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Banning the Burqa

May 12, 2010 – 10:02 pm6 Comments

So often confused with the Burqa, one assumes the Niqab would also be included in any Burqa ban

By David Werdiger

Following his Hamas-hummus prank in the movie Bruno, one could imagine a Sacha Baron-Cohen character quickly dismissing the idea of banning the burqa: How could we do that!? Throw away so much tradition? Pastry filled with delicious mashed potatoes … even cheese or mushrooms. The burqa has been one of the great contributions to middle eastern cuisine … it’s hard to believe that any country would want to ban it!

Following bans in France and Belgium, the burqa debate has now made its way to Australia, with a Liberal Party senator calling for its ban in the wake of a bandit using it as a disguise. This in turn led to the whole issue being politicized with comments from both Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd. The opinion pages are rather polarized on the issue, with the burqa ban either pandering to xenophobia, or a boost for equality. There doesn’t appear to be much middle ground on this, and both those for and against the burqa ban have somehow been able to argue that their position is one that promotes human rights.

The question is: what does this mean to the Jewish community, and can/should there be a united position on the issue?

While the ban in France originated as a consequence of Muslim immigration, it does have roots in the strong separation between Church and State in that country, and has been applied equally to garments associated with other religions, including large crosses, yarmulkes, and turbans. If we as Jews support a ban on the burqa, are we opening the door for similar rules against traditional Jewish clothes?

Friends of mine have been asked to remove their yarmulke for passport photos, or to remove their hair-covering at airport security. In the cases mentioned to me, the people in question have asserted their right to dress in accordance with the requirements of their religion, and ultimately, this was respected by the officials and if necessary, a compromise was reached. As Jews, we do need to stand up for our right to dress as our customs require if this is being challenged.

In Australia, we already have laws that restrict people from walking into a bank while wearing a helmet or balaclava that obscures their face. These same laws would seemingly also apply to someone wearing a burqa; so from a safety perspective, there seems little need to extend what we already have.

Muddying this debate is the fact that a federal election is looming, and Kevin Rudd is very much on the back foot after a series of policy back flips and an apparent reposition of the Labor Party away from the values many people voted him in on. His comments have already stood as a subtle warning to the opposition of the danger of making this an election issue. From what I hear of the talkback radio discussion on this topic, such a debate doesn’t seem to bring out the best in Australians.

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6 Comments »

  • frosh says:

    I think there is an important need to separate out the security aspects (e.g. concealing identity) from the social aspects (e.g. oppression of women) of the debate.

    Personally, as a libertarian, I am less persuaded by the social aspects than I am the security aspects.  There are many other ways one can conceal identity and/or a weapon in a regular situation, although a burqa or niqab is a very easy way.

     

  • Reality Check says:

    In deed the “burqa debate” does not bring out the best in Australians, and for that reason it is being used by the opposition to seperate and divide. I also would suggest that rather than it being a sign of male domination of females, although it is, it’s faith that dominates  males, who in turn are required to dominate their wives.

  • Chaim says:

    Frosh: being a libertarian I would assume you would support freedom of expression and religion (burqa) and not having laws limiting personal freedoms?
     
     

  • frosh says:

    Hi Chaim,

    That is correct.

    However, for security reasons I think there could be valid (but limited)situations where a burqa or niqab ought to be removed, such as where identity verification is very important. But as I’ve said, this is a separate issue, and should not be confounded with the ‘social’ arguments.

  • ariel says:

    We can learn from Jewish history here.
    From what I understand, the sheitel (wig) originated in Greater Poland a couple of hundred years ago when the authorities – as a deliberate move against Jews – ruled that women were forbidden from covering their hear in public.
    The rabbis got together and formulated the idea of the sheitel as a way to circumvent the ban.
     
    Unfortunately, Muslims would more likely turn to violence and rioting rather than try to find a workable solution, c.f. Danish cartoons response etc.
     
    So what is the solution? Very difficult to work out.

  • Emily says:

    In deed the “burqa debate” does not bring out the best in Australians, and for that reason it is being used by the opposition to seperate and divide. I also would suggest that rather than it being a sign of male domination of females, although it is, it’s faith that dominates  males, who in turn are required to dominate their wives.

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