French burqa ban will harden hearts

A consideration of the banning of the burqa in France.

burqa-beach-babePersonally, I can’t say I would be sorry to see the full face veil, or niqab go. The niqab known as a burqa in France, is an excellent example of what can go wrong when religion is conflated with culture. But what is the extent of the proposed ban?

While limited in scope, the proposed ban effectively bars those who insist on not removing the face veil from utilising public services.

The proposed ban would require people show their faces when entering any public service, including transport, universities, hospitals, job centres, post offices and so on. They would have to “keep the face uncovered throughout their presence“. Failure to do so would result “in a refusal to deliver the service demanded”. See the Times report on this.

I can’t help but wonder whether there are more effective methods to facilitate the extinction of what I believe to be a retrograde practice. For example, should there not be some focus on educating Muslim women and men on the theological basis in Islam, or lack of it, for the niqab? Perhaps it is because this approach is likely to only bear fruit very gradually that it is unappealing to politicians who are seeking a solution with results that are immediately noticeable. But what cost will there be to the approach of simply banning the niqab?

When an authority proscribes a particular activity, it does so in an attempt to discourage activity that has been deemed undesirable. Yet proscription alone, unaccompanied by efforts to “win hearts and minds,” can never lead to an eradication of the activity which is the target of the ban. To the contrary, it may lead to a greater proliferation of the activity and a dogged determination by those who partake in it to demonstrate their defiance of the ban.

The concept that human beings are inherently resistant to change is well accepted amongst psychologists. The extent of resistance to change will depend on a range of competing factors including the consequences of any resistance, the chances of success/failure, the perceived impact of the proscribed activity on society, and the importance of the proscribed activity to an individual.

Those in favour of the niqab would argue that the wearing of the niqab is a matter of unrivalled importance as it concerns the practice of their religion, itself an idea that through the ages has consistently been shown to bring out both the best and the worst in people.

By preventing wearers of the niqab from accessing a range of critical public services, I have little doubt that this ban will serve to harden the views of those in favour of the niqab and further the notion that the West and secularism are anti-Islam.

What is clearly needed is not a ban but a cohesive, concerted and long term effort to address the attitudes of those in favour of the niqab. In order to facilitate this many more questions need to be asked and debated. Amongst others, these would include the following:

  • What proportion of Muslims are in favour of the niqab and why?
  • Of those women who do wear the niqab, what are their reasons for doing so?
  • What have the trends been over an extended period of time (e.g. the past 10 or 20 years)?
  • Looking at how these various metrics differ across societies and even between different communities within a society.

At the end of the day, the niqab will not disappear by banning it but instead by banishing it from the hearts and minds of Muslims.


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Posts by Umran Kadir

Umran Kadir is a lawyer who now lives in the UK.

Posted on 28 January 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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8 Responses to French burqa ban will harden hearts

  1. Regardless of our views on the face veil, it is not government job to dictate what citizens can or cannot wear.

    the massive infringement on personal civil liberties is a huge intrusion in the private sphere and cannot be tolerated.

    That's how dictatorship, authoritanianism, totalitarianism… starts.

    French citizens are being duped and usurped of their rights…

    kind regards all,

    Dr Beauvais.

  2. krazali

    Katharina Sri..i believe you were at SMSPP from 1980 1981?did u further yr study in Canada?

  3. Umran

    T, I am more partial to opposition to the niqab that arise from concerns over security (e.g. your ski mask example). I regard the purpose of the law as limiting harm while detracting as little as possible from individual freedoms and autonomy.

    However, the debate in France has not really focused on security but has instead revolved around women's rights and equality. I am a firm believer in these concepts as well.

    I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not against the ban because I am in favour of the niqab.

    I am against the ban because I do not think that it is a positive development for Muslim women or French society in general because I believe it will strengthen the divide . Far more preferable in my view is a longer term approach to tackling this issue, of which a key component should be religious education.

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  5. T

    I can understand why they would refuse service with someone covering their face. It's just like a lot of places refuse to serve people with Ski Mask.

    However, I don't think government should tell women what to wear or what not to wear. It's just another form of patriarchy, undermining women's decision. I'm disgusted by this ruling as much as I am disgusted at Islamic countries that forces women to wear a certain way and not allowing them to express themselves. Worse still in those islamic countries you cannot fight againts it or be banned unislamic or herectic.

    I do think your idea of exposing the face for identification purposes and resume to covering up is a good idea. I'm not sure what's the freedom of religion and expression law is like in France, but i bet there would be an activist who would challenge it's constitutionality.

  6. Umran

    By the way, the article that caused me to write the piece above was this:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators…

    A thought provoking read.

  7. Umran

    I think you have missed my point.

    My position on the niqab is clear – I mention at the outset that I believe the niqab to be a cultural phenomenon and not a religious requirement. Nevertheless I do not believe that banning women who wear niqabs from accessing public services is a positive development for anyone – certainly not Muslim women.

    Here's why:

    For starters, we need to consider what the likely consequences of such a ban are. As I have stated above, some form of resistance and entrenchment of views is certain. I fail to see how this helps anyone.

    Next, we need to determine what the ultimate objective of a ban is and how this can be reconciled with the expected consequences of a ban. Is the objective indeed to improve the lot of Muslim women or is it a cynical attempt to garner votes? I believe the answer may involve elements of both but certainly tends more towards the latter.

    If the objective in the main is to uplift Muslim women then why is the ban not accompanied by any attempts to address the underlying reasons why some Muslims are in favour of the niqab is a terrible idea? Why is it that Sarkozy has neglected to even suggest that there is such a need?

    Do you have any idea how many Muslim women choose to wear the niqab of their own free will? How many are pressured into doing so by their families? I don't and I think it is important for there to be an understanding of these kinds of factors before deciding on something as drastic as banning women wearing niqabs from accessing public services.

    Pray tell how anything I have said amounts to "appeasing the Islamist"?

  8. Katharina Sri (forme

    No, the problem, is, by appeasing the Islamist, they will demand an inch further everytime! The veil has nothing to do with Islam but with Dark age sexist Arabic culture as the Morroccan sociologist, Fatima Mernissi found out in her book "The Veil and the Male Elite". After researching thousands of "Hadiths"! It's like being naked which is extreme form of liberated culture, is not acceptable in public, thus, the veil that symbolizes extreme enslavement culture, cannot be tolerated any further, by modernity and women's struggle for equality and freedom human rights. And further, such veiled women/girls are kept in isolation, even when they are out, from integrating with the majority public, especially with the host population such as in the West, thus showing arrogance and contempt for diversity and non-Muslim way of life and population. Thus, the ban is indeed a positive move towards liberating women/girls, who have long suffered and are deceived by the manipulated border-line between Islamic and Arabic culture!

    Katharina Sri (former: Noor Aza)

    Germany.