Friday, July 16, 2010

The French ban of the burqa is a good thing

The French ban of the burqa has received a lot of attention and a lot of criticism. The European Citizen says that a ban is disproportional and paramount to a publicly imposed dresscode. And the Council of Europe sees an infringement of the right to personal identity and freedom of religion as they are stipulated in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR, articles 8 and 9) and threatens to go to the European Court of Human Rights.

But I think that it is a good thing that the sovereigns in several European countries forbid the full-body veil by law. I agree with the European Citizen that official programs to integrate Muslim women into Western societies are absolutely necessary. But I also believe that the European sovereign may give himself the right to ban a full-body veil from European streets by law.

Personally, I would feel awkward and nervous asking a completely veiled women for directions in the street, probably just as much as if she was completely nude. The burqa threatens the openness to look somebody in the face, to see their reactions, to allow them interactions with others on an equal level. As little as I would walk through the streets dressed as General Grievous, I want to be subjected to a person that speaks to me through a veil. I see the freedom of peaceful coexistence and interaction in a multicultural city threatened by the fact that I have to speak through a veil and interpret my interlocutor's words via their intonation.

Viewing the case from another perspective, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe believes that the prohibition of the burqa is "alien to European values". I completely agree that tolerance of religion has to be guaranteed and the ban of the burqa should in no way be interpreted as a discrimination of Islam. Instead, everything should be done to integrate Muslims into European society where this has not already been successfully achieved (let's not forget that most Muslims are perfectly integrated).

But on the other hand, a commitment to multiculturalism and tolerance must not turn into a European carte blanche for every conceivable bit of cultural influx. A lot of cultural influx into Europe is not harmful, and it would be ridiculous to ban Americanization by law. But Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Muslim and an passionate fighter for women's rights in Islam, asserts for example that the Dutch government closed its eyes to Muslim honor killings on its own soil for too long due to a commitment to a tolerant, multicultural society. European society cannot close its eyes before this; and I believe the European sovereign has a right and a duty to set clear borders to the tolerance that it extends to others and that it enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

As a last remark, in Iran it is absolutely inconceivable that a women dresses in shorts and a t-shirt. In Vatican City, shorts are forbidden because they dishonor the Holy See. I don't mean to say that the European sovereign should give himself the right to install a European dresscode. But in my view, it must be possible to forbid the fact that on certain streets in Paris or London, it is only possible to speak to a piece of cloth where you try to make a conversation.

Update: An interesting round up of different voices can be found here