In the midst of an increasing number of terrorist threats by Islamic State (IS), Muslims around the world are being subjected to hostility by both private individuals and the state. Many countries have taken extreme actions to protect their security, banning any type of full-face covering veil worn by Muslim women.
There is doubt, however, as to whether the prohibition actually does more harm than good. Consider the case in France, the first European country to effect a prohibition upon the wearing of Islamic veils in public spaces. Since 2011, women who wear hijabs or burqas can face fines of 150 euros or be required to take a citizenship course. Any man who forces a woman to wear a veil may be issued with a fine of 15,000 euros.
In an interview with French local newspaper “The Local”, sociologist Agnes De Feo says the ban has been a “complete failure” and has even helped create a real threat to France. De Feo argues that the ban has both encouraged Islamophobia as well as given Muslim extremists more cause to rise up against the French state.
Since 2009, De Feo has interviewed about 150 women who wear the veil and has noted that the law has dramatically changed their perception of French society. She states ‘almost all the people wearing a hijab in France today started wearing it after the law was implemented’ and ‘the women wearing the hijab before the law now stay home and never go outside’. Therefore, many Muslim women feel the ban is contributing to their feeling of isolation from society, rather than increasing their sense of empowerment.
Hararo Ingram, a researcher from Australian National University notes that extremist groups have specifically used France’s face-veil ban as a recruitment tool. The first issue of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s inspire magazine featured an article titled “The West Should Ban the Hijab Covering It’s Real Face.” Ingram notes that although the full-face veil only affects a small fraction of French Muslims, it is being used by extremist groups around the world to fuel extremist hate toward Western ideals.
Despite the obvious implications of France’s ban, countries all over the world are adopting similar legislation to prohibit the wearing of full-face veils. There are currently 13 nations that have incorporated the ban, and several other nations are in heated political debate about the topic. In August 2017, the leader of Australia’s right-wing “One Nation” party, Pauline Hansen, arrived in the Senate chamber for the daily question clothed in a black burqa. Her stunt was designed to emphasize her call to ban the burqa in Australia for national security reasons.
Hansen’s argument, as consistent with proponents across the globe, was grounded in the idea that banning the veil is a necessary measure in order to bar one from being able to hide his or her identity in public. Furthermore, the headscarf is seen to be a symbol of female oppression, and so the ban is said to promote freedom and justice for women.
On a number of counts, the burqa ban has generated global concern regarding discrimination. In their response to France’s legislation in 2010, Amnesty International suggests the ban expressly contravenes Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 14 forbids “discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, color, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.” Amnesty International state that forbidding a woman from wearing a veil prevents her from being able to express her religious rights.
Women in Muslim communities face multiple forms of discrimination from within and outside their communities. By implementing a ban on a Muslim woman’s freedom of expression, the burqa-ban is only addressing discrimination with another form of discrimination. Amnesty International suggests the only thing achieved from the ban is for Muslim women to feel more isolated and estranged from society.
On the back of rising security concerns, Muslim people around the world are being subjected to hostility from private individuals as well as various governments. There are doubts, however, as to whether the extreme measure of banning the burqa is a sensible approach to security concerns.
Emma Dobson (Sydney, Australia)