Farzana Hassan, who is a Canadian author and human rights activist and a former President of the controversial and progressive Muslim Canadian Congress, has (in a column in the Toronto Sun) joined with Sun newspaper columnist “Tarek Fatah in appealing to Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford to ban the burka, the oppressive face covering. In fact, I would like to extend this suggestion to premiers of other provinces.” She explains that while “Fatah is citing the burka as a security threat …[and] … This alone is compelling enough reason to ban it … [but, she adds] … I want the burka banned also because I care about Canadian Muslims. I care about their image as a diaspora community. If they continue to promote or allow the face veil, the image they project is one of backwardness and misogyny … [and] … Muslims should be the first to seek a ban on this oppressive garment that has no basis in Islam and that portrays them in such negative light. That the garment is inherently misogynistic is undeniable. It is rooted in the conviction that women are a source of evil if they are left unshielded from the male gaze.“
OK, first: Quebec and several European countries have already banned, at least partially, the burqa. Sometimes the bans are absolute, sometimes they still allow the burqa to be worn when engaged in wholly private activities where facial recognition is not an issue.
Second, the issue is face covering, not (except in France) body covering; thus one (on the left) is legal while the other, on the right, is illegal in some places:
I am conflicted on this:
- First, I generally oppose any restrictions on the liberty of any person to do (which includes wear) pretty much whatever they want* so long as it does not infringe upon either good manners or the fundamental rights of others. Thus I fully support e.g. gay pride celebrations even though I, personally, find many aspects of them to be in poor taste and wish that adults didn’t do and say such things in public. For that reason I say that if a woman wants, for her own good reasons, to wear a burqa it should, generally, be her right. If, on the other hand her husband forces her to wear a burqa because he thinks she is his property then he should be flogged before he is deported; but
- I agree that there are situations in which we must ALL, regardless of even sincerely held religious beliefs, be required, by law, to be identifiable: when voting, for example, or when applying for a driving licence or boarding an aircraft or entering Canada. I believe those are very reasonable restrictions on individual liberty including one’s liberty to believe whatever religious bumf one finds appealing.
Ms Hassan’s thesis, with which I largely agree, is that face coverings are not called for in the Qu’ran, they are an artifact of a backwards, medieval culture in which slavery and misogyny are still predominant. That alone, however, is not a good enough reason to ban the burqa or even the (more common, I think) niqab.
For those who support Ms Hassan and Mr Fatah I suggest that the words burqa and niqab must never be mentioned … otherwise it looks like you are singling out one religion for special treatment. Nor, of course, should it be applied only to women, for obvious reasons. The issue must be face coverings … there is, I believe, a good case for a law which says that under a rather lengthy list of specific circumstances a person’s face must be wholly visible including the hair (sometimes, security experts can rule on that), eyes, nose, mouth cheeks, chin and (sometimes, again) ears. In other words, in those circumstances, a ski mask would be illegal even if it makes good sense to wear it outdoors on some Canadian winter days. Thus:
I also think that any law that bans face coverings should include public demonstrations. When a group applies to march through the city and, in the process, disrupt other people’s routines then I believe that everyone has a right to know who is demonstrating and why … face coverings can, i think, be disallowed at public demonstrations without infringing upon a fundamental right to privacy. It should be perfectly legal and proper to go about one’s private business ~ grocery shopping, for example ~ wearing whatever face covering one chooses but when one engages in an activity that impacts others then the others ~ you and me ~ have a right to know who you are … that includes voting and demonstrating.
* Edited at add a link to some similar comments I made about eight months ago.