European Muslim women in full Islamic dress (Reuters: Jean-Paul Pelissier)
With the recent approval of a draft law in Belgium to ban the Islamic facial veil, as well as continued discussion of such a law in France, this controversial issue is very much in the news at the moment.
On the one hand, such a law can obviously be seen as being discriminatory toward Muslims, which could worsen relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Even worse, it may result in Muslim men preventing their women from leaving the house, which would obviously be deeply concerning. Also, what about Muslim women’s right to dress as they please? I guess the key question here is whether they really want to wear such clothing, or are if they’re forced to. I’m sure many Muslim women think they make this choice of their own free will, but I find it difficult to believe that they really want this—social and religious conditioning can make it difficult for them to truly be objective about this issue.
On the other hand, such a law could actually enhance relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. The facial veil is a huge barrier to social interaction, and is a great source of resentment amongst non-Muslims toward Muslims. Also, it isn’t actually required by Islam anyway—in reality, it is just something that has arisen as a means for Muslim men to control their women, with only a vague and tenuous religious basis. Perhaps a ban on the facial veil could force some modernisation and greater integration of the Muslim community in western countries. It will no doubt lead to problems initially (such as what I refer to above), but perhaps in the long term, it will actually lead to greater harmony.
There are also simple practical issues to consider, such as the inability to identify people wearing a facial veil, which is obviously necessary for law enforcement and many normal, everyday activities. From an ideological perspective, this issue presents quite a challenge: freedom of religion versus the rights of women. And even that isn’t clear-cut: as I say above, it isn’t actually required by Islam anyway, but on the other hand, many Muslim women might argue that such a law would infringe on their right to dress as they please. Still, if they were truly objective, I’m sure they’d see it for what it really is: the oppression of women. So what do you think? Should the Islamic facial veil be banned?