons I think you might want to revisit your priorities. I’ve never felt that the laws prohibiting me from walking nude on the streets of Milwaukee were just like being attacked with ricin.

          3. Well, the shoals was your example, unless I took the wrong meaning.

            Your position could just as easily be used to allow girls to be excluded from shoals. After all they may just be choosing to not attend. Maybe their parents are just complying with the wishes of the girls. Who are we to judge?

            You take my analogy too far. I did not mean to compare chemical weapons to clothing bans in any capacity besides the idea that there are some tactics that cannot be justified, even if they work in my favor. I still maintain that banning the garments is little better than the mandate the religious make for people to wear them.

          4. Ah, I thought the verbiage was a bit off. No worries.

            Access to education, particularly in a democracy, is a much more serious matter than symbolic clothing. I would consider that along the same lines as parents denying their children health care or adequate sustenance, tantamount to abuse. There are tangible effects to neglect like that so that we need not guess about the wishes of the minors affected, and in fact the wishes of the minors in cases like that are not even particularly relevant. We simply cannot allow people to grow up without knowing how to read or follow laws and remain that way in a modern democracy, even if they did not particularly want such education.

            Shrouds are not nearly so clear cut in their effects, although there is something to be said against parents making such clothing compulsory, even if the force of law might be somewhat excessive in regulating such poor parenting. The desire of those who wear such things is difficult to discern, so blanket bans can often be little more than mirrored tyranny against veiling victims.

  41. I see nobody has mentioned the recent attempts to introduce legislation along these lines in Quebec. There, the problem is that the laws are hypocritical – it includes keeping a few exceptions for “heritage” reasons, etc.

  42. The reason we might prohibit the use of religious head and body coverings in public spaces is because such displays oppress women – ALL women.

    As a society, we have the right and precedent to correct oppression not only because of the effect of oppression on the individual, but also for its effect on society.

    There were American slaves who were happy to be slaves. (One could argue that their economic situation was far superior to that of the millions of underpaid and underinsured workers who suffer today. At least the slaves were provided with room, board, and a modicum of health care.) But we fought a civil war to end that oppression, because we chose not to accept or protect that particular coercive cultural practice.

    Many societies ban female circumcision. Male circumcision is now a topic of the same discussion. Public spaces are no longer a proper venue for religious sacrifices of any kind. Our public spaces are spaces where we do not have to tolerate oppression, or cruelty for any reason, including religious or cultural oppression.

    If Muslim women want to wear their head and body coverings at home, or in their church, that is their constitutionally-protected right. But society also has a right to regulate its public spaces.

    We don’t allow stoning at the city gate anymore even if all the participants – including the condemned – were to sign affidavits affirming their willing participation. Banning the niqab should be no more controversial.

  43. Should the niqab be banned?” No, because that would forbid those women who want to wear it from doing so. Their numbers may be tiny, but that’s no reason to forbid their doing so.

    Maryam Namazie argues “If dress can be restricted to protect health or public safety, why not to protect women’s rights and secularism?

    Certainly restrictions to validly protect women’s rights is obvious, but to “protect secularism”? That’s less obvious.

    The online Free dictionary defines “secularism” as “1. Religious skepticism or indifference. 2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.”

    Banning the niqab is not required to protect “religious skepticism or indifference”. The ban appears to be aimed at mandating the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education. This is because, in fact official secularism is a limitation on religious liberty. Restrictions to “protect” secularism are restrictions on human liberty. They cannot be justified as protections for anyone but secularists; they are no better than regulations mandating religious dress.

    Certainly there are times and places in which removal of niqabs would be just; it would be when it was necessary to protect public safety or the integrity of activities the woman has voluntarily joined in (such as academic test taking). But short of reasonable needs, banning the niqab is a violation of human rights.

    Whether veils, hijabs, niqabs, or burqas are mandated by the Quran is irrelevant. If the person’s beliefs are that they should wear them; done and done with the preceding exceptions.

    1. Civil protection of secularism (in definition #2 sense)is not a restriction on human liberty.

      It is a protection of liberty by making illegal the well established consequences of allowing religion to control government. Nothing has a more demonstrable history of liberty-reduction than theocracy.

      1. Telling people they cannot do something that causes no harm to others is in no sense a protection of anyone’s liberty nor a limitation of government power; it is exactly the opposite: it is a loss of liberty by the improper imposition of government power.

        Banning religious apparel is not necessary to oppose theocracy, it is overkill. Religious liberty means being able to live your life according to your own beliefs, even in the public sphere. Limiting religious practices to private settings is oppression.

  44. Something that no-one seems to have commented upon – doesn’t using such terms as “niqab”, “burqua”, and “hijab” allow the proponents of such garments to set the agenda in any discussion of them, at least to a small extent?
    This discourse is being carried out in English, and English has perfectly serviceable words for the garments under discussion – scarves, veils, even shrouds. These words don’t concede any legitimacy to religious or cultural sexual segregation through use of such garments.

  45. I think one thing which might be a bit more open to possibility would be to ban all such things for *children* because they cannot consent. This in spite of many traditions already established, which will no doubt get cries of persecution anyway, but at least there one could be consistent.

    The problem is, where’s the dividing line between religious and other clothing. Those wide hats some orthodox Jews wear, for example …

      1. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But increasingly you do see small girls being hijabbed, which I think ties in with my point in comment 5 above: that the hijab, whatever its original rationalization, is seen largely as a cultural identity indicator rather than having a precise religious function.

        1. I went googling on the subject to see what kind of advice I would see. Answer: You gotta wear it at puberty but it is advisable for parents to start early so that it isn’t so hard to make the adjustment. IOW, an adolescent girl might object to it, so get her in the habit (so to speak) while she’s less likely to complain.

          1. I suppose it is similar logic to “Hey! Let’s circumcise the kid before he knows what a knife is!”

  46. 1. “Islam is sexist because it controls what women wear.”

    2. “Government should tell women what they can’t wear!”

    Seems like a contradiction to me.

    The idea that you are liberating women by controlling them is a bit dubious.

    1. It’s really not a contradiction. There is a world of moral and practical difference between a prescriptive regulation and a proscriptive regulation. It would be sexist to demand women to wear a certain kind of clothing item (especially when the motivation is based on the idea of female inferiority), but it would not be sexist to demand that everyone avoid one specific clothing item while remaining free to wear anything else. There is already a proscriptive regulation on clothing in the ban on public nudity, but that is of course nothing at all like demanding that everyone wears a certain uniform (or demanding public nudity at all times).

      So one is telling you what you must do, and the other is telling you what you can’t do. To equate the two is to say that there is no difference in being locked up in a prison cell and being denied entrance to the vaults of Fort Knox.

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