Lawmakers around the world are taking up the question of what kind of religious dress, if any, should be allowed in public places. France memorably passed its controversial ban of the face-veil recently, and now we’re seeing more countries jump on the bandwagon. Here are a few of the most recent laws being passed.
A new bill in New South Wales, Australia’s largest state, demands that Muslim women who wear the niqab, or face veil while driving, remove it or be sentenced to a year in prison and fined 5,500 Australian dollars (roughly $5,800 USD). The bill, which is scheduled to be voted on by state parliament in August, has caused controversy and created misunderstandings between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations of Australia.
While supporters say that criminalizing the niqab is necessary for security and identification purposes, skeptics say the bill promotes racism and suspicion of Muslims. According to supporters of the bill, niqabi women who travel must show their faces to security personnel before boarding a plane. The women agree, but have asked that only female security be allowed to see their faces. As only about 2,000 women in Australia wear the niqab out of a population of 23 million, forcing the removal of niqabs seems to be an extreme measure.
The French government decided to ban the face veil on the grounds that no religion should “dominate” the public sphere. Despite the fact that Muslim women make up less than one percent of the French population, women who follow the Islamic dress code cannot wear the hijab in government buildings or the niqab in “public” defined as everywhere except one’s home, car, workplace or mosque. Yet Christian religious processions that require face-covering hoods are still allowed. The penalty for wearing a niqab is about $215 USD. Many women who have remained insistent upon wearing the veil have since faced blatant discrimination and even physical assault.
In Belgium the number of women who veil is even smaller: only twenty-four women in the entire country wear it, thus banning it seems like an incredibly unnecessary practice. Just as any woman has the right to wear a bikini, Muslim women should be able to wear whatever they want as well.
Even certain countries with a Muslim majority, such as Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt have tried to enforce a dress code upon Muslim women.
In 2010, the Canadian city of Quebec and the Spanish city of Barcelona banned the niqab in public buildings. Norway is currently in the process of taking similar action
But what does all of this mean?
If the point of banning the burqa/niqab is to give women the freedom to dress as they please, and if the supporters of the ban agree that most Muslim women are forced to wear the niqab and should have the freedom to take it off, why can’t the women decide what to wear for themselves?
Banning burqas/niqabs is essentially the same as forcing women to wear them in the first place. Both take away a woman’s right to choose. Instead of trying to control women’s appearances by giving them a dress code, the governments of the above-mentioned countries should prove that they are truly democratic and let women wear what they want.
If indeed, women were so terribly oppressed by the burqa/niqab wouldn’t they have been overjoyed at this proposed law? Instead there has been anger and defiant protests (by women) against these laws— and not one woman has reported to have taken off the niqab/burqa. Instead, the women are vowing to keep it on regardless of the penalties they will face.
These events are evidence that the majority of Muslim women in these areas who choose to wear the niqab do so of their own accord and are not acting on the orders of their families or other authority. Banning the niqab is not only arbitrary, it’s blatantly sexist, Islamopobic and discriminatory. It tells the Muslim community to hide their religious beliefs and practice them in silence, in the privacy of their own homes or mosques but never make them public. These governments are trying to shame Muslims into undermining their own Islamic values by attempting to make Muslims look barbaric and make themselves look civilized. The niqab/burqa ban should be overturned in Australia, as well as all of the countries who observe it, and all men and women, as free citizens of these countries should be able to wear what they want, regardless of their race, religion, or identity.