The burqa is a head to toe covering used exclusively by women. Wearing burqa is not an Islamic requirement but it originated from some Islamic cultures and traditions. What is mandatory in Islam is to wear cloth that covers the whole of the body including the hair. In Muslim countries the wearing of the burqas is a sign of devotion to Islam. Muslim women wear the burqas for the various reasons: they cite that they don’t have to be concerned with personal appearance when they need to run quick errands. They don’t have to worry about being scrutinized or getting unwanted attention from men. Their personal expressions, except for the eyes are hidden which can also promote better bargaining at certain shops (Ellis-Christensen, 2011)
The Islamic religion enjoins women to expose their bodies only to husbands or very close relatives. Wearing of the burqa is compulsory in some Middle Eastern Countries and women can be arrested for flouting the dress code. Other liberal or democratic countries are not so strict about wearing the bourqa. Turkey and Tunisia are examples (Soman E. May 2008).
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In the West it is indeed viewed as a symbol of oppression of women. France and some other western countries have banned the use of burqas.
Proponents of a ban on wearing burqas in public places argue that burqas isolate women and cover up evidence of domestic abuse, and that the enforcers of the dress code are men who tend to subject women to perpetual servitude.
Proponents for the ban also opine that the essence of a modern society extends civic participation to everyone. To deliberately prevent an entire gender in society is an assault on the democratic character of the state; also, the burqa is designed to impede interaction outside the home. The failure to be recognized a woman as an individual is dehumanizing.
The wearing of burqa is enforced through violence and coercion. When one goes to Rome, one does what the Romans do. Certain religious codes are strictly enforced in Islamic countries to the extent that foreigners have to comply. The bourqa, as a cultural practice, should not be imported in totality to a foreign country such as France and adhered to in practice to create “social tension” in a county such as France.
Some people are of the opinion that individuals disguise their identities to perpetrate terrorist crimes behind the veil. Should the US pass similar law outlawing the use of burqas in public places? I suggest no, the US should not.
The United States by the circumstances of its attainment of statehood were a heaven for people who felt they were persecuted for their religious beliefs. The first immigrants to land in present day US, the so called “Pilgrim Fathers” fled from religious persecution. No wonder in the formulation of laws which they needed to govern themselves, they were explicit in encoding freedom of worship and separation of “church and state”. The founding fathers were unanimous in their conviction that never again should religious persecution be suffered in their new found land.
America is a secular nation allowing everybody to practice his /her religion without restrictions. American laws are very liberal giving supremacy to the freedom of the individual, under International Law, and US is a signatory to it, and in fact the first among equals, as a role model. States can only limit religious practices when there is a compelling public safety reason, when the manifestation of religious beliefs will impinge on the rights of others.
In the US, there is a strong tendency not to offend, by an overindulgence of political correctness, spawned over the years by lawsuits against the government and private entities and one’s individual rights to the separation of State and Religion. Passage of a law outlawing burqas will immediately trigger a barrage of lawsuits, the outcome of which one can only imagine.
What are the consequences upon France passing the law to prohibit wearing burqas in public? French businessman Richard Nekkaz called the proposed ban a “violation of constitutional principles”. Nekkaz and his wife put up 200,000 Euros as seed money for a project that encourages women to break the law, should France enact it. The project will pay their fines and other related expenses (McElroy W. 2010).
If the project is successful it will add a new twist to the ongoing debate. Women in burqas as social dissidents women right activists. Banning burqas may send a signal of xenophobia to certain Muslim nations hence weakening friendly relationships. Some strongly opinionated, dyed in the wool Muslims would boycott the US as a tourist destination leading to the loss of critical dollars.
Bullying and forcing women to wear the burqa is bad, equally bad is forbidding women from wearing burqa which seems to trespass Western ideas of tolerance. Leaving legal arguments let us turn to culture. A culture is the way of life of a people spanning every facet of their existence. No indigenous culture can be wrong in its values since there are no objective standards. No culture has a monopoly of the truth. Cultural relativism teaches that accepted norms can’t be wrong even if they come from stupidity and ignorance
The wearing of burqas in the western world to all right-thinking people may look bizarre, but cultural relativism makes us conform to society’s norms or else we contradict ourselves. The world is a confusing mixture of overlapping societies and groups. Within a given society there can be much moral disagreement since individuals may or may not follow the majority view. In cultural relativism, there are few if any norms that all cultures agree on. A section of the US society cannot impose a law banning or outlawing the culture of another section.
Legislating against the right of minorities is bad. Cultural relativism would provide a democratic basis for a common morality in the society. It does not try to legislate for society.
Listening to sentiments of a Muslim woman:
“There is no reason to adopt laws that ban the wearing of the burqa. The catmosphere of fear is so prevalent today that using the bourqa will slowly disappear out of necessity for survival. There will be a price though. Some Muslim women will return home without a Western Education, and that will make bridging the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims more difficult. This fear also forces Muslims who want to live in the West to conform to Western appearances making the fight against religious extremism more difficult.” (Jawhar, 2010)
On the basis of the arguments adduced above, I am of the strong opinion that the US should not legislate a ban against the wearing of burqa in public places considering her historical antecedents, the US constitution, and the American liberal life where individual freedom is paramount and even arguments based on cultural relativism.