After a couple trial runs at city level, Belgium is about to pass a law forbidding the public display of full-head veil in public spaces, and Frogland is next in line — according to the local ruling clique.
What strikes me as fairly dumb in both cases is the pretense under which such laws are pushed through, namely under the guise of protecting women and their humane dignity from oppressive traditions, when it's plain as day the real target here is militant Islam, perceived by some in both countries as a mounting peril for the local culture, and that rubs me the wrong way, as a matter of principle.
See, I'm a sucker for consistency, in game design or in public affairs, and despite my personal understanding of religion as a mental disorder, I can live with the fact constitutionally secular countries such as France or Belgium recognize freedom of faith, and even their endorsing religions to an extent, as long as it's under a principle of equal treatment.
And that's where I see some issues with the dress code laws…
- Not all Muslim women routinely wear a face-covering veil, but almost all women who wear those (and insist on not removing it in public places) happen to be Muslim. As such, these laws effectively target and punish people on the basis of their religious affiliation, which both in Belgium and France should be impossible under their respective constitutions.
- The second argument is public safety, as in wearing a face-covering dress allows one to conceal his or her identity in public and therefore could be instrumental in the perpetration of criminal offenses, encouraged by the increased odds of getting away with it. This may have held at least shallow water, if not for the fact campaigning for those laws clearly revolved around the Muslim veil as topical item, so it's a serious case of 'too little, too late'.
- The third point, the one the French supporters of this bill plan to hammer on to get it passed into law is the preservation of 'humane dignity' on behalf of the poor, oppressed burqa-girls (although what you mostly — and seldom — see in France is simple niqāb), and this angle qualifies as Broken, For Real™. This last one warrants a bit of elaborating…
The 'humanist' argument hinges on the assumption women don't choose to wear a niqāb and are — explicitely or implicitly — coerced in doing so by mysoginistic and machist traditions imposed upon them by men in their families and communities. Furthermore, it posits forbidding the cloth will liberate these women and allow them to connect in a 'normal' way with society and with their inner feminist self, thus sapping the foothold Islamic bigots have gained in our precious secular democracies.
Right. This is going to end well, I'm sure.
- If niqāb-wearing women are indeed victimized by their community and can't stand up to the pressure they're under to dress as told, they aren't guilty of anything and shouldn't be punished for it. Good luck finding a way to establish causality and fine the husband because of the wife's dress code — although this would probably be more effective and could be good fun. Fail.
- Regardless, helpless-by-definition women (in this context) won't grow a pair because the law says so, so they'll simply stay at home or pay the fines (less likely), with a direct result of alienating them further for lack of opportunity to connect with 'normal' society (which seems to be the purported end goal here). Re-fail.
- Conversely, if they actually are making a choice in how they dress and express their religious beliefs, then they aren't victimized, and thus there's no legal basis to oppose their behavior, (insofar as it doesn't cause explicit harm to others) unless one purposefully intents on persecuting Muslims, which — as pointed earlier — should prove unconstitutional in either France or Belgium. Triple fail.
Either the 'human rights' proponents of the niqāb ban are right, and these women really are hapless victims, or they're wrong, and the burqa is a matter of personal choice and religious expression… in any case the proposed bill is a non-sequitur.
My 2 eurocents ? Handle religions for what they are: a mental condition ranging from a harmless quirk of personality to a serious psychosis, depending on the severity of the delusional state, and treat it as such.
Get the patients professional help, don't feed their neurosis by encouraging it, and when necessary, take the usual steps to protect them and society — starting with screening out overcompensating midgets lacking a super-ego *before* they get into presidential office.
For a different take, here's what the hive-mind has to say on the issue.
My euro-tip: for consistency's sake, if we must harass and fine women to protect them from humiliating themselves as a result of peer pressure, can we outlaw boob enhancements first ? At least there is evidence of bodily harm, there.