Denmark is the most recent European country to ban the burqa, a full-body covering of Islamic tradition.
This comes on the back of a surge of (mainly Islamic) refugees and the struggle to integrate them into Denmark’s western, welfare state society.
Western countries are increasingly prohibiting public use of the garment, citing integration and identification issues. Since 2011, Austria, Belgium and France, are among a handful of countries to legislate full or partial bans.
Should we ban it here in Oz?
Just like our friends in Europe, we too value freedom of expression and religion. It’s enshrined in our constitution.
But can we balance that with such norm-defying practices? Many opposed to the burqa complain that it is anti-women and even anti-Australian.
Now some Australian MPs are trying to push a ban. Pauline Hanson, leader of One Nation, is at the helm of the effort:
‘It’s time Australia moves in the same direction to remove this radical and suppressive garb.
‘More and more countries across the globe are banning the burqa, including Muslim nations.’
And according to the Daily Telegraph, numerous Liberal and National MPs agree — albeit privately.
But does a ban impose on individuals’ rights?
Two major considerations here are free practice of religion and uninhibited individual expression.
First, the Koran — the central religious text of Islam — directs followers, male and female, to dress in modest fashion and not show ‘any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary’.
The push for a ban could therefore be justified on security and identification grounds — it is simply necessary for faces to be visible.
Conservative north Queensland MP George Christensen recently retold a story of a woman trying to apply for a licence with a burqa on her head…how would authorities verify her identity if that were allowed?
You just can’t have a 21st Century interaction with 95% of your face covered…
But Amnesty International condemned the ban as a violation of women’s rights.
As the organisation’s Europe director Gauri van Gulik puts it:
‘Whilst some specific restrictions on the wearing of full-face veils for the purposes of public safety may be legitimate, this blanket ban is neither necessary nor proportionate and violates the rights to freedom of expression and religion.
‘If the intention of this law was to protect women’s rights, it fails abjectly. Instead, the law criminalises women for their choice of clothing and in so doing flies in the face of those freedoms Denmark purports to uphold.’
While we’re serious about our ideals, a ban in the public sphere is necessary. The correct balance between security and individual freedom is tricky, but this custom flies in the face of our cultural norms.
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