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?