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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Should the Burqa be Banned?

I have addressed this issue in extreme generality. A while back here I wrote about exactly how bans work. The general statement over there was that if you support bans then you must agree that violence is the way to deal with the "problem" which you want to ban. Do you agree that violence (or the threat of it) against Islamic women is the way to deal with the burqa?

There is more to say on this issue so it deserves it own post rather than a general one. I will begin with the argument that the goal behind banning the burqa is giving women more rights and freedom.

This argument demonstrates how people completely misunderstand important terms that they use on a day to day basis. In this case it is the word "rights". What does "rights" mean and where do they come from? It is a word used everyday. People say "gay rights", "women rights", "black rights", and so on and so forth. But what does the word "rights" mean? Can you explain what it means? And also can you explain where these rights come from?

I never heard anyone's definition of it. It is a word used all the time and so we become used to hearing it and then eventually using it ourselves. This is my very simple explanation of what rights refer to. A right to something is the ability to act on that something without being stopped from doing so. This is an extremely simple definition. When we say "gay rights" we refer to the right to marry. That is to say, homos can act and marry one another without being stopped from doing so. In most places around the world gays do not have these rights, which simply means, they are prevented from acting on their right to marry. That is it. There is nothing mystical or complicated about rights, that is all they are.

Now let us ask the next question. Where do rights come from? The sad truth, the very sad truth, is that most people, not just in the US but around the world, would answer, "rights come from the government". This is a wrong answer, and not only wrong but a little dangerous, it makes people look up to the government with such a mentality. Right do not come from anywhere. People have them. Rights cannot be given. Rights can never be given. They can only be taken away. And some rights should be taken away, like the right to kill others. But the important point is that rights are already in place, and no one, no government, no dictator in a funny hat, can give them to you. The great words of the Declaration of Independence of America start out by saying, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, ... with certain unalienable rights". This means exactly what it sounds like. Rights are inalienable and inherent to all people.

There is a lot of confusion today about what "rights" mean. Indeed, people make such foolish statements as "the right to healthcare". What that means is beyond me, it cannot be interpreted in the way I described what "rights" mean. The word "rights" is an example of the corruption of language. Corruption of language is when terms that used to have meanings once in the past lose their meanings and retain their usages.

Now let us return to the discussion about burqas. Supporters of burqas might say "banning the burqa is progress towards women's rights". Now let us examine this phrase to understand what it means. It means to say that women have more rights as the restult of the burqa ban. But this is not true. A woman does not have the right to wear a burqa. Thus, the burqa ban results in less rights. Therefore, it is wrong to say that banning the burqa is "progressing towards women's rights".

Women should be recognized as people capable of making their own decisions. And let them be as they wish to be. They cannot be told how to dress or what they can or cannot wear. This only results in less rights for them. If a Muslim woman chooses to wear a burqa then it means this is what she prefers. Of course this is only in the context if she chooses to wear a burqa. If she is made to wear the burqa upon the command of her husband or father under, say under penalty of death, then her rights are being taken away by her husband or father. The only appropriate stance with regard to the burqa issue is to fully allow the women to make their own choices. No one can tell them what to do, be it an authoritarian husband or a authoritarian police officer, this choice is for them and only for them. Yes, some women will still choose to wear the burqa. When people are free to make their own choices they do make stupid choices, but it is their choices. That choice is for the woman and no one else and we should respect her right to make such a choice. Thus, if her final choice is a burqa, even if it the result of brainwashing when she was a little kid, it is nonetheless the choice she prefers to do. To deny her of this choice is to steal those rights from her.

Another problem with the burqa issue is the idea that laws improve society. I have spoken about this before but I will repeat it again. Laws do not improve society, and I strongly believe that this idea is the cause of so many problems in the world. Laws cannot improve society, they can also prevent people from acting in certain ways, but that is not improvement. Laws are equivalent to a giant societal spanking. Laws do not change human nature in the same way as spanking does not improve the behavior of children. Spanking can only stop kids from acting in certain ways, but spanking does not teach children the reasons behind why they should not act in a particular way. In this manner laws do not actually change the mindset of people. The only way to improve society is not by passing laws or bans but by changing the minds of people. This is the only way that works and this is the only way in history people have ever made any progress. But to change people there needs to be an open marketplace of ideas. There cannot be a set standard for everyone to follow. There needs to be a diversity of many different approaches all in competition and in a war with one another. This is the only way in which the minds of people are changed and society can improve.

Thus, if France really cared for helping Muslim women fight against this irrationality they should support their own decisions that they make and allow the women to be exposed to the secular values of France. This is the only way to truly win the battle against the burqa. It is a slow and difficult process but progress takes time. However, France is not smart, and they suck. Besides France has proven itself to not care about freedom or freedom of religion.



  1. I would differentiate between minors and adults. A minor who wears one is almost certainly being compelled.

    I would also differentiate between a public space and any institution or workplace where face to face communication occurs.

    The public space bothers me too as I feel it is somewhat of a security risk to have bunches of people hiding their identities- I mean anyone could do anything- but so far that hasn't been borne out, so we should treat it exactly the same as a winter mask.

  2. "I would differentiate between minors and adults. A minor who wears one is almost certainly being compelled.":

    I agree that parents have no right to forcefully make their children into what they want them to be. But there is no way to legislate this law without severly damaging the freedom of religion.

    A Jewish boy is compelled by his father to go to shul. Do we have the state take the kid away? No. Because there is no easy way to pass such a law without breaching the freedom of religion.

    My other problem with the state is that the state does not care about children. Even most bad parents are preferrable than a state.

    Jewish boys are also made by their parents to wear yamalkes, so if you are against the burqa then you should also be against little boys wearing yamalkes. Otherwise you are not being consistent. That is precisely because of what I said. There is no way this law can be compatible with the freedom of religion. So no, you are wrong on this issue too.

    "I would also differentiate between a public space and any institution or workplace where face to face communication occurs.":

    This is no issue at all. Private places can pass their own laws and Muslims would have to follow those laws. This means a Taxi company does not have to hire Muslim with burqas if they want their drivers to have open faces. That way it would be a disadvantage for Muslims to wear burqas because they would be discriminated against people who have their own standards. But as far as walking in the public street, it does not matter. People can dress as they so desire. If you are against that then you are anti-freedom, of course you would never admit it, because no person ever admits they are anti-freedom.

  3. a burqa is abusive because it significantly limits mobility and communication (that, in fact, is the point!); a yarmulke and going to shul do not.

  4. "a burqa is abusive because it significantly limits mobility and communication (that, in fact, is the point!); a yarmulke and going to shul do not.":

    What about genital mutilation (I mean "bris milah")? That is not abusive? It is. But if you want to ban the burqa then you should also be consistent and ban genital mutilation. You are not consistent on this issue at all.