For what it is worth, I think Belgium's decision to ban the burka, and France's consideration of the same says very little about a European concern for women's liberation and an awful lot about our fear of Islam.
At the same time, I don't think this is, as Amnesty International have apparently argued, an issue to be resolved by an appeal to human rights or religious freedom (though essentially I'm personally committed to both).
Why do I think it is a move based on fear? Well, imagine a situation where a slightly loopy man decided not to go out in public except wearing a Zorro mask. We would think him sad, he would probably be jeered at by children, and he might cause some alarm in banks. But we would not expect to see the police arrest him, or want Parliament to be bothered with legislation to prevent his eccentricity.
Now our modern advocates of secularism are all for reminding us that religious people are all 'fruit loops' who believe in a 'magical friend' or something similar, and that our outlook is laughable and our influence is waning prior to our inevitable and much-to-be welcomed demise.
But surely what is sauce for the Christian goose (because that is where most of these remarks are directed) is equally sauce for the Muslim gander, the Jewish duck and so on?
In other words, Muslim women in burkas are just a gaggle of equally fruit-loopy people, who are just as much to be pitied as our hypothetical Zorro-mask wearer. And although we should perhaps, in the interests of public order, protect them from the jeers of children, we will have to work jolly hard (if we are secularists) not to despise them just a little bit for the folly of their own practices and the iniquity of them passing their empty notions onto their children.
But given that their ideas are stupid, their practices eccentric and their beliefs doomed to die out, what's Parliament got to do with it? A few more years, a bit more education and the burka will go the way of the Vestal Virgin's distinctive outfit.
That, at least, is what a confident secular society ought to think.
So why the need for a ban?
It is, I suggest, not because we feel sympathy for the women under the burkas. It is because we feel fear. And that is something worth a bit of self-examination.
1 May 2010
Anonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.