Cecilia Malmstroem, the EU Home Affairs Commissioner said yesterday that “I do not see the need for a European law on the burqa” when asked if there could be a ban across all of the EU one day. This comes in reflection to a number of Member States moving draft and first reading of bills through their parliaments.
Belgium is perhaps the closet to a full ban of the burqa. In April this year, they voted through the lower house a full ban. It now just needs to be passed by their senate. In France, who has the biggest Muslim population in the EU, the cabinet has approved a draft law to fully ban the burqa. It has already banned it from public spaces such as schools as it is a “religious symbol”. Just last week the Spanish (who currently hold the EU presidency) upper house approved a motion calling on their president to ban the burqa.
It is reassuring then, that at the very least, the EU Commission considers this to be a Member State issue, and not something to be tackled in Brussels.
It is curious to ponder for a short period why such emphasis is placed on the burqa. The first commonly quoted argument against the burqa is “suspicion”. “How do we know who is under this veils?”…”it breads suspicion if you cannot see someone’s face”. These arguments can be equally applied to face paints, balaclavas, full face helmets, cosmetic surgery or pretty much anything else that alters or hides away someone’s face. Another common argument you often is hear is that it is oppressive to women, that they should be “forced” into wearing veils. Lord Pearson (UKIP) once famously stated that the burqa were “is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy” and it is “oppressive to women”.
The problem with this argument is that it removes all sense of agency from the individuals. It assumes that these girls and women, do not, and cannot choose to wear a burqa. Although there are clear cases where this is the case, it has to be noted that a significant number of women choose to wear a burqa. If, a universal ban is implemented within a country (or even worse a continent), then we slip down a very worrying slope about the state setting standards about what is, and isn’t acceptable, for it’s citizens to wear. For me, the argument is not about whether a women should be able to wear a burqa or not; it is about why some women feel forced into wearing it. This question will not be addressed by banning it. To empower women by criminalizing their action is absurd.