France Debates Banning the Burka

From the BBC:

The bill in front of the lower house would make it illegal to wear the niqab or burka anywhere in public.

It envisages fines of 150 euros (£119) for women who break the law and 30,000 euros and a year jail term for men who force their wives to wear the burka.

This issue has come up many times on the interwebs, and I’ve found that atheists are somewhat divided on it.

To a libertarian heathen like myself, this isn’t even an issue. Women should be able to wear whatever they want, whether it’s a burka or a thong bikini. And the government passing legislation telling us what we can and can’t wear sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the very fabric (pun unintended) of our liberties.

You may not like the burka or what it represents, but that’s a woman’s choice to make. And even if you object and claim that the husbands are the real problem, it’s still a woman’s choice to comply. If she gets beaten for objecting, then arrest her asshole husband. Besides, if the studies mentioned in the story are valid, most women aren’t being marginalized; they’re wearing the veils of their own volition.

It’s pretty much a clear-cut case of “I don’t agree with what you say, but I support your right to say it.”

In general, the opposition argues that burkas and niqabs are signs of Muslim rebellion and an unwillingness to conform to modern culture. They see these veils as symbols of oppression, much like the way we think of klan robes or nazi armbands. Supporters of the French ban claim that wearing a burka amounts to “being cut off from society and rejecting the very spirit of the French republic that is founded on a desire to live together.”

To which I generally respond… and? Since when is it the government’s job to outlaw things that offend western culture, and to decide which opinions we’re meant to have? Even if the claims are true, since when does anyone have the right not to be offended?

Do you know how many things offend me? White people with dreadlocks. Vuvuzelas. Reality TV. Pat Robertson. The whole Kardashian family. Hugh Grant movies. The current Pledge of Allegiance. Ed Hardy clothing. Nickelback. Any of these things can be considered offensive to my idea of a desirable modern society. But that doesn’t mean they should be illegal.

There’s a good reason why it’s not illegal to wear klan robes or nazi armbands or to fly a Confederate flag or affix a “God Hates Fags” bumper sticker onto the back of your car. Because free speech is the number one most crucial component of our cherished western culture, and our society thrives on the free exchange of ideas (good or bad).

Clothing is a form of speech, in that it sends a message to all who see it. You may not necessarily be comfortable with that message, but that’s the price you pay for living in a free society. Being offended does not give you the right to take away someone else’s liberties, and if you don’t like it, tough. Go found your own country and force everyone to dress the same, talk the same, act the same, and think the same. See how that works for you.

The wearing of a burka harms no one, and therefore should not be eligible for legal prohibition.

2 thoughts on “France Debates Banning the Burka

  1. The burka is not freedom of expression; it’s the very absence of the right for expression. It’s not the same as the veil; the veil is a religious practice that still allows for expression. The burka and niquab blot out a woman’s whole existence behind a big black cover. Whether these women feel personally subjugated or not, the burka is an overt symbol of inequality, oppression, and violence. Like a Star of David armband.

    I live in Canada and more and more I am disturbed by the things I see. We’ve had honor killings and genital mutilation for the first time in EVER; Islamic students who harrass their college professors, (my mother for one) because they won’t respect her authority as a woman.

    I say it is a Country’s right to let in different cultures while still putting their foot down to say NO: some things are not negotiable. Women’s rights, gay rights, and freedom of speech are NOT negotiable. I admit that it’s a complicated matter where freedom of expression is concerned, but ultimately I think that what the burka represents is the very opposite of freedom; and banning the burka would be a positive step forward in setting the precedent where women’s rights MUST come first; and we will not allow anything to erode those rights in our respective nations.

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