Young Economics.

Banning the Burqa

with 5 comments

Good or bad idea?  France thinks good (link).

The first was Mr Sarkozy’s firm line on the wearing of the burqa, the Islamic head-to-toe covering, in France. The garment, he declared, was “a sign of subjugation” and as such was “not welcome on French territory”. Underlining the French principle of laïcité, or strict separation of the state and religion, he argued that this protected religious freedom and belief.

The question of the burqa was “not a religious problem”, he said, but a question of “the dignity of women”. In 2004, France banned the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, in state schools, hospitals and administrative buildings. A cross-party group of parliamentarians will shortly begin a consultation on whether to ban the burqa, which is by definition already outlawed in public institutions, altogether.

The matter is delicate, not only because some of France’s Muslim groups consider that such a move would further stigmatise Islam. It also touches a principle that Barack Obama laid out in a recent speech in Cairo aimed at the Muslim world. America’s president said that “it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit—for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear.” Muslim women in the French government, however, back the idea of a ban on the burqa. Fadela Amara, the cities minister, has called it “a coffin that kills fundamental liberties”. With his hard line, Mr Sarkozy seems to be behind a ban, although he will now await the outcome of the parliamentary mission.


Written by jk

June 23, 2009 at 7:06 am

Posted in Just News

Tagged with , ,

5 Responses

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  1. Bad idea. Keep the government out of religion. The only possible area I could see for where a ban might be appropriate is banning the burqa at children’s schools. And even then I’m not sure. But we should allow consenting adults to dress how they like (and of course find ways to help those that aren’t consenting of their own free will).


    June 23, 2009 at 9:50 am

  2. I also think it’s a bad idea for the government to regulate religious attire, but this is only one illustration of a deep and difficult problem. How should we deal with illiberal coalitions within a liberal society? An interesting and accessible introduction to this problem is “Liberalism’s Divide, After Socialism and Before” by Jacob Levy.

    Brian is right to be particularly concerned about children. It’s easy to say that free individuals should be able to join illiberal groups if they want to, but can children make such choices freely? And to what extent can an adult be said to ‘freely’ choose membership in an illiberal coalition if he or she has been a member since birth and knows no other way?

    There is no easy way to raise such questions without sounding condescending toward the people in question (e.g. muslim women).

    Using the coercive power of the state to directly regulate people’s non-violent religious behavior raises too many problems, so I oppose banning the burqua. At the same time, in a liberal society we should try to ensure that each individual is well-equipped to make free choices. Perhaps a step in this direction would be giving all young children a robust, secular education in the history of world religions and the idea of human rights. This seems to me to be a better way for a liberal society to promote the values of liberalism among all its citizens.


    June 23, 2009 at 2:03 pm

  3. I’d love to be the devils advocate, but I’m right with you guys on this one.

    What makes me curious is why the French disposition is so different from our own? If I had to guess, I’d say the majority of Canadians would come out against banning the burqa. But perhaps I’m way off on that…?

    Alex, do you have a link for the article you mentioned? I looked around Levy’s homepage but couldn’t find it in his recent docs.


    June 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    • Here is the article by Levy:

      I am not sure where Canadian public opinion would come down on the question of the burqa. I suppose support for the idea would probably be highest among people who are particularly concerned about women’s rights, but in Canada, my intuition is that those are the same people who are also likely to be the biggest supporters of multiculturalism.

      About two years ago there was public outcry (particularly in Quebec…!) about muslim women voting in elections without revealing their faces. But that situation is a bit different from the question of banning the burqa. It would be interesting to see some polling numbers, but my brief search didn’t turn up any results.


      June 24, 2009 at 4:50 pm

  4. It should be a personal choice – not banned, nor enforced. Though I know that there are issues with personal choice because of technicality issues (see this for more details:


    June 26, 2009 at 11:54 am

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