Belgium to ban burqa

A bill is making its way through the hoops in Belgium that would ban the covering of one’s face with clothing in public, effectively banning some of Islam’s most prolific tools of oppression.

The draft law would make it illegal to wear clothing that covers all or part of the face, which would also include the facial veil known as the niqab. Defying the rule could lead to nominal fines of $20 to $35 or possible imprisonment for up to seven days. Proponents say they’re targeting the burqa not because of its religious symbolism or even because it is widely seen in the West as a sign of male oppression, but rather for safety reasons: they say that people who hide their faces represent a security risk. In that light, the law also seeks to target potentially violent demonstrators who cover their faces, backers say.

I don’t believe that for a second. Everyone knows the purpose of the burqa is to oppress women – and reasonable people reject its use on that basis.

This reminds me of blue laws. In their original form, these laws are meant to enforce what the religious think people should be doing. That is, they are immoral impositions of morality. In the U.S., they are usually unconstitutional since they endorse a religion, but court rulings have tended to cite the modern secular reasons the laws are maintained. (Incidentally, the secularization of Christmas is why it legally remains a federal holiday.) Recently in Maine, there was an attempt to allow car dealerships to be open on Sundays, something they currently cannot do. There was a backlash from that industry that pointed to higher costs and effectively forced openings on Sunday due to higher competition. It’s that sort of reasoning that makes what were once blue laws into just regular, secular laws.

Belgian lawmakers are utilizing this sort of reasoning in their rationale for banning the burqa. They’re claiming security since the religious basis has less clout. The difference, however, between what happened with Maine car dealerships and what is happening in Belgium is that the dealership owners really did have secular reasoning; it wasn’t just a thinly veiled lie.

Of course, not everyone is lying.

But the bill’s chief sponsor, Daniel Bacquelaine of the liberal Reformist Movement party, admits that cultural considerations have also come into play. “In an open society, we need common values and we need equal rights and duties,” he says. Bacquelaine estimates the burqa is worn by only a few hundred of Belgium’s 630,000-strong Muslim population, but the numbers have been rising in the past decade. “It has become a political weapon,” he says. “There is nothing in Islam or the Koran about the burqa. It has become an instrument of intimidation, and is a sign of submission of women. And a civilized society cannot accept the imprisonment of women.”