France has officially banned the use of two specific types of Islamic head coverings; the burka and the niqab stating that the two coverings “[…]undermines the basic standards required for living in a shared society and also relegates its wearers to an inferior status incompatible with French notions of equality.“ according to The BBC coverage of the first ticket issued for wearing a veil in public.
As both a feminist and an Anarchist I am torn on the issue…somewhat. There are many arguments surrounding the debate of to veil or not to veil and for me personally it always comes down to individual choice. Although I can see and somewhat understand the argument that allowing what is often considered a misogynistic practice to occur in public as a pseudo support of the practice I always find myself asking the question “What if they willingly consent to the practice of veiling?”. Of course, in the back of my mind I argue with myself about how much of that is their choice and how much of that is patriarchal oppression forcing them to obey the laws of their religion and culture.
Why can’t we cover our faces in public? Granted, I can see the issue in certain circumstances and places – such as a bank, or even a convenience store. On the street, however? Again I am always flip-flopping back and forth on the issue. I strongly disagree with oppression of any kind and so the idea of veiling as a requirement of a society or culture is just as repulsive to me as a ban on the practice. My inner feminist says, “Abolish the burka!” The Anarchist in me says “Let them decide for themselves, and don’t intervene unless help is asked for.” In other words, judge each scenario individually based on facts, not fears.
The main question at hand though, is who draws the line with regards to forcing behaviors on people? Is forcing the freedom to show one’s face as bad as forcing them to cover it up? The issuing of financial fines is as much of a threat as damning one’s eternal soul, although not so forceful as beating or killing the person who chooses to disobey. But how far should the government go into the personal lives and choices of individuals? The Anarchist response is of course, not very far at all thank-you-very-much. However we are not dealing with Anarchists in most cases and so a popular decision should be considered with all beliefs in mind.
Religious issues aside, creating policy regarding one’s personal attire is a bit much – although it is not a foreign concept right here in the United States. Some states here have bans on saggy pants and have proposed other bans and fines for things like wayward bra straps and peeping thongs. The ban on veiling however does come with the clout of equality and freedom for oppressed women as opposed to our reasons of “indecency”.
Feminists and even some Anarchists agree that banning the burka is a good thing – a blow to patriarchal fascism. I say…what is freedom if one cannot even choose what to wear in the morning for whatever reason they deem appropriate?
My final thought on the matter is that maybe if we focused more on the misogynistic practices of some religions and cultures the veiling issue will solve itself, government need not apply.