Why banning the Burka is just a stupid idea…

This week we’ve seen media coverage again of idea of banning the wearing of the Burka in public, prompted by Angela Merkel’s announcement this week of a German proposal

Angela Merkel endorses burka ban ‘wherever legally possible’

As a resident of Dewsbury, where the Burka is not an uncommon sight, I wanted to give my thoughts on why this idea is bat shit crazy. The first thing to clarify is that people often confuse a Burka wit a Niqab, which means that debate is often focused around an ignorance of the subject matter. Earlier this year I visited London, and met up with family members for a drink. A member of my family, genuinely one of the least likely to have any prejudice I know, asked “what’s the Burka situation like round your way then?” I know that they were asking about perceived racial tension or a lack of integration, but they chose the Burka as a frame of reference. It’d be like me asking about the “Kippah situation” in Golder’s Green.

e any prejudice I know, asked “what’s the Burka situation like round your way then?” I know that they were asking about perceived racial tension or a lack of integration, but they chose the Burka as a frame of reference. It’d be like me asking about the “Kippah situation” in Golder’s Green.


This info-graphic, taken from Channel4.com, suggests to me that many folk suggesting we ban the Burka textually also want a ban on the Niqab and Chador as well. Now, let’s look at the common arguments for a ban.

It’s oppressive to women

Is a burka oppressive to women? This is something I used to blindly believe until quite recently. It was actually a conversation with a local Muslim community leader. We’d both been speaking on ITV Calendar news about the Batley More in Common event on 3rd September, as we’re both part of the local More in Common committee .

We ended up chatting about the Burka and the Niqab and he explained to me that, in his community at least, most men would prefer that the women in their lives did not wear the full veil. They believe it to be outdated, an a focus of unwanted negative attention, but found that many women chose to wear a Burka or Niqab against the wishes of their husbands or fathers. This was because they see these items of clothing as a symbol of their faith, and their choice to wear it as a feminist act, akin (perhaps) to the burning of a bra 50 years ago .

This Telegraph article suggests he was right. In addition, feminist journalist Naomi Wolf said the following as far back as 2008:

Westerners should recognise that when a woman in France or Britain chooses a veil, it is not necessarily a sign of her repression. And, more importantly, when you choose your own miniskirt and halter top – in a Western culture in which women are not so free to age, to be respected as mothers, workers or spiritual beings, and to disregard Madison Avenue – it’s worth thinking in a more nuanced way about what female freedom really means.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m certain that in some parts of the world the full veil is used to subjugate Muslim women. Clearly this is abhorrent and I would never accept this in my community. But when I look around Dewsbury, Batley and the like I see and hear no evidence of oppression in this form. Just today I saw two Muslim ladies together at ASDA, packing away their shopping into the boot of their car. One was wearing the full veil, the other a hijab, which covers the hair but not the face. They were, I believe, related. They certainly interacted like mother and daughter, or sisters. If the burka-wearer is oppressed, and forced to don the full veil, why not her companion?

It makes other people uncomfortable

This is a common objection. “We can’t see their faces” and so on. This unnerves some people. I do understand this. But, and I’m sorry folks, tough shit. To pass something into law because we are uncomfortable is ridiculous. Especially when so many vocal opponents the Burka on social media hide their faces behind Twitters “egg” avatar or pseudonyms, too afraid of putting their names and faces to their often abhorrent and bigoted views.

If we, as a country, are going to ban an item of clothing that makes us uncomfortable, surely this sets a dangerous precedent. If that’s the case, I’ll be unable to wear this tee shirt, surely:

Now, I don’t actually own that tee shirt. Because I’m 39, not 12. But I’m buggered if we can criminalise clothing on the grounds of our uneasiness with someone else wearing it.

How can anyone wearing one see where they’re going when they drive?

A detailed search of the internet, looking for statistics or evidence that driving in a veil leads to unsafe driving, returned no results. In addition, it’s safe to assume (barring perhaps adult Muslim converts) most qualified drivers who wear a Burka or Niqab took their test doing so. It is also patently obvious that our driving laws are robust enough to address any issues that arise from any risk, real or perceived. There is no need for a new law to solve this non-problem.

Terrorists use Burkas as a disguise

There have been no reported terrorist attacks on British soil that involved anyone disguised in a Burka. The 7/7 bombers did not use Burkas. Lee Rigby’s killers did not wear Burkas. The 2007 Glasgow Airport attack? Burka-free. The Leytonsone “You ain’t no Muslim bruv” stabbings – zero Burkas. Yet I have genuinely heard this argument, repeatedly. Linking the Burka to Jihad.
I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, close to London. It felt like an almost weekly occurrence to hear of bomb scares from the IRA and their ilk. At no point did this result in the banning of Balaclavas or Ski Masks.
I genuinely feel that the whole debate comes from ignorance. Firstly, people assume the veil is a symbol of oppression. It may be the case that for some it is. But for others it’s clearly a choice. And do we think banning the Burka will stop oppressive males from oppressing “their women”? If that’s the argument, I call bullshit. I sincerely doubt that the men in these cases will say “Oh….no veil? OK, welcome to a new age free from oppression”. The ban is not the answer.
I suggest we leave things be. I’ve never had a negative experience in 15 years of living in an area with a significant Islamic population that I would relate to Islam at all, let alone the veil. I’d suggest, of you have doubts, visit your local mosque. Get in touch, ask when their next open day is, and go along. Ask about it, but do your homework first. You might be surprised….


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