Ban the veil?

A big debate in society is creeping up and while it has been on people’s minds for almost a decade a Private Members’ Bill has brought it forward into the vortex of public debate. The bill known as the Face Coverings (Prohibition) Bill denies the right for us to wear what we wish in a public place and attempts to control what we can and cannot wear. This bill of course addresses all dress but many people have picked up on the implications for religious dress such as the niqab and burqa which are particularly controversial forms of dress, which for many are symbols of oppression and for others are a clear sign of cultural erosion in Britain today. This country is often said to be a bastion of tolerance. However how can this be when so many are in favour of banning someone’s clothing? Indeed just in 2011 66% of people wanted to ban the burqa, and 48% felt strongly about banning a piece of clothing which causes no harm to anyone else.

The case for banning either items of clothing fails to stack up in any sense philosophically. How would we police it? One of the most pseudo-convincing arguments for banning the clothing is that it helps to stop patriarchy and the oppression of women in Islamic households which enforce veil usage. Firstly, telling people what to wear is taking a dangerous step of implementing a cultural norm into law. This would mean that various other cultural norms could be introduced into legislation. This has clear dangerous implications in which illiberal laws could be enacted to preserve our cultural norms. One example could be the banning of Islam itself. After all many of the values Islam seems to encompass are not necessarily in keeping with our own in modern British society. Children can be forced to go and worship just like in every other religion in existence as well and some sections of Islam can implement patriarchal attitudes just look at Saudi Arabia. These are precisely the three reasons many give for banning the niqab and burka yet no one would dare to suggest to ban Islam because it would be dangerously oppressive.

Implementing such a ban could be rather difficult. Every time someone goes out of their house with a niqab and burka on would we honestly be happy with our police forces taking the woman/girl to one side and demanding that they remove it? What happens if they refuse? Would the police forcibly remove it? Or would the police simply write a ticket for people wearing a type of clothing and if that was the case how would it be possible to enforce the fine? Once again the simple idea of banning clothing is clearly silly as enforcing such a ban would be really very difficult or even impossible to implement.

Philosophically it makes no sense to ban these items of clothing in all public places either. One should think of an idea created by John Rawls. This idea was called the ‘veil of ignorance’ and it is a rather simple but brilliant idea. Rawls argued to look through a veil of ignorance, imagine you know nothing of the world and then consider what would be best. If you imagine you knew nothing of the world and someone told you that regulating clothing is a good idea, it sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Also asking for this clothing to be removed during airport check-ins to make sure you are who you say you are makes sense. As it does for removing it in schools when children benefit greatly from having face to face contact. A liberal concept of society gives people rights and personal freedoms in making decisions for themselves which affect no one else. This ranges from consenting love to where we go on holiday to. This also includes the freedom to wear what we wish, making a personal decision on how to dress ourselves is part of an expression of who we are.

Some women are forced to wear these pieces of clothing in oppressive households in this country and across the world. However even if you enforced a ban would it help these women are would it trap them in their oppressive homes unable to go outside? Many women find these pieces of clothing liberating. That it releases them from being glared upon by people who otherwise may find them attractive in part because of what they wear. Why should we in this time of growing feminism stop females feeling liberated by certain clothing which they choose to wear? Children may be forced to wear it, however banning it isn’t the answer it would simply make the matter worse. There is no sensible reason to ban the burka and niqab in the public square and no amount of scare mongering will convince me or millions of others who feel the same way.

If you feel there is a sensible reason to legislate on what people wear please tweet me @thoughtgenerate.