A consideration of the banning of the burqa in France.
Personally, 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:
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.