For many years opinions on full face and body covering veils have been a hot topic of controversy. With the banning of Burqas in full force in countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands a focus of discussion in Australia has been front and centre: to ban or not to ban the Burqa? (Shorten, 2014) There is no doubt that such veils as the Burqa, which covers the full face including a mesh panel to cover the eyes, and the Niqab, which allows the eyes to be visible, can seem confronting.
Seeing somebody in the street walk to towards you covered head to toe in black cloth, unable to meet their eyes with yours, does create a feeling of unease. I myself have felt this discomfort. However, in saying this, how can I, or anybody else propose that in a country that promotes cultural diversity and acceptance stand by a ban which does exactly the opposite of promoting multiculturalism? To some people the Burqa is a symbol of the oppression of women and a statement of the domination of men.
Perfectly stated by Dr Raihan Ismail, who is a Muslim and wears the Hijab, women are only oppressed by wearing the Burqa if they are being forced to do so, which is an entirely different issue in itself. “There is a possibility that some husbands would tell their wives ‘please wear the Niqab, I don’t want any other men to see you’ which is possessive,” she said. “When it comes to that, the problem is not the Niqab, it is being married to someone who is possessive and oppressive” (Vyver, 2014).
In this circumstance, the answer is not to ban the veils in western countries but to resolve the treatment and equality of women, including freedom of dress, in all countries. If people believe that the issue with wearing full face Islamic veils is with national security, then there needs to be a worldwide law concluding that women must remove the Burqa’s and Niqab’s if asked to do so by authority figures, such as police officers, or if security is believed to be at threat.
The shadow minister for women and community services, Pru Goward, also a former federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, presented in her 2010 article, “Stand up for Australia: don’t ban the burka”, her “open face policy”. “Let’s have an open face policy in shops and at security points that applies to burkas, cloaks, bike helmets, outsized sunglasses and anything else that makes identification difficult” (Goward, 2010). This policy is one that I strongly agree with and believe to be an appropriate resolution.
It does not discriminate against the Islamic veils, but instead diminishes any questions surrounding security, in terms of any clothing that obscures and prevents identification. As stated by Jacques Myard who is a UMP Party Member in France and who was the first one to suggest and support the ban, is that “security is just one issue” (Insight, 2010). Jacques states that freedom of choice is not an acceptable means to abolish the ban, “is the individual choice enough to permit such practice? ” (Insight, 2010).
Personally, I believe that this reason alone is enough to allow women to wear Burqa’s and whatever clothing they wish, for that matter. Freedom of choice is one of the universal human rights, more specifically “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” and “to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (United Nations, 1948). These are key values that need to be respected worldwide. Banning the Burqa and Niqab completely takes away a women’s right to interpret her religion and beliefs how she desires. “Does France’s ‘Burqa ban’ protect or persecute? an interesting question posed by an article written on 30 May 2015 of the same name.
Included in this article is a statement which highlights a flaw in the public education system in France. The article suggests the idea that schools should be based solely upon academic education and that religious and cultural expression holds no place in these institutions. The French commission concluded a ban on staff or students wearing religious symbols such as Islamic veils, Jewish yarmulkes and Christian crosses. “A school is a place of study and the school must focus on what is common to students, not on their differences” (Brumley, 2015).
How is this an acceptable way to teach the world’s youth of acceptance and diversity? Teaching them that they will not be accepted if they divert from mainstream beliefs and show signs of faith. Teaching them that differences are bad, in a world full of varying cultures, ethnicities and religions. The French simply have it wrong. Burqas, yarmulkes and crosses are all signs of culture and it should be individual choice when and where people are allowed to display it. Diversity should be celebrated and embraced.
It is only with acceptance and understanding of differences through education and exposure can we truly become a harmonious society. We are all individuals and it is our differences that make us the same. Multiculturalism is what makes our great country great, and Australia’s diversity is one of our proudest aspects. With the banning of the Burqa and Niqab veils in Australia, how could we refer to this country as accepting of all cultures anymore? It just simply wouldn’t be true. Muslim women who wear the veils would be either forced to bare their faces in public or no longer go out into public.
This would further widen the gap within society and diminish any form of multiculturalism. As the cartoon (to the right) demonstrates, it can’t go both ways. We can’t accept people into our community but then refuse the way they behave, and in this instance the way some Muslim women choose to dress. Start here in Australia. Don’t ban the Burqa. Promote freedom of choice and the differences of one person from another. With this, multiculturalism and acceptance of different cultures will prosper. And maybe then veiled women will finally be seen for who they are rather than what they wear.