I feel like that little boy in front of the naked emperor, looking around thinking "Can't anyone see this? What am I missing?" Of course we should ban the Burqa. It is an icon of discrimination. No one defends the wearing of the Burqa on the grounds that it isn’t discrimination; that would be ridiculous. Religious and cultural justifications are also red herrings. Liberty is the only one that seems to trip most people up and yet it shouldn’t, because liberty is a red herring as well. Well, not liberty but the understanding of it.

We seem to have forgotten an integral aspect of liberty that philosophers like John Stuart Mill have identified for centuries. Responsibility. This means that we shouldn’t be allowed to do whatever we want, when we want. That could impinge on other people’s liberty. We all have a responsibility, on occasion, to sacrifice our liberty for the common good, for the sake of a cohesive society. We make these sacrifices all the time. We don’t walk around with clothing that has pornographic images on them. We don’t walk around with clothing that has offensive language on them. We don’t walk around without clothing on at all for that matter. Naturists have to sacrifice their liberty for the sake of the common good, so why should a small percentage of Muslim women be exempt from this same responsibility? Which is more offensive, the human body or an icon of discrimination?

I am confident that if two gay men decided to walk naked, arm in arm, down Brick Lane then the loudest complaint would be from the Muslim community, demanding 'social sensitivities'. The level of hypocrisy would go off the scale. Why should they be exempt from the very responsibilities that they demand of us?

There are many Muslim women in this country, as well as around the world, who are being forced to wear the Burqa. There are many Muslim women in this country who are coming under increasing pressure to wear the Burqa. There are many women in this country who see the Burqa as a patriarchal act of discrimination and oppression and are deeply offended when they see it worn. There are many people in this country who see the Burqa as a barrier to a cohesive and open society. Why does the ‘liberty’ of a small percentage of Muslim women trump everyone else’s liberty? Over the last century or so, this country has been moving towards an egalitarian nation, changing laws to eradicate inequality and misogyny. Why are we taking a step backwards?

If the Burqa is not to be banned then I urge every Naturist in the country to exercise their ‘liberty’ and do what they want. Go to the supermarket naked. Go to the leisure centre and swimming pool naked. Go to the park naked. Let’s see how long this new twisted version of liberty lasts.

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Comment by Richard Francis on September 17, 2010 at 8:10am
Now we are getting to the crux of it.

1) Hypocrisy is bad and should be countered. Good.
2) Religions should not have privileges above others. Good.
3) There should be some restrictions on people's liberty. Good.
4) The Burqa is not offensive enough to ban. Oh well, 3 out of 4 ain't bad.

It is clear that you don't think the Burqa is a bad thing and is just a symbol not an act of discrimination. I would suggest that you should do a little more research on that one.

However, at least now we are looking at the real question not a false one.

Thank you for your time.
Comment by Richard Francis on September 16, 2010 at 6:53am
Mike, I asked you a simple question. "As atheists, why are you encouraging this hypocrisy?" and you answered "Everyone has the right to be a hypocrite". So are atheists not to counter religious privilege and hypocrisy when we see it? Do you think hypocrisy is a good thing? If someone is being hypocritical doesn't that weaken their position within the argument? Wouldn't pointing out their double standards wake people up to the injustice of their behaviour?

Voltaire (you misspelt his name and he didn't actually say it; see Evelyn Beatrice Hall) was talking about freedom of speech. We are talking about actions. The Burqa is an 'act' of discrimination. The treatment of women within Sharia Law (which is being practised in non-Islamic states through arbitration) is unjust and should be stopped. A person thinking or even expressing racist thoughts is one thing but if they act upon it then shouldn't the state step in? If black people are discriminated against then shouldn't that be corrected and would the claim of "a right to being a racist" justify the discrimination? No. That would be stupid and wrong.

When I stated the FACT that the Burqa represents ownership to the male you argued that some women saw it differently. So what if they saw it differently? As you said, that doesn't make a difference to the claim itself. That is why you contradicted yourself. You argued for something that you yourself said was invalid.

Where liberty is concerned, what you do in your own home is up to you but the rules change when it's moved to the public domain. The FACT is that we do ban things that could be deemed as offensive to social sensibilities; album covers, adverts, photographs, posters, nudity, sexual activity, inflammatory language etc, so saying that we shouldn't ban the Burqa because we shouldn't ban things is plain wrong. There are times, few and far between, when the state has a responsibility to step in.

Someone's liberty does not allow them to be exempt from the responsibility of care to social sensibilities. We, of course, need to defend liberty, but in this case, our 'knee-jerk' reaction to doing so is blinding us to the true meaning of the word. That is why I would run the campaign 'Go Naked', re-educating people to what liberty actually means.

The real and proper question is "Is the Burqa offensive enough to ban?". Because of all the reasons that I have stated below, I would argue yes. You have every right to not think that it is offensive enough but please don't argue for the Burqa on false terms.

Please answer these three questions.

1) Should atheists counter religious privilege and hypocrisy?

2) Is the Burqa offensive enough to ban?

3) Why should religious people be exempt from the responsibilities that the rest of us live by?
Comment by Richard Francis on September 15, 2010 at 6:48am
Mike, You've really lost me now.

Firstly, you contradict yourself by first saying that "Where the argument came from is no reflection on its merit" but then argue against the meaning of the Burqa by saying "The women who wear it see it as an icon of their humble submission to Allah". Secondly, you admit that you are being a 'hypocrite' and 'ignorant' and proud of it.

Are you playing devil's advocate or are you not thinking about this debate?

Do you know what hypocrisy means? When the Muslim community demand that people sacrifice their liberty for the sake of social sensibilities but then demand complete liberty without sacrifice for themselves, that is hypocrisy.

Just because some Muslim women see it as 'humble' doesn't make it true. To show that this is wrong, all we would need to ask is "In that case, why don't the men have to wear the Burqa?"

Do people have a 'right' to be racist or sexist? How would our laws change if people had these 'rights'? You say it as if it can be a demand. "I demand the right to be racist!" Really?

Please think about what you are saying or else I will consider you to be a troll and ignore your posts.
Comment by Richard Francis on September 14, 2010 at 6:02am
You both think that nudity should not be condemned as inappropriate enough to sacrifice people's liberty but our society says that it is, and I am confident that one of the loudest voices demanding this sacrifice to social sensibilities would be from the very community that is asking for liberty for itself.

I ask yet again. As atheists, why are you encouraging this hypocrisy? Why are you giving them this privilege? Do you not think that this double standard leads to friction and is a barrier to a cohesive society? Do we not have a responsibility to take into consideration social sensibilities? Why do you want them to be exempt from this responsibility? I know they would say that it is because of their faith but why do you?

The Burqa is not just an icon of discrimination but an actual act of discrimination. The law has changed to prevent these acts of discrimination. Why shouldn't it continue?

p.s. As much as I hate the Catholic church, I can't agree with the idea that the priest's collar is 'an icon of paedophilia'. The collar means many things to different people. However, every Burqa represents ownership to the male. That is what the Burqa is for.
Comment by Richard Francis on September 13, 2010 at 3:53pm
No. The responsibility to take other people's sensibilities into account.

If nudity is 'not appropriate or fitting' then why is the Burqa?
Comment by Richard Francis on September 13, 2010 at 11:57am
So if she wanted to go around naked, would that be all right? Would that be her 'free' choice? Would it be 'tough shit' if people's 'sensibilities' were offended by nudity? Should Naturists exercise their liberty?

If not, then why are you (an atheist) happy to give religious groups the privilege of being exempt from the responsibility that the rest of us live by?
Comment by Richard Francis on September 13, 2010 at 9:39am
"Picking on the Muslims"? Wow, you really have bought into the Islamophobia propaganda, haven't you? As I said at the beginning, both religion and culture are red herrings on this subject. If both Muslim men and women were to wear the Burqa then I wouldn't be having this debate. It is only about sexual discrimination, getting rid of a discriminatory practise.

The banning of the Burqa would not confine a very small percentage of Orthodox Muslim women to their houses, their faith would. The ones that were being forced to stay inside would stick out like a beacon of abuse and then common law could help them.

I am talking about protecting the rest (and vast majority) of the Muslim women who are either being forced into wearing it or who are receiving increasing pressure to be a 'proper' Muslim. Why do you hate those women? Is it because you hate women in general or do you hate women who dare to answer back? Do you see how false accusations aren't very nice?

We are not talking about two wrongs making a right, we are talking about one law for all, getting rid of hypocrisies. That is how we create a cohesive society. When certain groups receive privileges over others it increases the tension. That is what is happening here.

You have now accepted that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with nudity and yet you are happy that naturists should sacrifice their liberty for the sake of a perceived good (particularly in the Muslim community). You now state that you are 'disgusted' with the way that women are treated in Islamic practises and yet you don't think that getting rid of one of those practises would do any good, I think the phrase was "Whoop-de-fucking-do". Can you not see the hypocrisy here? Why should they be exempt from the same responsibility that the rest of us live by?

The fact that the wearing of the Burqa is on the increase (at least in England anyway) tells us that secular values do not have as much an influence as you may hope it does. Sometimes, not very often, the state has to step in.

By the way, don't ever worry about how groups will see things. The truth is what matters. Do you remember the Danish cartoons of the Mohammad? The cartoons were nothing and yet people were killed because of them. Should we stop all satire just in case people might see it as offensive? No. There is no point in trying to 'reach' people who only see what they want to see. Have you ever pointed out the contradictions in The Bible to a Jehovah's Witness? I want to reach and support the people who are more in tune with secular values. What about them? Why don't we support them?
Comment by Richard Francis on September 12, 2010 at 8:40am
'In the west', we have changed the laws to change attitudes. We have banned many things like pornographic imagery, public nudity, smoking in public places, drinking alcohol on public transport etc. Even phrases like "It's a man's job" are considered harassment now in the work place and an individual can be reprimanded for it. It used to be that women were to 'stay at home' and not have a career. Many women 'bought into' that idea and didn't think of any alternative. The law changed to change that attitude. It used to be that women had to wear skirts at school and in the work place but the law changed to prevent this discrimination. This is a good thing.

Banning the Burqa would send the message out to the world that discrimination is wrong and is not tolerated in an egalitarian nation. It would also clearly confirm that the Qur'an, and therefore their religion, does not tell them that they have to wear the Burqa. It is a patriarchal interpretation of a patriarchal creation.

This would support the millions of Muslim women who are being told that they are not being 'proper' Muslims for not wearing the Burqa, and it would give liberty to the Muslim women who are being forced to wear the Burqa against their will (two groups that far outnumber the few women who 'choose' to wear it and that seem to be ignored in this debate).

I agree that we need to be constantly vigilante over the balance between the liberties of the state and the liberties of the individual but to say that "it's not how we do things" is to ignore reality. If we banned the Burqa, within a few generations, we wouldn't even be thinking about the subject and it would be assumed that women shouldn't be treated like that. In the same way that nudity is assumed to be offensive and yet STILL no one can tell me why it is offensive. I'm sure if nudity was common place and then banned, we would be 'up in arms' about it. We adapt very quickly.
Comment by Aaron S. (USA) on September 11, 2010 at 3:22pm
Richard Frances:
I understand completely that there is a lot of soft coercion involved. What I don't see is how getting rid of the burqa is going to change that coercion.

In my own case, I lost my entire social life when I came out as an atheist. None of the people I'd known before wanted to have anything to do with me (unless they were trying to re-convert me). Do social costs like that keep a lot of people from changing their religion? Undoubtedly - but what are you going to do? Legislate what friends people have to have?

Another reason people wear the burqa is because their religion tells them they have to, and they believe their religion, so they wear it. How are you going to stop people from believing in that kind of religion, which is certainly as oppressive to women as the burqa itself? Isn't it really the religion that's the problem, with the burqa just being one external indicator of it?

I don't think there's any properly legal way you could stop religions from being emotionally manipulative or from promoting ancient moral customs. You can try to educate people and give them a landing place if they choose to leave, but in the end it's a personal matter that can't be legislated. Banning the burqa wouldn't stop the misinformation, or the ignorance, or the superstition which is the root of the problem, and it would infringe on the rights of those individuals who made an educated choice to participate in that lifestyle (and yes, some of them do consciously choose to live that way).
Comment by Richard Francis on September 11, 2010 at 12:01pm
Sorry Mike,

I'm not making myself clear. The Burka was created to discriminate against women. It is the very point of the Burqa. Only women are to wear the Burqa because it denotes ownership to the man. It has the psychological effect of teaching the woman to be submissive. Like Aaron, you have a simple view that people are free to choose, but when you have been brought up with this outlook and could be cast out of your family, or community, or worse for rejecting it then it's not so simple. How do you 'step in' to prevent that?

You don't have to be a 'crazed fanatic' to behave this way. You just need to believe that the Qur'an is the word of God as most Muslims do. Have you read the Qur'an? In it, women are second rate to men. They are to give themselves to the men. They are to do what they are told. The law in England has been changing over the years to eradicate this attitude (it's not just Islam that treats women this way) so why should we take a step backwards?

Please get out of the geographical notion of Islam and understand that they are transferring their practises wholesale to other countries. I don't know how many Muslim communities you are in regular contact with (the fact that you say that "they are free to not wear it" suggests that it isn't many) but to just 'step in' to a community and 'remove' people would exacerbate the problem far more than making a blanket ban on discrimination grounds.

The reason why I would run a campaign called "Go Naked" would be to re-educate people on what liberty really means. Once people understood why the Burqa is against all that is British and that we should view it as offensive as nudity (although still no-one has told me why nudity is so offensive) then I am confident that they would see the double standards and would support the ban. I'm not saying that it would be easy but I think that it is the way forward. Sticking our head in the sand and remaining ignorant is not an option.

p.s. Is it still 'culturally wrong' for men to wear skirts? I thought we had moved on from such prejudice.



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