Yes, That’s Me in the Burqa

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

I am an incipient First Amendment lawyer and a staunch church-state separatist. I surpass even my most progressive friends and colleagues in my unflinching and unwavering support of the freedom of speech and expression, including religious expression. I am pretty much the only person I know who hates hate crime legislation as little more than bald-faced thought crime legislation. I am not infrequently verbally vilified for asserting the claim that morality has no place in the law.

And, I support the anticipated public burqa ban in France. And, I would support a public burqa ban in the United States. In fact, I would support a global public burqa ban.

(I will pause briefly for what I am sure are the many gasps of incredulity.)

I am working in Paris, France for a year as an international human rights fellow at Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS). Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Submissives) is a well-known international human rights organization, which advocates unequivocally for women’s rights as universal human rights without compromise. They condemn both cultural relativism and obscurantism. They wholeheartedly support the anticipated public burqa ban in France. One of the reasons why I wished to work there is because I wanted to support this effort.

We have been marching and rallying and demonstrating and speaking and speechifying and writing and posting and blogging and publishing up a storm. We marched in front of the National Assembly (their lower house of Parliament) in burqas. We marched in front of the Socialist Party headquarters in burqas. We marched in front of the UMP Party headquarters in burqas. Lubna Al Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who was threatened with 40 lashes of the whip for wearing pants in Khartoum, has embraced the effort while she is visiting France as the guest of NPNS. I have been doing my utmost to spread the word throughout the English-speaking world and especially within the US. Unfortunately, the greater part of the US, including Obama, is woefully misguided on this issue. The US should pay greater attention to the European debate on this subject, instead of dismissing it offhand.

The US needs to hear the message of Ni Putes Ni Soumises. NPNS rose up out of a ferocious grassroots response to the unfathomable violence being perpetrated against the women and girls of the quartiers and cités in the banlieues (the ghettoized suburban housing projects surrounding France’s major cities, which are comprised predominantly of marginalized Muslim immigrant communities). Ni Putes Ni Soumises continues to be led by the women of the quartiers from sub-Saharan and North African Muslim immigrant backgrounds. They are not anti-Islam. They claim their religion, and they claim the right to interpret their religion for themselves. They wholly reject the burqa as a barbaric patriarchal cultural tradition that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.

To me, the issue of whether or not the burqa/niqab is mandated by Islam is irrelevant. In fact, in this instance, as far as I am concerned, Islam is irrelevant. We don’t make laws based upon whether or not they coincide with Islamic doctrine or scripture or apocrypha or tradition or custom or what have you. We make laws based upon secular principles and concerns and objectives. Likewise, Ni Putes Ni Soumises fights on behalf of secularism, gender equality and gender desegregation as the foundational elements of a truly egalitarian public space, in which all citizens may participate as equals.

The burqa ban should be a non-issue. To me, it’s such a simple issue that it’s stupid simple. It’s ridiculously simple. Of course there should be a ban on identity obscuring face coverings in public. Of course. I don’t even think of it as a ban. It’s a requirement to reveal one’s identity in the public space.

But, before I get ahead of myself, I’m setting some ground rules. I am speaking of the burqa/niqab ban. I am not addressing the hijab or the chador (which do not hide the face). I am not addressing issues of national identity or immigration. I have entirely different takes on those very important issues, but I am not addressing those issues here. I am addressing simply a proposed ban on identity obscuring face coverings in public. I am addressing a proposed ban on public self-effacement, a requirement to reveal one’s identity in the public space.

The argument against the burqa ban always takes a very decided path, which I will follow quite plainly here, addressing each concern as I go.

1. A lot of people will be exempt from the ban, so why not Muslim women?

The argument that the person drilling into the sidewalk is wearing a mask, and has been exempted from the ban on face coverings, so everyone else should also be able to walk around in public with identity obscuring face coverings is asinine.

The person in a bright orange vest surrounded by orange traffic cones and yellow caution tape standing next to a dump truck emblazoned with the local municipality’s name and operating heavy machinery in the midst of his or her similarly attired co-workers, one of whom is the foreperson who is ready to present his or her official documents of authority for engaging in such activity – an activity that had been publicized in advance in the local press, no doubt, is NOT obscuring his or her identity.

Can we move beyond this point already?

A doctor wearing a mask while performing surgery (or a masked EMT/paramedic or some other similarly masked medical professional) is NOT obscuring his or her identity.

Are you with me yet?

A skier fully decked out in skiing regalia and flying past you on the slopes at a ski resort while wearing a face mask as protection against the biting wind is NOT obscuring his or her identity.

Is this clear already? And, by the way, I grew up in Minnesota, so I understand this point well. The cold winters. Not the skiing.

What’s next? Oh, yeah.

2. You just have a problem with banning things.

I’m not sure which nation you happen to reside in or which planet you happen to reside on, but if this is a serious issue for you – “the banning of things” – then you have bigger fish to fry than the burqa. Additionally, I see the burqa ban not so much as a ban, but as a requirement to reveal one’s identity in the public space.

3. You see the burqa ban as a limitation on the free exercise of religious faith.

A legitimate government CAN and MAY and MUST be able to tell its citizens what is and is not permissible behavior in public, EVEN IF these laws incidentally encroach upon expressions of religious faith.

The freedom of religious expression is not unlimited. This would result in anarchy. Each and every single law in existence encroaches upon someone’s ability to express his or her religious faith. Snake handling? Girl child marriages? Hunting bald eagles? Female genital mutilation? Smoking peyote? Polygamy? Public nudity? Compulsory childhood education? Military draft? Vaccinations? Photo ID’s? Taxes? I could go on ad nauseum.

Nowadays, religion is just as likely as not to be defined as an all-encompassing tautology of spiritual mysticism. Whatever that means. It’s hard for legislators to come up with laws that don’t violate someone’s expression of their all-encompassing tautology of spiritual mysticism.

If a law is being enacted for a wholly secular purpose, and it happens to impinge upon someone’s religious expression – too bad, so sad. We don’t live in a theocracy. We don’t make laws, which pay any heed whatsoever to religious doctrine. Thank gods.

The burqa ban is analogous to drivers’ licenses and childhood vaccinations. If you don’t want to follow the rules, fine, but then you don’t get to play. No one is forcing you to play. But, if you want to play the game (i.e. participate in society), you have to follow the rules.

A ban on identity obscuring face coverings in public is not a violation of the Free Exercise Clause. The government turning a knowing blind eye away from egregious human and civil rights violations being perpetrated under cover of religious liberty is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Batter up.

4. You don’t see the issue of the rapidly increasing use of identity obscuring face

coverings in the public space as an issue of public welfare or safety or security or protecting our democracy.

First of all, you’re wrong. If I had to write down a recipe for lawlessness, I think I would start by having everyone walk around with black tarps over their heads. There’s a reason why burglars and bank robbers and suicide bombers wear masks. If you still fail to grasp this point, I suggest you try an experiment. Try walking into any federal building with a sheet over your head and let me know how that works out for you.

I have a right to know with whom I am interacting in the public space. The public space does not only belong to those citizens who wish to wear the burqa or niqab. The public space belongs to all citizens. It belongs to all persons. Revelation of one’s identity is pretty much the most rudimentary step towards participation in society.

A high level of trust is one of the defining attributes of a highly functioning, socially cohesive society. How much trust do you think is engendered by the citizenry walking around with black tarps over their heads?

If you remain unconvinced on the point about security, how about as an issue of protecting our democracy?

It is beyond ludicrous to think that any society can maintain a liberal constitutional democracy with its electorate walking around in public with their identities wholly obscured. You first have to claim your humanity before you can claim your human rights. You first have to claim your citizenship before you can claim your civil rights. This is not possible without claiming one’s identity. Identity is power. Why do you think misogynists impose the burqa upon women? To render them powerless.

5. But, it’s just a handful of women, you say.

So, doesn’t that seem like a good time to nip the problem in the bud? Before it becomes an even more serious issue? And, when has it ever been ok to violate the human rights of just a few persons?

6. But, these women will be sequestered in their homes, because their

husbands and families will not allow them to venture outside without burqas, thereby rendering these women prisoners without contact with the wider society, nor access to public services.

I find this particular argument to be something of a thinly veiled threat. It reeks of the same sort of fear mongering and paternalism that takes place every time women’s rights take a step forward. Men will force women to take the pill. Men will treat women like dirty whores, if they can’t get them pregnant. Men will force women to have abortions. And, now, when I speak of our need in the US for over the counter abortifacients, I hear the same horror stories: men will force women to take them. Truth be told, in France, when the law against ostentatious religious symbols in public schools was enacted, the same horror stories were recited: the families that demand that their daughters wear hijab will simply pull them out of school. By and large – never happened. But, the French legislators are proposing a burqa ban, which meets the needs of the fear mongering paternalists: the second portion of the French bill includes a severe penalty for forcing a woman to wear a burqa or any garment whatsoever by reason of her gender.

7. But, you’re still just incensed, absolutely incensed, about the ostensibly (to you)

unnecessary limitations on the freedom of expression and religion of Muslim women.

Where were you when the massive waves of protests were overwhelming our major cities to protect the right of Native Americans to hunt bald eagles? Where were you when the write in campaigns were flooding the offices of our legislators in Congress to protect the right of Native Americans to smoke peyote?

Oh, that’s right. You weren’t there. Because that never happened. Because no one cared.

Oh, and as a side note, it seems pretty obvious to me that a handful of Native Americans smoking peyote or handling (not hunting) bald eagle feathers is far less of a public safety issue than identity obscuring face coverings.

But, for some reason, you’ve decided that you need to take up the cause of the Muslim women who wear the burqa or niqab in Western nations. You are tremendously invested in their ability to express their religious faith, even though you understand that, for the vast majority of Muslim women, the “choice” to don the burqa or no is anything but free.

I would strongly encourage you to search deep within your freedom loving soul to examine the true nature of this stance.

I just find it interesting that no one has any issue with the whole litany of laws, be they federal, state or local, that encroach upon religious expression, but everyone has an ardent opinion on a simple public ban of identity obscuring face coverings, a ban which should be a non-issue.

Why is that?

Could it be because it violates our deeply rooted notions of women as the sexual and reproductive chattel of their families and communities?

I’m just asking.

Or, maybe you’re afraid of Muslims.

That’s Islamophobia — treating Muslims as if their hypersensitive feelings have to be endlessly coddled lest they blow something up.

Why don’t we treat the Muslim community like intelligent, sophisticated adults who can appreciate the merits of living in a liberal constitutional democracy?

And, just for the record, I’m tired of the suggestions that I’m being played for a fool by the fascist, anti-immigrant Religious Right, as if their tantrums were a good reason to abandon women to misogyny and sex slavery.

Since I’m encouraging soul searching, I want to assure you, dear reader, that I, too, have engaged in some soul searching of my own. I have scoured and examined my motives. I have interrogated my super-ego, my id and my inner child.

I’ll admit it: I hate the burqa and the niqab. I hate everything it represents. The oppression of women. The demonization of female sexuality.

But, this, in and of itself, would not be reason enough to restrict a woman’s choice to wear it as an expression of her religious faith. And, I do understand that issues of coercion and consent are muddy waters indeed. (I’ll save my argument that the liberation of women is a compelling government interest in and of itself for another day.)

But, having turned my (nonexistent) soul inside out, looking for ulterior motives, I am comfortable with my stance on the burqa/niqab ban. The burqa ban is a straightforward issue of public safety and security coupled with democratic representation. The fact that this seemingly benign issue gets so much media and political play is a direct result of our continued and ugly perception of women’s bodies as communal property.

And, I mean, think about it for more than one second. Move past the knee jerk reaction.

All of the same arguments could be made both for and against regulations requiring parents to vaccinate their children before enrolling them in public schools. If it is against your religious beliefs to vaccinate your children, fine. Don’t vaccinate your kids. No one is forcing you to vaccinate your children. But, then, congratulations! You just won the grand prize of being able to home school your kids, because you don’t get to send your unvaccinated kids to public schools. If you don’t want to follow the rules, no problem, no one is forcing you to play. Someone could argue that this is an undue burden upon the parents that will disproportionately fall upon the mothers, confining the women to roles as housewives. Someone could argue that this is an unfair constraint upon the children, punishing the kids for their parents’ ignorance, further isolating them from the wider society. It is unfortunate, that is true, but these women and these kids are not the only parts of the equation. The other kids, the vaccinated kids, or kids who simply cannot be vaccinated (for health reasons, etc.), should not have to suffer for the sake of someone else’s religious beliefs. The argument that some kids cannot be vaccinated for health reasons, so those whose parents harbor religious concerns about vaccination should be exempted as well, is plainly stupid. The goal is to minimize the number of unvaccinated children in the community, so as to increase the potency of the community’s herd immunity.

Same scenario removed from the context of women’s bodies and female sexuality. Are you shocked by how differently you feel about the subject? You should be.

I support the anticipated public burqa ban in France.

I am reclaiming this discourse, which has been hijacked by the cultural relativists and the obscurantists. I will not be booed out of the theater. I will be heard. Let the name-calling commence.

I am not afraid of you.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Polly

    By all means, ban the burqa…in France and all the “West” too. It doesn’t belong here.

    If or when the people living within the so-called Islamic world decide that democracy, equality of the sexes, and individual choice are worthwhile concepts they can do the same.

    I am pretty much the only person I know who hates hate crime legislation as little more than bald-faced thought crime legislation. I am not infrequently verbally vilified for asserting the claim that morality has no place in the law.

    Neither of those sentiments are the least bit controversial for me.

  • http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com NFQ

    I think you’re strawmanning the point about other face coverings quite a bit. I am allowed to sit on a park bench with a big floppy hat or sunglasses on. I am allowed to sit on a park bench with a surgical mask on — in fact, I see a strangely significant number of people wearing masks while walking around in cities during (insert animal)-flu epidemics and just regular flu season. I am allowed to sit on a park bench wearing a ski mask or a hockey mask, even though people might find me a little scary. It’s not grounds for an arrest.

    If Belgium and France and wherever else really want to arrest people for wearing sunglasses, then fine, I can get behind this ban. I suspect that is not how this will go.

    I would also point out that, if you wanted to enter a federal office building, the kind where you had to go through metal detectors, you’d probably be asked to remove your ski mask or your big floppy hat as you walk through security. That’s different from just walking down the street in your neighborhood.

  • http://www.commonsensethoughtcontrol.com Tim

    Why should a person be unable to hide their face in public? When speaking against repressive government, demonstrating against an unjust social or religious status quo, or otherwise acting in a manner where your identity could serve as a means for retaliation, should not the right to anonymity be present? It concerns me, not that you acknowledge the oppression of the burqa, but that you would choose to oppress another’s ability to freely express themselves. Fight as you desire against the burqa, but don’t do so in a manner that threatens anonymous free speech.

  • jemand

    I was under the impression that it *was* legal to get a waiver to attend public school sans vaccinations if you had a religious objection.

    That said, this article was very convincing, and managed to almost completely change my stance on the topic. I do think though that anonymity isn’t as bad as you are making it out to be, people and conversations online are commonly very anonymous and I sometimes think it enhances freer interaction. But while public anonymity intrigues me, I’ll grant that maybe it’s in the category of say, public sex, and people just really don’t want to allow it.

    As for hate crime legislation, do you oppose the distinction between manslaughter and murder? How is that not a “thought crime” issue while hate crimes are? The point is murder is premeditated, while manslaughter is an accident, and this affects culpability in that a person who purposely kills is more dangerous to society than one who accidentally does. Similarly, a person who kills for the purposes of terrorizing and controlling an entire group of people is more dangerous to society than a person who kills an individual person for an individual reason. I’m curious what you think to this point?

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/U612575 Timothy (TRiG)

    Hate crime = Terrorism lite

    There’s a reason for hate crimes legislation.

    I’ll have to think about this burqa ban some more. I’m not sure what my opinion is right now.

    TRiG.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Hi, Sarah! I love this piece.

    I’ve always been a little in the middle of the issue, not being sure whether or not I support it. Being an atheist from a Muslim family, I know how much I opposed wearing a hijab. (My family’s kind of moderate, so they never forced me to, for which I am very grateful. The burqa wasn’t ever even mentioned for us.)

    At the same time, I would hear women who say that they were wearing it because they wanted to, as an expression of their faith, and I am concerned about people being able to practice their faith. I always suspected that they were doing this just because they had been taught to or because they were forced to, especially since there is violence against women who don’t wear it in certain countries.

    I was especially concerned about what you listed as #6, that women may feel they have to stay at home. (For example, I’ve seen a woman in burqa at the library, and I’d much rather she feel free to go the library while wearing it than feeling that she has to stay at home or being forced to stay at home.) This really does concern me. However, you made a good case.

    I cannot deny that wearing the burqa is prepetuated by the horrible belief that women are inferior and need to be controlled. That’s something I’ve always believed, from when I was young and saw that so many of the rules were meant to take away the rights of people, especially women, to make decisions on their own. It’s why I left Islam, and later, religion altogether.

    I was in the middle on this issue, and uncertain about it. I think you might have convinced me.

    Also, if anyone’s interested, Hitchens recently wrote about this, too.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2253493/

    -Sharmin

  • penn

    I’m with Timothy on the hate crime legislation. The knee jerk reaction is the worn out thought-crime line which is just asinine. We consider the intent of criminals all the time. Accidentally hitting you with my car is different than purposefully running you down with my car. The actions are the same. The result is the same. The only difference is what I was thinking, and I don’t know of anyone who argues that both of these incidents should be punished equally. You can quickly come with dozens of similar examples where it’s obvious that a person’s intent should dictate the severity of the penalty.

    The same is true for hate crimes. Killing someone because they are a member of a protected group serves to terrorize other members of that group. The intent of the perpetrator is not just to take a life or assault someone, but to rob an entire group of their freedoms by scaring them into submission.

    Admittedly, I haven’t thought much about the burqa ban issue and I definitely haven’t thought about it as a public safety measure.

  • jemand

    @penn, I would have to disagree that “the actions are the same” completely, otherwise it *would* be thought crime, and at that, with no evidence either. You can’t baldly assert someone purposefully ran the victim over in convicting them, you have to present evidence, threatening letters, threatening phone calls, telling others the plan, etc. Similarly, hate crime convictions include additional actions which do contextually threaten and terrorize others than the immediate victims. It’s not a hate crime to individually attack a member of a protected group, but it is if you do so while using group targeted slurs and symbols or clearly document your intent to attack any random member of the group to keep them all in their place, then it is a hate crime.

    I’m sorry Sarah for hijacking this thread from talking about the Burqa… I think you made your case so well I’m still mulling it over. Very convincing. However, the US does not require one to identify one’s self just on the street, no national ID card is necessary. Other countries seem to think this is necessary. Perhaps our belief that faces *have* to be shown is similar to the belief that it’s necessary to require papers and identification cards to be carried at all times? Do we have any evidence that highly anonymous societies actually are bastions of lawlessness other than the fact that bank robbers don’t carry ID and cover their faces?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    I just wanted to add that I disagree with you on the topic of hate crimes. I understand and agree with the idea that we should punish the action and not the thought a person has. I don’t think a person should be punished for having or expressing an opinion if they aren’t hurting anyone (with violence, etc.).

    However, as penn mentioned, we do take people’s intent into consideration if they do commit a crime. Also, as jemand mentioned, there has to be evidence of threats, etc.
    -Sharmin

  • Ben

    I ‘mostly’ agree with the hate crime law tangent, and mostly as it relates to things like manslaughter vs murder. If someone is dragged behind a truck by their legs because they’re Hispanic or because he looked at the criminal wrongly, should be the same punishment: severe.

    I don’t buy the argument that it’s a requirement to reveal one’s identity in public, with the likely exception of to law enforcement. I’m from Minnesota too, and I am not suddenly filled with apprehension and terror in January when plenty of people are walking through downtown Minneapolis or St Paul wearing ski masks. I can’t see who they are, but so what? Does that mean they’re going to murder me? Or maybe just keep walking? If they take off their masks, I still don’t know who they are. They might still jump me for the $3 in my wallet, in January or July. What does wearing a mask have to do with it?

    You make the comparison to childhood vaccines: if you want to play the game, you have to follow the rules. If you think that having to reveal one’s identity in public is a rule of playing the societal game in this country, then maybe we should have to have Federal ID cards on hand, complete with criminal record and immigration status. Anyone can ask at any time to see anyone’s card. Want to play the game? Then everyone gets to know who you are at all times.

  • DSimon

    A skier fully decked out in skiing regalia and flying past you on the slopes at a ski resort while wearing a face mask as protection against the biting wind is NOT obscuring his or her identity.

    They’re obscuring their face, and (unlike the construction worker and doctor scenarios) the activity that necessitates face-covering isn’t one that implies the existence of readily producible situation-specific ID.

    I don’t see how a skier wearing a full-face ski mask is obscuring their identity any less than a Muslim woman wearing a face-covering burqa.

  • SteveC

    Halloween costumes?

  • jemand

    @DSimon, I think the argument would be that ski slopes aren’t in the middle of a city with banks and such. And skiers remove their face coverings in buildings on the ski range and such. So it’s only used when conditions require it, rather than being generally in any public location with ski masks.

  • Lynet

    The idea that people should have to show their faces if they want to go out in public is completely wrong. If people want to wear Zentai all the time then there is no reason, in a free society, why they should be prohibited from doing so — least of all the idea that it might make a few people “uncomfortable”. So that aspect of your argument just doesn’t stand, Sarah.

    The only reason I can see for banning the burqa is to prevent people from being forced to wear the burqa. I agree that forcing women to wear the burqa is a terrible thing that we should work to stop. Disallowing anyone from wearing clothes that obscure the face, however, seems a remarkably blunt instrument in that regard. I’m not convinced that we can legislate freedom by banning everyone from doing something that some people are forced to do.

  • paradoctor

    I agree that the burqa is creepy, and that people should show their face in public, but writing a mask ban law correctly would be nontrivially difficult. What exceptions to make? Construction workers, doctors; who else? What about motorcycle helmets? If someone’s wearing a ski mask, is it to foil detection or to hold off midwinter chill? Who determines which it is and how? And what about mimes? Mascots? Halloween, Mardi Gras? It’s a can of worms.

  • paradoctor

    Certainly no burqa for the driver’s licence, and no driving with that thing on, and if the clerk cards you, then lift that veil or no sale. But these are probably already covered under current law.

  • DSimon

    Jemand, how about wearing a ski mask on the street during a particularly cold day in Colorado?

    Aside from the personal liberties issue, this idea that one’s identity must ALWAYS be visible isn’t borne out by everyday security implementations. Secure buildings already have signs and guards requiring you to take off hats and sunglasses when you enter the building; there’s no good reason for anyone to have to do so just because they happen to be on the same street as a secure building.

  • jemand

    @DSimon I see your point, and yet there does seem to be a qualitative difference between things like motorcycle helmets on a motorcycle or ski masks on a frigid winter’s day, and things like Zentai (thanks Lynet, I’d never heard of that!) and Burqas which obscure identity for the point of covering the face and entire body, rather than protection in temporary adverse conditions.

    I’m not convinced that difference is enough to support legislative bans, just that there does seem to be a difference.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @paradoctor: I think you make a good point about how the details could be confusing. What if the Muslims wearing the burqa just decide to use some other type of face covering instead?

    This piece did a lot towards moving me in the direction of being for the ban, but I’m not quite there yet.

    -Sharmin

  • DSimon

    Jemand, there is a difference, in that ski masks and motorcycle helmets are (primarily) used for practical purposes, while Burqas and Zentai are (primarily) used for expressive purposes.

    However (and this is mostly addressed at Sarah), I don’t see how that distinction justifies any proposed legal ban against (seemingly) “identity-obscuring clothing that doesn’t serve any obvious practical purpose”, which would have to either:

    (a) Also ban many totally innocuous forms of self-expression, like the Zentai, or
    (b) Be narrowed down to ban the burqa specifically. This puts the government in the awkward, untenable, and (in the US) unconstitutional position of having to directly act against one specific religious practice, rather than against a more general class of harmful actions. Plus, it also smacks down (the probably relatively small group of) women who want to wear a burqa and are not being forced by anyone to do so.

    The problem is not burqas, but women being forced to wear burqas. That latter situation ought to be already covered under existing anti-abuse laws.

    The important (and far from easy…) step to take now is to help women being forced to wear burqas to understand that they have the right to refuse, and help them to seek protection from the law when they do so. Furthermore, we also need to make sure that law enforcement will treat women seeking assistance with the seriousness and respect they deserve.

    We can help women being forced to wear burqas more effectively by doing so without violating anyone’s civil liberties.

  • Siamang

    So…. you wore a burka to make a point… a point that people after you would not be allowed to make in the same way?

    Sorry, but you showed in your photographs that wearing the Burka can be used to make a political point. Making it speech.

    And you want to ban that speech?

    I cannot follow that line of reasoning. How is this any different from banning flag-burning WRT free speech?

    I’m sorry, I just can’t grasp how I’m supposed to support this. Would it be illegal to wear a burka at a protest? What about wearing a hood and symbolizing the treatment of prisoners in abu Ghraib?

    And as someone above said… Halloween?

    What about the folks dressed as Darth Vader and Spider-man who pose for pictures with tourists on Hollywood Blvd?

    What about the guy on the streetcorner dressed as the Little Caesar’s pizza guy? What about the dancing Subway Sandwich?

    You’ve made a lot of points in support of women’s rights. But I don’t think you’ve supported your legal case that nobody has a right to public anonymity.

  • Zietlos

    I was in the marches wearing Guy Fawkes masks to protest scientology. The masks were worn because it is known that said group regularly attacks (physically and financially) anyone who criticizes them, and though I support that cause, I’d prefer not to die for it. I will on occasion wear a ninja costume if I’m going to an anime convention or on hallowe’en. I also wear a ski mask on cold Canadian winter nights. If the ski mask becomes some cultic symbol, should it be banned? Why shouldn’t it right now? Situationally, should the Burqa be allowed on particularly cold or windy days as well? It does, I imagine, block the wind well, and all related protesters complain of how it holds in heat, after all. A summer ban on Burqas, then?

    I’m in agreement with DSimon on this matter, down to the core of it. The importance of anonymity in the face of unjust repercussion is vital to society. The key is not banning anonymous congregation of peoples within public property, but rather to get those who are abused to find help.

  • AnonaMiss

    What about last summer’s Anonymous protests of Scientology, where most protesters wore Guy Fawkes or other masks? This is covering the face in the name of self-expression, to drive home the point that none of them trusted the “church” with their identities.

    What about Halloween? The Day of the Dead? Fursuiters?

  • Archimedez

    Sarah,

    I agree with you on the ban of the niqab and burka in public places and while driving etc. Perhaps what needs to be spelled out in more detail here is exactly in what contexts in France the burqa and niqab will be banned and where not banned.

    Re objection # 6. “But, these women will be sequestered in their homes…”:

    There is already at least one reported case of this where the husband claimed that if his wife did not wear the covering in public, he’d confine her to the house (I can’t recall if it was in Italy or France, but it was reported in the past few weeks). You note further in response to objection 6 that “…the second portion of the French bill includes a severe penalty for forcing a woman to wear a burqa or any garment whatsoever by reason of her gender.” I wonder if this is broad enough? Perhaps that confinement would be prohibited by law already, but these cases would be complicated if or when the husband and wife (or wives) claim they are consenting to something in their own home (not in public) in accordance with their religious beliefs.

    You write:
    “To me, the issue of whether or not the burqa/niqab is mandated by Islam is irrelevant. In fact, in this instance, as far as I am concerned, Islam is irrelevant. We don’t make laws based upon whether or not they coincide with Islamic doctrine or scripture or apocrypha or tradition or custom or what have you.

    I agree. This issue tends to be raised by moderate Islamic apologists who want to distance the practice from Islam per se (chiefly, Quran and Sunnah), but it is besides the point in this context (strongly secularist France). In other countries, though, the issue is also raised because there are provisions within some constitutions and/or charters (e.g., in Canada, outside of Quebec) allowing special protections and exemptions for various religious and cultural practices and expressions. In these latter contexts, the arguments about whether the practice does or does not reflect true Islam are deemed relevant to the question of whether this practice is a recognized and accepted religious expression among its community and therefore could be argued as being protected as such. (I think even some jurisdictions in the U.S. would allow for such exceptions; there are women in the U.S. who wear the burqa or niqab in public, and I don’t think any of them have been fined or legally punished for it).

    There are numerous health and safety problems for people who wear the burqa and niqab (with accompanying garb), but I won’t get into all of that.

  • Archimedez

    Siamang,

    In France, such religious symbols as the burqa, niqab, ostentatious crucifixes, etc., are banned in at least some public places. Perhaps Sarah could provide more information about the extent of this. I would speculate that it is possible that in light of France’s strong tradition of secularism, laïcité, and ban on religious symbols in public, you literally do have a case where wearing a burqa in public as a political expression during a protest would be protected expression, while wearing exactly the same burqa for religious reasons would not be protected.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    I’m very torn about this. While I despise the burqa and the niqab too, when you boil this down to its most basic essence, our desire to ban these forms of attire is simply because we do not like them because of what they represent to us.

    Let’s be honest. We’re not talking a security issue here. To my knowledge, there aren’t bands of burqa clad women robbing banks or grocery stores in France. They’re not getting into traffic accidents out of proportion to their numbers because of reduced peripheral vision.

    It’s common sense of course that they not be veiled when posing for identification photos, and they should be expected to at least temporarily show their faces to verify their identity in situations where it is required. But if a women wants to wear a burqa or a niqab when walking to the halal butcher down the block from her apartment, I don’t see why that should be a public offense.

    I tend to lean toward the libertarian stance on this issue. No one should be forced to wear one and no one should be forced not to wear one.

  • Leum

    While I found most of Sarah’s post quite convincing (though, like many other commenters, I disagreed with her on hate crimes*), I’m inclined to be suspicious of burqa bans. The reason? Based on much of the rhetoric I hear, I think the motive for the bans is not public safety or protection of women, but hatred of Islam and foreigners. Of course, poor motives are no reason to oppose a good law, so I would tentatively support a ban, I think.

    *Possibly DA** could have a post or series of posts on that issue later. It deserves discussion.

    **Oh my. We’re secretly Dumbledore’s Army. Who’d'a thunk it?

  • silentsanta

    I always enjoy your posts, Sarah, but I have to disagree with you on this one. I think the burden is on you to provide compelling reasons for this ban, rather than on the naysayers to provide compelling reasons to reject it.

    So did you make a compelling case? I don’t believe so.
    First off, you structured your argument around refuting common criticisms of the ban, which is an important thing to do but it doesn’t relieve you of the burden of making of your own case for the ban.

    When it comes to actual postive reasons to ban the Burqa, you’ve provided (paraphrasing)
    1. it’s self-evident.
    2. people ban stuff all the time.
    3.”If a law is being enacted for a wholly secular purpose”; which it demonstrably isn’t. Surely you can concede that the majority of the people in support of this ban do not have views anywhere near as nuanced as yours; instead they clearly wish to discourage fundamentalist muslim immigration. Which is a goal I support, I just think the government should ‘man up’ (if I were to employ a sexist term) and say so outright.
    4. Here is where you provide most of your positive reasons for the ban.

    I have a right to know with whom I am interacting in the public space.

    Do you? I would like to have been part of the anonymous scientology protests that occurred over the last few years. By your measure, I have no right to don an “V for Vendetta” mask and make a public protest against an insidious, brutal, controlling and evil organization unless I expose my identity for all to see.
    Do you recall the Iranian police looking at photographs of protesters after the elections? WIth your demands for public identifiability, you are demanding that people expose themselves to corrupt police and all of the harassment that entails.

    I remain utterly unconvinced on the point about security. If, for example, I wanted to blow myself up along with a bus full of school children, how is a ban on burqas going to stop me? I’m not going to have an identity left to obscure, I’m going to be dead. This is no disincentive, and it makes all of us less safe because it erodes the rights of the individual, the respect for which is the only reason I can honestly believe my western society is more ethically justifiable than the alternatives. Assenting to this cruel and capricious legislation brings western societies down to the same level as the cultures we are criticizing in the first place.

    If you remain unconvinced on the point about security, how about as an issue of protecting our democracy?
    It is beyond ludicrous to think that any society can maintain a liberal constitutional democracy with its electorate walking around in public with their identities wholly obscured. You first have to claim your humanity before you can claim your human rights. You first have to claim your citizenship before you can claim your civil rights. This is not possible without claiming one’s identity. Identity is power. Why do you think misogynists impose the burqa upon women? To render them powerless.

    Except that you haven’t provided a single example of how ‘protecting our democracy’ is threatened by allowing public anonymity. Forgive me for saying so, but it echos the ‘won’t somebody think of the children’ style of thinking that my mother uses whenever she has decided on her position and is unwilling to scrutinize it. If you really think democracy is threatened by the fact that people can hide their faces, you need to do a better job of explaining how. And you’ll have to object to the hoodies/sunglasses/baseball cap combination as well; which happens to be what quite a number of public figures use when they want some simple privacy.

    I did like your point #6, and I’m glad to see someone with more hands-on experience in this field show that this objection is not as simple as it is often characterized.

  • Broggly

    I have to agree with the people saying that people have a right to hide their identity in public places where there is no special security issue at stake. It’s an important right for political protesters, from Korean sex workers protesting for decriminalisation worried about prosecution, to Chanology protestors with some concern about the “Fair Game” doctrine, to a man I saw at a protest against our state Attorney General covering his face to symbolise his concerns about his illiberal policies (mostly the use of secret evidence in court). By the way, that same Attorney General wanted to require all political speech on the Internet to include the author’s name and address. Of couse there are lots of examples of the right to anonymity being abused, such as the KKK and Black Blocs (or police Agents Provocatuer impersonating them), but I take the opposite stance to you and say that if we do need to criminalise certain forms of anonymity, we should ban items associated with actual criminal activities such as the Klan hood. Women in the Burqa have not been going around in huge gangs attacking people.

  • http://danielkinsman.wordpress.com The 327th Male

    The burqa ban should be a non-issue. To me, it’s such a simple issue that it’s stupid simple. It’s ridiculously simple. Of course there should be a ban on identity obscuring face coverings in public. Of course. I don’t even think of it as a ban. It’s a requirement to reveal one’s identity in the public space.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with those statements. In my opinion anonymity is not criminal, nor should it be. You obviously disagree, which is fine, but your statements that it is “ridiculously simple” and “a non-issue” are incredulous.

  • Archimedez

    For me, safety, security, and health are significant factors in wanting the burqa and niqab banned in some public contexts.

    There have been numerous robberies by men or women disguised in burqas, not only in Muslim majority countries such as Jordan, but also in the West (e.g., in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, France, and others). The face coverings should be banned in stores and shopping centers, markets, workplaces, etc., not just in public contexts like government offices, schools, public transit, and so on. In addition, door-to-door solicitors and sales people should not be permitted to wear such face coverings.

    There have been numerous incidents of the use of burqas by terrorists.

    Tommykey claims that to his knowledge people in burqas/niqabs are “…not getting into traffic accidents out of proportion to their numbers because of reduced peripheral vision.”

    They aren’t? I have my doubts about that. Anything that reduces the field of vision or causes occlusion when turning the head could reasonably be expected to increase the chances of accidents, not only in traffic but in other contexts as well. In addition, it is important to be able to see someone’s face while they are driving for communication purposes, for police purposes, and so on (i.e., for similar reasons as to why heavily tinted windows are banned in some jurisdictions).

    Tommykey writes “It’s common sense of course that they not be veiled when posing for identification photos, and they should be expected to at least temporarily show their faces to verify their identity in situations where it is required.”

    That may seem like common sense to you, but some women who wear the burqa or niqab may have a very different perspective on that. This is partly why a ban is needed; i.e., the force of law is required to compel people to take off such face coverings when posing for identity photos. But such photos are of limited value if other people cannot see the person’s face in other important contexts, e.g., when using government services, health services, voting, etc.

    Tommykey writes: “But if a women wants to wear a burqa or a niqab when walking to the halal butcher down the block from her apartment, I don’t see why that should be a public offense.”

    I’m not sure the French ban goes that far, which is why I’ve asked Sarah to describe the extent of the ban in some more detail. I might agree with you regarding the walking “down the block” context provided (a) the burqa-wearer does not have to cross a busy intersection (where field of vision and face-to-face communication of intent are important) and (b) takes off the face-covering portion when inside the store/shop. It does not take the consideration of too many examples, though, to come to the realization that a highly contextually nuanced ban could become extremely complex, and thus time-consuming and expensive to enforce and administer (as if there aren’t more pressing concerns), difficult to enforce, potentially with burqa-wearers constantly having to be mindful of removing and replacing their face-covering portion as they move from one place to another. This complexity and lack of feasibility suggests to me yet another reason why a general and broad ban of the burqa-niqab is needed.

    Another consideration is exposure to sunlight, which is an important source of vitamin D. Adequate vitamin D is important for bone growth and in cancer prevention. Getting outside for a walk is a good opportunity to get some high quality vitamin D, but not for those wearing the burqa/niqab and all that usually goes with it. I’m somewhat more reluctant to introduce a personal health reason to justify the banning of the burqa, but we do ban things for health reasons, e.g., some jurisdictions ban trans fat, most jurisdictions regulate the percentage of alcohol that can be sold for consumption, and so on. But when we add health concerns, it adds additional weight to justify banning the items, where the items are associated with a long list of problems. Another health concern is that the burqa and niqab can get caught in machinery, can catch on fire, etc., leading to serious injury or death.

    There are also social considerations. SilentSanta writes to Sarah, “Except that you haven’t provided a single example of how ‘protecting our democracy’ is threatened by allowing public anonymity.”

    How about the voting fraud that could be carried out if people were not required to remove their face coverings at the voting station?

    How about the inability to read facial expressions of a burqa- or niqab-wearing politician during a critical televised debate, or during a public inquiry?

    How about someone hiding behind a burqa or niqab while making threats against someone else for expressing a different political view?

    How about police officers, security guards, or other officials who wear a burqa or niqab? Is there more potential for abuses there, such as impersonation?

    Other social considerations pertain to the increased level of gender segregation that wearing the niqab or or burqa entails. This can be seen in context of the gender segregation in mosques, for example, but the burqa or niqab functions like a portable gender segregation wall or veil. Muslim women who wear these face-covering items are more separated from society generally (other than their immediate family in private), and are more separated from non-Muslim members of society. This does not seem to be conducive to social interaction and societal cohesion outside of one’s immediate family and one’s own religion.

    The burqa and niqab can be seen in the context of traditional Islamic rules, still followed by many Muslims in the west today, whereby Muslim women are forbidden to have sex with or marry non-Muslim men. Islamic traditionalists of this line of thought have carved out what they expect of Muslim women living in a mixed society and have limited her options in an important area of life. In addition, there are so-called “honor” traditions tied up with this idea that Muslim women cannot have sex before marriage, marriage which, according to these views, must be approved of by the woman’s family.

    Those posters above who are making analogies to occasional public protest wearing masks etc. have a problem in that the burqa or niqab, to those (and their families) who think they have to wear it, is not only worn on occasion. The wearer wears it for a lifetime; she can go through her life in public never having been seen face-to-face by other people outside of her immediate family.

    The burqa or niqab is traditionally expected to be worn by a girl as soon as she reaches puberty at the latest. Hence, this issue of informed consent is complicated by the fact that many of these girls/teenagers are not old enough to make what we might consider in western society a mature and well-considered decision.

    The wearing of the burqa or niqab must be seen in light of how women who don’t wear such coverings, or indeed who don’t wear any Islamic coverings such as the hijab or headscarf, are viewed by some influential traditional Muslims who are of a sexist mindset. Women who don’t wear such coverings are regarded by these fundamentalists as “unclean”, “whores,” etc., and are even considered by some imams as to be partly responsible, if not fully responsible, for provoking sexual harassment and rape. A broader attitude is conveyed through some of the Muslim population due to the dissemination of these ideas.

    ———–

    The opinions of a Muslim group which supports the ban on the burqa is presented at this link:
    http://www.iheu.org/ban-burqa-canadian-muslim-view
    Ban the burqa? A Canadian Muslim view
    10 March, 2010

  • Kevin Morgan

    I agree with the ban. Obscuring identity just doesn’t cut it. Who is that on your driver’s license wearing the burqa? Is that you? Is your daughter (or son, or husband or friend) driving around with your license, using it for ID and not being subject to removing their covering to confirm identity?

    When burqa’s are ubiquitous they can hide not only identity but also a persons sex. What a perfect disguise for a criminal!

    Oh, and think there’s no difference? Try driving into NY City wearing a hoodie and a ski mask and see how far you get.

  • DSimon

    Archimedez, I think your examples of the danger of anonymity are not compelling.

    For the purposes of identification to get a driver’s license or enter a secure building, or to see properly when driving a car, I’m fine with a law requiring that everyone show their face (at least temporarily) to do so. I would be surprised if such a law were not already in place. The same applies to police officers and guards, who have to identify themselves as part of doing their job; there’s no need for an additional law there.

    How does seeing a politician’s face let us know if they’re telling the truth? Politicians are perfectly capable of learning how to put on a poker face.

    I also don’t understand what you mean about making threats from anonymity; threatening people is already illegal, and so people who do so often find ways to do it anonymously in order to avoid being arrested. Adding another law saying people have to identify themselves when they break a law won’t do anything.

    I absolutely agree that culturally ingrained practices which deny women equal rights and opportunities are deeply immoral and must be fought. But, I don’t think that a burqa-ban law would be helpful. It would break a lot of totally legitimate civil liberties and fail to address the cultural root of the problem.

    We need to fight this at its core, by (civilly, but repeatedly and thoroughly) informing Muslim women being forced to wear the burqa that they have the right to refuse, that they deserve the same dignity and opportunity as men, and that secular law enforcement can be relied upon to protect them without attacking their personal beliefs. Then, we have to also make sure that the last is actually true.

    That’s the way to fight this, not a misdirected law.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I’m with Sarah on the public identity angle as far as access to buildings and services go. I don’t want to be in a bank line, or on a bus,or on a plane with someone whose face I can’t see. Personally, should someone in a burqa ever attempt to address me I would insist on seeing the persons face before talking to them.
    It is difficult though on these grounds alone to stop the Burqa being worn in the street.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    There have been numerous robberies by men or women disguised in burqas, not only in Muslim majority countries such as Jordan, but also in the West (e.g., in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, France, and others).

    I’d like to see some support for this claim.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Archimedez wrote in response to me regarding whether burqa clad women driving cars get into traffic accidents out of proportion to their numbers because of reduced peripheral vision:

    They aren’t? I have my doubts about that.

    Fine, you have your doubts about that. But can you prove it? Have studies been done to determine if wearing a niqab while driving is a factor in causing traffic accidents? If causality has been demonstrated, I am perfectly happy to support making it an offense to wear such a face covering while driving. Otherwise, the burden is on the supporter of the ban to offer solid evidence that it is a matter of public safety.

    There have been numerous robberies by men or women disguised in burqas, not only in Muslim majority countries such as Jordan, but also in the West (e.g., in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, France, and others).

    Like Thumpalumpacus above, I would like to see support for this claim. Granted, I don’t deny that it has never happened, but bank robberies happen all the time wherein the robber’s face is plainly visible.

    Let me reiterate again, just to be clear, I don’t like burqas and niqabs either. In fact, several weeks ago, when I was walking to my office from Penn Station one morning, I passed by two young Muslim women crossing the street. One wore a head scarf, while the other was veiled. As I passed them by, I couldn’t help but mutter “Give me a friggin’ break!” I doubt they heard me though.

    To a lot of us who are atheists (as well as to a lot of Christians too), the niqab or any other form of Islamic womens’ garb that veils the wearer’s face, represents to us a symbol of a severely regressive patriarchal and religiously fundamentalist mindset. It offends us that in the 21st century, people still cling to such backward notions. Supporting a ban on the veil makes us feel good because it represents a seemingly easy way to strike a blow against this backwardness.

    But that is just it though. Is it right to ban something like that just because we don’t like it? At the moment, I am tilting towards no. But assuming the ban goes into effect in France, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  • Polly

    I see a ban as taking the side of women, especially women in Muslim enclaves where even non-muslim women can be harassed. There probably are a handful of deranged and brainwashed women who like the burqa just as there are deranged nudists. But, we’ll be expanding the liberty of far far more women who are forced to wear it. We’ll also be driving home the message loud and clear that we don’t tolerate the subjugation of women (that much) and if you’re going to live here, you’d better get used to that fact.
    Bottom line, I think a burqa ban expands liberty more than it detracts from it.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thank you so much for all of the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

    I didn’t want to jump in too soon. I wanted to make sure that everybody had a chance to give their two cents. And, I don’t have a ton of free time right at this moment — I’ll probably come back to this in a couple of days.

    But, I just wanted to touch on two particular issues really quickly:

    Mens rea — mental intent as an element of a crime (which distinguishes manslaughter from murder, for example) is not the same thing as motive. Mens rea, which is broken down in the model penal code as either purposefully, knowingly, recklessly or negligently having done something has nothing to do with motive. If I purposefully hit you, that has nothing whatsoever to do with why I hit you. Motive can come in as evidence to indicate that it was more or less probable that I hit you purposefully. BUT, it is NOT an element of the crime. Mens rea IS an element of the crime. This is the paramount difference. Hate crime legislation makes the motive an element of the crime. Thus, it is thought crime legislation.

    And, regarding the fact that I wore a burqa in public during a protest. Compelling point. However, again, since we were surrounded by police officers and press and were standing in front of public government buildings and officials, all of whom had been informed well in advance of our intended activities, and we both put on and took off the burqas on camera in front of all of these people — I would argue that we were in no way, shape or form obscuring our identities. That’s the crucial difference.

    But, please, keep the comments coming. This is wonderful, wonderful stuff. I love it.

  • Dan L.

    Bottom line, I think a burqa ban expands liberty more than it detracts from it.

    It clearly doesn’t expand liberty for anyone who wants to wear one.

    How does banning certain types of clothing expand liberty at all? It seems like banning things pretty much necessarily decreases liberty (though sometimes to good effect — I might be willing to trade freedom to own a firearm for a good guarantee that I won’t get shot). Incidentally, I think the attitude that one must be deranged to want to wear it is pretty condescending; maybe it’s true, but I don’t know that and I don’t get to decide what desires are normal and which are not (hint: neither do you).

    Look, it’s not the clothes oppressing the women, it’s their husbands and fathers. Stopping the clothes doesn’t stop the oppression, doesn’t make anyone any more free. And if you want to interpret the “these men will just keep their women in the home” argument as a threat, you’re free to do so, but you don’t think it’s at all a reasonable practical concern? You actually think that if you just ban such clothing, the men who force women to wear it will just shrug their shoulders and say, “well, when in Paris!”?

    Any argument regarding public anonymity here applies equally well to men with beards and sunglasses, incidentally, so I don’t see how it’s relevant in the first place. And I’ve seen people walking around NYC with hoodies and ski masks on before — watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve some time. These anonymity arguments are completely absurd.

  • nogrief

    Sarah, I wonder where it would lead if you mounted a legal attack specifically against a religion’s intent for requiring females to wear burqas in public.

    While not having delved too deeply into where the Koran decrees the necessity for its female believers to wear burqas, I suspect that any testamental citation by a defending apologist could easily be made to look ridiculous within the rigors of constitutional law.

  • TommyP

    Good article Sarah, had a good conversation with my mom about this one. She and I think you’re doing a good thing there in France. Thanks hun, and best wishes for the ban to pass.

  • DSimon

    Look, it’s not the clothes oppressing the women, it’s their husbands and fathers. Stopping the clothes doesn’t stop the oppression, doesn’t make anyone any more free.

    Ramen, Dan. :-) This is part of the point I was trying to make, but you’ve put it much more succinctly and intelligently.

  • bbk

    I, too, am astounded at the controversy that this ban is garnering.

    Call me old fashioned, but to me, personal freedoms stop the moment they threaten the freedoms and safety of everyone else. The practice of wearing burkas clearly violate this basic test of what is and isn’t a personal freedom. What’s more is that we’re on solid ground to surmise that this religious practice is a form of sexual oppression of an entire underclass of minority women and that this alone is a big enough social justice concern to warrant a strong social action to correct it.

    Clearly, as an individual in Western society, I have a reasonable expectation to be able to identify people I come across in my day to day activities. To be able to identify someone to the police if they were to commit a crime against me. To easily make use of consumer protection measures when someone is rendering a service or selling me goods. I feel no better seeing a gang of women wearing burkas walking through the town square than I would if I saw a gang of men in black ski masks. I feel no better when someone wearing a burka is filling my drug prescription. And I think it’s unfair to employers who also feel the same way but have their hands tied due to anti-discriminatory laws which, without a ban, protect this practice.

    And if you don’t seem to mind the idea of not knowing who you’re dealing with on a day to day basis, then at least think of what it’s like for children. How can we admonish them to be weary of strangers if we ourselves are willing to entrust them in the care of people who they can’t possibly identify? Can you imagine a group of young children being led through a crowded public space by a teacher whose physical appearance they do not know? Can you imagine those kids being instructed to go into this room or get into that vehicle by such a person?

    What’s more, there is clearly a very dangerous undercurrent in some parts of the world. There is an underclass of poorly educated, disenfranchised people who are increasingly separatist and they impose their social order on their own members by an old practice that ensures that the weak members of their group can’t hope to form a social circle outside beyond the watchful eye of their handlers. The very same exact people who demand that society to acquiesce to their ostentatious anti-freedom practices by exploiting the freedoms of said society are also usually the group who reacts in an extreme fashion when anyone else decides to practice their own freedoms, say, by drawing a cartoon. They certainly want freedom – for themselves. Not for their women, not for their critics. Well, tit for tat. Freedom isn’t a one way street.

  • konrad_arflane

    Sarah, I think you should think very carefully before committing yourself to the position that showing your face in public areas should be mandatory. Judging from the politics of my own nation (Denmark), a government that fears anonymous protesters fears *any* protest, and will take additional steps to “gently” discourage people from demonstrating.

    To give you an example of where we are on this, one government minister termed an act of peaceful civil disobedience “violent”, and thus felt it entirely appropriate that the protesters were beaten repeatedly with police truncheons while lying prone on the ground or even trying to run away. It does not strike me as coincidental that a few years before this, obscuring your face at a political demonstration was outlawed. And yes, that means that the NPNS protests would have been illegal if they had taken place here.

  • AdamS

    I am a little confused with the argument that is trying to be made here. The argument seems at first to be that a person should not be able to hide their identity in public and the law has nothing to do with religion.

    To me, the issue of whether or not the burqa/niqab is mandated by Islam is irrelevant. In fact, in this instance, as far as I am concerned, Islam is irrelevant. We don’t make laws based upon whether or not they coincide with Islamic doctrine or scripture or apocrypha or tradition or custom or what have you. We make laws based upon secular principles and concerns and objectives.

    But then Sarah goes on to talk about the oppressive nature of the burqa (which I think are the best arguments for banning it) which seems very contradictory. I dislike the burqa as much as anybody but I have yet to hear a good argument for banning it that doesn’t use religious reasons. The only reason I’ve heard is that it conceals a person’s identity which is a pretty weak argument in my eyes. That will be very difficult to enforce (and yes I realize being difficult to enforce is not a great argument against it). At what temperature is it alright to wear a ski mask out in the cold? -20, -10, 0? What about when I grow out my big ugly beard and wear sunglasses and a hat? What about a fake beard? This clearly seems like a ban on the burqa and not on disguising a persons identity.

    One more point I’d like to make is that a lot of faulty reasoning seemed to be used throughout this article. For example take point 7.

    Where were you when the massive waves of protests were overwhelming our major cities to protect the right of Native Americans to hunt bald eagles? Where were you when the write in campaigns were flooding the offices of our legislators in Congress to protect the right of Native Americans to smoke peyote?

    Oh, that’s right. You weren’t there. Because that never happened. Because no one cared.

    Just because someone didn’t protest another issue does not give any weight to either side here. If I didn’t fight for women’s rights does that mean I’m not allowed (and shouldn’t) fight for African American rights? I do agree that Native American traditions are ignored while muslim, christian and almost any other groups traditions will get a big news story and will be largely debated.

    Finally while I’m opposed to banning the burqa, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it as it will have some positive effects (hopefully).

  • paradoctor

    This thread demonstrates my point: a burqa ban is a can of worms. Kudos to AnonyMiss and others for pointing to the Anonymous protests.

    How about if the burqa sufferers themselves staged an anti-burqa protest, while wearing them? It would make the point – anonymously.

    I too tend toward a libertarian approach; force none to wear, or not wear. The State is too blunt an instrument to handle a culture-clash problem like this.

    Of course there are entirely legit grounds for partial burqa bans. ID. Driving. Security. It’s also true that the burqa’s creepy. I recommend freezing it out on the cultural level. Let “Lift that veil or no sale” become a meme.

    But please note; I agree with the burqa-ists about the erotic nature of the human female face. I acknowledge their point but I take the opposite view. I _rejoice_ in witnessing women facially naked and unashamed. Blessed be freedom! Blessed be beauty! The funny thing is, I didn’t even appreciate veil-less-ness until the burqa-ists called it naughty.

  • bbk

    I want to make a point about the difference between a political protest whose members require anonymity and when anonymity is used as a form of perverse sexual oppression. A protester is expressing their political message. That is their main purpose. But a religious practitioner who is taking part in “normal” social activities can be expected to abide by standards that a reasonable person would think are conducive to those activities.

    There are many forms of anonymity and it can be intractable if we treat anonymity as one indistinguishable form. But it has never stopped us from treating each form as a special case and dealing with it accordingly.

  • Paul

    Additionally, I see the burqa ban not so much as a ban, but as a requirement to reveal one’s identity in the public space.

    Then why isn’t the law to reveal one’s identity in the public space? If that is recognized as a power the government should be able to enforce, it should apply equally to the burqa and Guy Fawkes masks. And if it is not recognized, the burqa ban requires a different justification. Singling it out is unsupportable from a legal standpoint (at least in the US, I do not pretend to know much about the French legal system).

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    @Paul
    Do you seriously think that an official asking someone to take off a guy fawkes or halloween mask would receive an objection to that request? Imagine the response if the same official asked a muslim to remove her veil.

  • Paul

    Do you seriously think that an official asking someone to take off a guy fawkes or halloween mask would receive an objection to that request? Imagine the response if the same official asked a muslim to remove her veil.

    This is no excuse for the law to specifically target the burqa. In fact, in specifically targeting the burqa it opens itself wide to accusations that it is about attacking the religion. While this may or may not be true, it definitely goes against Sarah’s preferred explanation that the law is “a requirement to reveal one’s identity in the public space”.

  • http://danielkinsman.wordpress.com The 327th Male

    bbk wrote:

    Clearly, as an individual in Western society, I have a reasonable expectation to be able to identify people I come across in my day to day activities.

    This point is not self evident.

    I am not saying that teachers, police, crossing guards, taxi drivers or even retail employees should have anonymity. Anyone dealing with the public in a professional capacity should be identifiable. But anyone walking down the street, going to the shops or on public transport has no obligation to identify themselves to you.

    You treat it a violation of your rights that they remain anonymous. Please show me where this right is enshrined? It is not in the constitution of any country I know. It is not in the UN’s universal declaration of human rights.

    bbk also wrote:

    There are many forms of anonymity and it can be intractable if we treat anonymity as one indistinguishable form. But it has never stopped us from treating each form as a special case and dealing with it accordingly.

    Anonymity is absolute. There is no such thing as partial anonymity.

    Why do I care so much about this? Because anonymity is the only way to guarantee free speech. Take Lars Vilk for example. He exercised his right to free speech by creating the cartoon of Muhammad as a dog. The other day he was attacked and headbutted in a public lecture. If the cartoon was published anonymously, he would not have to fear reprisal. Since he did publish it under his name, perhaps he can now avoid being targeted by remaining anonymous – maybe even by wearing a burqa!

    Though Vilk is defiant and does not seek anonymity himself, you can see how others might be intimidated into remaining silent. It does not matter that their right to free speech is protected under law. It does not matter that the threats and violence against them are illegal. The only way to guarantee their freedom of speech and safety is to remain anonymous.

  • Zietlos

    Steve, I can assure you, were I in a protest, and a scientologist asked me to remove my mask, the answer would be “hell no”. I would need it to protect my security. If an officer of the law asked, I would bring him behind his police car or another concealing area to do so, and immediately put it back on (and this as a courtesy, as a demand to publicly reveal my face officially would require a warrant). I see no reason why the burqa can’t follow the same rules.

    The problem is Sarah is suggesting a VERY blunt instrument towards this problematic issue. She is NOT asking for “remove concealing clothes when requested by officers of the law/crown”, no, in fact, most countries already have that as a law, likely even France. She’s asking this: “Make it illegal to hide your face in public”. Give you a hint at how that is going to go over… Like a lead balloon filled with copies of Orwell’s 1984. It’s using a nuke to hit a nail. The hammer is in our reach, but in an effort to not offend sensibilities (“No religious garb allowed” would be better) she opts for insane overkill.

    There are lawyers out there who will try any case for money. Your neighbor sneezes into his sleeve? Get photo evidence, there’s hiding face in public, sue him. I’m not sure how American-savvy some commenters are, but burglers have sued owners of places they BROKE INTO, because they injured themselves inside by their own clumsiness. Successfully sued no less! Don’t tell me, should this reach America, they would not abuse it mercilessly.
    You’re aiming for a target, a bull’s eye, not a freaking planet. In the world of freedoms and law, collateral damage is NOT allowed. Ban the Burqa, sure. Hell, make it a specific ban of “No one is allowed to wear religious garb in public”, which though you get a few crosses in the crossfire, really doesn’t hurt many, bible thumpers would call it acceptable losses anyways. “No concealing your face in public”, though? WAY to far. And then she wants to go further and say “No concealing your identity in public” atop that! Forgive me for the Nazi tourettes for a moment here, but Gold Star! Put it on your lapel, let your identity be known!

    I’m not arguing slippery slope here, because that implies a slope. Sarah has a proposed a sheer cliff right off the bat. From “peaceful safe protest allowed” to “if you want to protest, go risk your life and livelihood”. There’s actually no in between for her law. I’m sure she gets paper hate mail from people already, who can find her just on a name and possibly a website blog address. As much as it pains me to say so, paranoid conspiracy theorists are NOT the most dangerous group out there. Sometimes, one must fight. When they do, sometimes, they must be anonymous, even to the cameras.

    The world only improves by anonymous protest. French resistance members didn’t self-identify, the jihadist bastards. Chanology didn’t self-identify, the jihadist bastards. Socrates did identify: He was killed for it. Hari did identify: He’s got a price on his head. MLK did identify: He was killed for it. I don’t doubt the power of matyrism, but many people would like change for the better while still living to see that change. Banning public anonymity removes that. Though I’m a fat self-conscious fool, if the law passed, I would wear the bare minimum for public decency laws and a full face mask, on the anniversary of the law, each year in protest (so please pass it in the summer, by the by).

    I accept the verdict, but not the sentence. The burqa is bad, but if by banning public anonymity is the only way to stop its use, I will fight you tooth and claw. The zentai will fight you. The cosplayers will fight you. The furries will fight you (creepy as they are, they’ve got rights too). Anonymous will fight you, in its myriad forms. Ban all willy-nilly, ban all you want, just don’t ban public anonymity, the ability to hide your face, because then, you ARE in a orwellian and authoritarian state.

    Reword your law. Heart’s in the right place, but don’t let your rage cloud your sight. As your yourself said, move past the knee-jerk reaction, and see how much damage such a thing could present. (And if you add all the situational qualifiers to concealing identity, my earlier comment about allowing them to wear it on cold or windy days still stands, as it would be the same as a ski mask and poncho combo then.)

    ~Zietlos (Sorry for the tl;dr, I removed a few paragraphs for you)

  • JulietEcho

    I read this as part of my morning browsing today, and I took the day to think about it. I always find Sarah’s posts thought-provoking, and I was tempted to agree with her on this one. But when I thought long and hard about *why* I wanted to agree, I had to admit to myself that it was because I hate the reality that women are forced to wear burqas.

    I’m in a polyamorous relationship, and I’ve heard the tired old argument way too many times that any sort of social acceptance for plural relationships gives shelter to abusive groups and individuals who prey on children and strip women of their rights. We should work to find ways to free individuals from abusive situations – not curtail freedoms in order to treat the symptoms.

    Like many other commenters here, I don’t buy the anonymity argument. I think the right to anonymity in many situations is important, and I think that while it’s reasonable to ask for facial confirmation when ID is necessary (like when taking or presenting a drivers license photo, or when entering a bank or federal building), I don’t think that wearing a burka presents a security threat any more than wearing a giant pair of shades and a floppy hat does.

    I don’t object to the banning of things in general. I object to the banning of things when the ban is inconsistent (which would include giving religious customs extra consideration), or when the ban serves no purpose that outweighs the worth of the freedom it curtails. I don’t fear Muslim reactions anymore than I fear Christian reactions to bans on Christian displays on US government property. I do, however, have a problem with banning something simply because it *can* represent and constitute something unsavory or inhumane. We should work to ban and punish the actual bad behavior and inhumanity instead of resorting to banning things for the sake of taking an easier short-cut to stop behavior that *can* be (but isn’t always) bad.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Very interesting comments.

    About the party / protest argument: I’m not sure that I’m buying it.

    As they already do, any municipality may set aside a time and place for just about any activity, including one that incorporates masks, even a protest. Municipalities choose to set aside times and places for activities all the time, activities that would normally be illegal.

    The government sets aside times and places for public forums for the citizenry to engage in unfettered free speech. But, you don’t get to just walk onto government property and do and say whatever you want whenever you want.

    In the public space — you don’t get to just do and say whatever you want whenever you want — we have laws that indicate what is and is not appropriate behavior in public. Of course there are exemptions and exceptions. Almost no law is absolute.

    I think it is a bit of a straw man to assume that I am suggesting an absolute law, which does not allow for exemptions and exceptions. Again — think about the childhood vaccinations example. (Religious exemptions for vaccinations vary from state to state — some allow; some don’t.)

    As far as the Iran, etc. examples — if you believe your government to be illegitimate, and you are trying to foment revolution, are you really worried about a law against masks in public?

    Weren’t there a lot of women participating in the Iranian protests who were not wearing hijab, even though there are laws in Iran mandating that women wear hijab?

  • Sarah Braasch

    I just wanted to add — the Supreme Court has made it clear that states MAY provide religious exemptions, BUT that they are under no obligation to do so.

    This is why some states allow for religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations before public school enrollment and some do not.

    Some states allow for religious exemptions from the criminalization of peyote and some do not.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Rarely have I had such a problem making my mind up about something and arguments from both sides here have a lot to commend them. I wrote about this myself back in January here (shameless plug sorry!) and linked in a subsequent comment to an article that Sarah had published at the time.
    I gave the ban a qualified welcome then, but the devil is definitely in the detail.

  • bbk

    37th male, I really think that we do have a reasonable expectation to be able to identify one another. I believe that you are mixing up different degrees of identification. Facial recognition is the accepted method for identification, which, by the way, still leaves a great deal of anonymity. Compare this to the military where you have to wear your name and rank on the uniform. That society seems closer to what you thought I was describing. Yet in our society, everything from our cultural norms (it’s considered polite to remove one’s hat when indoors, etc) to security measures (cameras, police lineups, forensic sketches, etc) rely on the public’s ability to recognize faces.

    The organizational tools of our society are based on how we see ourselves as individuals and as a group. In contrast, I can think of one culture off the top of my head where men were expected to trim their beards differently, according to their vocation. Other societies have relied on body piercings and tattoos. Yet others have relied on special forms of attire. So yes, I do believe that I have a reasonable expectation as a Westerner to go outside and interact with individuals, not castes or classes or ranks.

  • http://danielkinsman.wordpress.com The 327th Male

    Sarah, if you have to apply for a permit to make a speech, then that speech isn’t free.

  • DSimon

    327th male, I disagree somewhat. For example, it’s reasonable to have to ask for a permit to march a rally down a major public street, provided that the agency that gives out those permits doesn’t charge more than a pittance to do so, and as long as they’ll issue a permit for any legal demonstration regardless of its message. This is just a practical consequence of the fact that it’s convenient to be able to set up roadblocks, police protection, etc. in advance.

    However, rallies ought to be allowed without a permit when they don’t block traffic. A rally outside a government building that has routes set aside for people to walk in and out normally should be fine.

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/morality-exposed.html keddaw

    If the price of everyone’s freedom to protest (or trick or treat) anonymously is the illegal mistreatment of a small number of Muslim women then it is a price worth paying.

    Where would you stop with this law: hats? wigs? prosthetics? make up? fat suits? slimming pants?

    Not to mention it completely fails the establishment clause as the government is clearly making a law regarding the non-establishment of extreme Islam, were it ever proposed in the US.

    This is not to say that Muslims should be granted exceptions to the revealing of their identity (driving tests, government buildings, banks etc.), simply that everyone should have the right to walk down the street wearing anything they like*.

    Nice takedown of every argument against a ban, apart from the freedom of expression, I think I am the only one claiming it is against the First Amendment, but my main objection is that public anonymity is a greater concern than the, already illegal, ill-treatment of women. Enforce existing laws, don’t invent new ones.

    *Public ‘decency’ laws may have to be followed, but that’s another argument for another day.

    I am 100% with you on hate crimes, I’m glad a lawyer has argued the mens rea vs. motive part. I always stick with the protected groups part. Gays, ethnic minorities and women have all fought difficult battles for equality. By making hate crime legislation you immediately segregate the population into protected groups and non-protected groups. If two people went on a killing spree, one targeting Jews and one targeting SUV drivers, they are both terrorizing a small section of society, committing existing crimes, but only one of them is a hate crime. If someone took a huge, irrational dislike to people with red hair they would not be committing a hate crime, but if it was against Hispanics they would. It makes no sense, we already have laws against people doing bad things, their motives only really count in sentencing, not in the crime committed or their guilt.

  • DSimon

    bbk, I agree that an expectation that you’ll identify yourself in public is part of our culture, but that itself is no argument for enforcing those aspects by law.

    Regarding identification of criminals; if someone is committing a crime and they don’t want to be identified, a law requiring that they are always publicly identifiable will not stop them. People can still disguise themselves with wigs and other things that covertly mask their identity. Also, since they’re prepared to commit a major crime anyways, they’ll surely not be stopped by an additional minor law against hiding their face.

  • DSimon

    Keddaw, my solution to that problem with hate crimes would be to make it so that they would cover specifically targeting any group (Jews, SUV drivers, people with red hair, people whose last name starts with a vowel, etc.) for the purpose of terrorizing other members of that group.

    I agree that dividing the population into groups, some of which get more protection than others, is unjust. Everyone deserves protection against hate crimes.

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/morality-exposed.html keddaw

    DSimon, such a law would indeed work for your purposes but the reasoning behind the law itself is fundamentally flawed. “We the people” stand or fall as one, when any section of our society is attacked we are all attacked. It is fundamental that each person is treated equally by the law and this must apply to victims as well as suspects.

    Is it worse to threaten a smaller or larger subset of society? If smaller then what could be smaller than hating one individual persona and targeting them? Yet that is not, and cannot be, a hate crime. If a larger section is worse (as more people are affected) then what could be larger than randomly attacking people, e.g. the Washington sniper, yet that is not a hate crime as the group is society as a whole. If the legislation does not work at the smallest or the largest scale then what use is it? Who are you actually protecting with these laws?

    What the laws, as they currently stand, say is that certain groups need added protection over and above that given to ordinary citizens. Only children and the mentally disabled (and cops) require that as far as I can tell. Everyone else can take their chances equally.

  • bbk

    keddaw, I’m fine with people wearing “whatever they like” to make a statement, be it bathing suits or Nazi uniforms. I have no problem with Hasidic Jews wearing their ugly clothing in spite of their very public displays of misogyny and terrible reputation for the treatment of women. I’m of the opinion that extreme Muslims take it a step beyond where the Establishment Clause should protect them. They truly offend the sensibilities of Western society and do plenty of little things that cause disorderly little disruptions with their attire. This, to me, is closer to the concerns we have about indecency when we pass laws governing public exposure. This attire has more in common with fat white men who like to run naked through a stadium than it does with religious belief. Over the years, I have read story after story about how this attire causes lots of practical problems for schools, businesses, public safety officials, and just about everyone else. It’s just not worth letting these misogynistic medieval groups parade their downtrodden women around town looking like walking body-bags when it gets in everyone else’s way and causes problems.

  • jemand

    @Dsimon and keddaw, well then maybe we need to nudge our hate crime legislation to be basically indistinguishable from making terroristic threats and use the latter as often and more than hate crime legislation is used. Threatening terroristic threats on any level of society should get a higher penalty than targeting a single individual, just like serial killers should get a higher penalty than individual murderers. The point of terrorism is to spread fear and control a large group, this is an additional crime over and above any particular murder or assault.

    BTW, the Washington sniper still WAS targeting a subgroup, namely: “people who are currently in Washington.”

  • bbk

    DSimon, I’m not talking about the expectation that people will present their ID and face when required for identification purposes, but a much more fundamental purpose in which faces are used as an anonymous form of identification. We rely on faces to orient ourselves in the world around us, whether we speak to the person or not. We look at them to see if they are angry and to be avoided, hurt and in need of help, and basically to decide whether or not we’re even going to talk to someone in the first place. This is a type of identification, a profiling of sorts, that we expect to be able to do in a society that puts an emphasis on individuality. This has been a defining characteristic of Western culture since the Enlightenment.

    These burkas are the binary opposite of our Enlightened culture. Their very purpose is to prevent the rest of the world from seeing a woman as an individual and to prevent anyone but the handlers of these women from having the information necessary to make simple decisions about things as simple as saying “hi”.

    To further my other point that these burkas should not be protected by religious freedom laws such as the Establishment Clause, I want to stress an important distinction. In our society, we have laws that protect women even if the abuse and discrimination is cloaked in the auspices and virtues of blind faith and sanctimonious farce. For example, if the Christian right had their way, Western women wouldn’t be allowed to go to school or get a job, either. They’d be stuck in traditional roles as a homemaker and this would be justified as a decree of their god. In the theocratic middle east, there are no such laws protecting the equality of women and religionists use their dusty old books as an excuse to turn women into lower class citizens. Clearly, it’s been a while since most of us gave any ground to Christianity when it comes to the treatment of women. Why should we accept the same excuse from Muslims?

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/morality-exposed.html keddaw

    bbk, a ban on the burqa removes freedom of expression. To ban the burqa on the basis you cannot see someone’s face or inner mental state is an invasion of privacy. If someone doesn’t want to show you their emotional state you have no right to force them to do so. And, as has been mentioned a lot, where do you draw the line, is a hoodie too much, prosthetics, a wig, make up, botox? Not to mention the right to assemble and peaceably protest anonymously.

    It also breaks the Establishment Clause because you are legislating against a religious attire which does not, necessarily, cause harm. It’s not nearly as strong an argument as freedom of expression, but it still falls at this hurdle too.

    Just because a freedom is being abused by a minority does not mean we should remove that freedom from the majority. Should we remove freedom of speech because the Westboro Church happen to say things we don’t like? Should we remove the freedom to bear arms because some inner cities are riddled with gun crime? Remove the eighth amendment because torture may provide us with better conviction rates? No, we have rights and sometimes the price of those rights is for people to exercise them in a way we are not happy about.

  • Paul

    It also breaks the Establishment Clause because you are legislating against a religious attire which does not, necessarily, cause harm.

    It’s important to note that the Establishment Clause is a US construct, not a French one. That aside, this is the point I was trying to make earlier. The law fails because it is not legislating based on harm prevention or reduction. If it was about reducing harm due to anonymity or inability to identify people, it would not specifically mention the burqa. Doing so makes it a clear-cut case of a law intended to “prohibit the free exercise” of the Islamic faith, and it would be blatantly unconstitutional in the US. Making it a burqa ban instead of a more generic concealment ban means they’re not even bothering to try pretending they are doing anything other than prevent Muslims from performing certain religious rituals.

    Please do not take me for a cultural relativist, or in fact even a religious person (although I was raised as such). But it’s important that we be honest with our goals, and do our best to understand those of others. As such, statements like:

    I see the burqa ban not so much as a ban, but as a requirement to reveal one’s identity in the public space.

    are simply unsupportable given the evidence at hand (that is, the ban itself, singling out one piece of concealing attire and ignoring many others), and should not be made simply because we want to see the malignant influences of religion wane.

  • bbk

    keddaw, you have some good points and I admit they’re difficult to get around.

    But just to get this out of the way, Westboro is an issue of slander any way I look at it. Framing the whole entire thing as a privacy versus free speech concern must be someone’s idea of a joke.

    About invasion of privacy, I think that the level of this invasion is so inconsequential as to still fall under the category of anonymity. So this person whom you know nothing about seems to be angry and now you know they have green eyes… so what? If this person really cares about their privacy to this extent then they should be admitted to a psych ward.

    Secondly, while not necessarily causing harm, it’s still a nuisance and can and does cause some harm. It causes harm to the women wearing it, for one thing. It causes harm to the social fabric; it’s no different than separate entrances and water fountains for Colored people. You could also torture that practice into a matter of freedom of expression and religion, too. Forcing a black person to use a separate phone booth doesn’t seem to cause any overt harm, either. Except that it does, if you’re concerned for their rights.

  • DSimon

    Jemand, that seems like a reasonable approach to me. The Washington sniper also falls under what should be hate crime legislation, in that he not only committed violence against his targets, but also incurred psychological damage through an implicit threat against anyone walking the streets of that city that they could be the next random target.

  • bbk

    Let’s take the mistreatment of these women to it’s logical conclusion. If an entire subculture of women were seen walking around town with bruised up faces, you’d probably call a social worker and have these women removed from their homes and placed in protective custody. Wouldn’t you? So what’s the difference here? That you can’t see any overt bruises (incidentally, they may even be there on some of these women)? It’s still an entire subculture that subjugates the weaker members of their community into this very repressed state.

    Read one of the above comments about the reaction to the ban from the Muslim community. Some Muslim men are already threatening not to let their women out of the house should this ban be enforced. That just about sums up the whole entire state of affairs to me.

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/morality-exposed.html keddaw

    bbk, you say the concealment of identity (ignoring any religious or cultural significance in any given item of clothing) causes harm. I disagree and maintain that even if it did cause harm the benefits massively outweigh them.

    Not to push a libertarian agenda, but the key point you make in your analogy is forcing a ‘coloured’ person to use a different fountain – forcing. This scenario also involves forcing, it is the state forcing people not to wear something it doesn’t like for reasons that do not stand up to scrutiny. Arbitrarily picking on one of a thousand ways to disguise yourself and making it illegal is not fair, rational or liberal.

    Incidentally, in a libertarian country the owner of any establishment could, if he so chose, elect to have separate entrances for whichever groups he liked. Ideally, in the free market, right thinking individuals would boycott his shop for a business without such practices. However, the state could not have such prejudiced policies, everyone must be equal under the law. But that is somewhat off-topic.

  • DSimon

    bbk, I think you’re overstating the importance of seeing a person’s face in interacting with them. After all, aren’t you right now in the middle of an involved discussion with a bunch of people whose faces and real names you don’t know?

    Why should we accept the [religious] excuse [for misogyny] from Muslims?

    No-one here is proposing that we simply accept it! This is getting to be something of a strawman; why are you implying that those who don’t support a ban against burqas must implicitly accept them and everything they stand for?

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need to fight this the same way as we fight other forms of domestic abuse against women, by showing these women that they deserve not to be coerced into anything and how the law can provide protection, and ensuring that it actually is capable of doing so. Women who are being coerced into wearing a burqa ought to be already protected under existing US laws (and probably French laws too).

    The goal should not be to eliminate burqas, it should be to prevent anyone from being coerced into wearing a burqa. I certainly don’t think the history or motivation behind wearing a burqa, even freely, is justified, but the right place to hash that out is in culture, not with the nuke-it-from-orbit approach of a ban law.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Just a quick point:

    The US already has a bunch of anti-mask laws on the books, both state and local.

    Some have been held constitutional; some not.

    The Supreme Court has yet to take an anti-mask law case. But, a bunch of the Circuits have dealt with the issue.

    Do you want to know what most of the anti-mask laws have, ostensibly, been a response to: the Ku Klux Klan.

    The wording of the law seems to be the crucial thing.

    But, carefully crafted laws have been upheld as constitutional by the courts.

  • bbk

    One more post (my last, I promise). About the difference between wigs, sunglasses, hoodies, etc. versus burqas. Wearing a pair of sunglasses is an individual choice and it preserves the individuality of the wearer. It does not prevent others from identifying with this person on an individual level. It still leaves plenty of identifiable features if for no other reason than there aren’t 20 other people wearing the same exact disguise. Even when we dress up for Halloween, we still enjoy more individuality by which we can be identified. Even service uniforms of police officers reveal the person’s face, plus augment it with a name badge.

    There are only a few examples that I find analogous to burqas and none of them are benign. The closest thing in my mind is the labeling of Jews in Nazi Germany. Burqas are like a wearable concentration camp. The next closest thing would be gang Colors. Gangs use attire to conceal their personal identity and replace it with a group identity. This attire is heavily restricted in our society (that’s what bouncers do) and no one complains.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Do you want to know what most of the anti-mask laws have, ostensibly, been a response to: the Ku Klux Klan.

    If memory serves, that came up here in NY, in the Nineties I think, when the Klan wanted to have a rally in Manhattan. They were allowed to wear their robes and hoods, but they had to show their faces. Of course, they were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators like at least 10 to 1.

    The obvious justification behind mask laws such as those aimed at the Klan was because their sole purpose for covering their faces was to protect their identity while actively intimidating or engaging in hostile or violent contact against other people without fear of retaliation.

    I don’t know how much that relates to Muslim women veiling their faces in public, though one example I can think of, and I even wrote about it on my own blog, involves a Moroccan woman in Brussels who goes by the nom de Internet Oum Oubeyda and who extols jihad on her Internet forums, but who wears a veil when she goes out in public. I doubt native Belgians would be to pleased to know that their taxes pay for the unemployment benefits she receives while at the same time she rails against the society she lives in.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    bbk wrote:

    About invasion of privacy, I think that the level of this invasion is so inconsequential as to still fall under the category of anonymity.

    The burka isn’t worn to hide eye color or emotions. It is worn as a statement of religious faith — or female surrender in a patriarchal culture.

    Religious practices that harm none but the practitioner ought not be the subject of law. The harm flowing from the ban would far outweigh any nominal harm derived from tolerating it, it seems to me.

  • Sarah Braasch

    The interesting thing about the NY law, which was upheld by the 2nd Circuit (the Supreme Court denied cert in 2004), is that it specifically addresses more than one masked person congregating together.

    So, according to the NY law — a woman could wear a burqa or niqab in public, but only if she is alone. She would not be able to go out with other similarly attired women.

    Actually, that NY case is fascinating, and applies particularly well to the burqa / niqab issue.

    The court held that the mask itself is not expressing a particularized message and is a redundant element of the costume, which also includes a robe and hood. The court also took note of the fact that not everyone in the group felt a need to wear the mask, indicating that the mask is not a necessary element of the message being conveyed — the message of the Ku Klux Klan. The court also remarked that the KKK bears the burden of showing that the particular element of the mask is deserving of First Amendment protections. Additionally, the court recognized that the KKK was advocating on behalf of not only the white race but also the Christian faith. (That their message was also a religious message.)

    I’ll be very interested to see how they handle a burqa/niqab case. If they follow the line of reasoning above — they would have to hold that the niqab itself is not protected by the First Amendment.

    I just want to point out (as this court did as well) — that concealing one’s face while demonstrating is not protected by the First Amendment.

  • Paul

    I’ll be very interested to see how they handle a burqa/niqab case. If they follow the line of reasoning above — they would have to hold that the niqab itself is not protected by the First Amendment.

    You need to demonstrate more before you make that claim. Almost every thing you mentioned the court held is the opposite of the case of the niqab:

    - It does express a particularized message (further, a specifically religious one). It expresses the message that Islamic women must cover their heads/faces with the niqab for modesty/purity. Nor is it redundant, because the message explicitly requires the covering of the head/face.

    - I am not aware of exceptions that allow people “in the group” to not wear the niqab. It is explicitly a “necessary element of the message being conveyed” — the message that women must modestly cover their bodies. Even if we note that some moderate Muslims do not wear it, it is still part of the religious teachings.

    - Showing that the particular element is deserving of First Amendment protections is trivial. The KKK was appealing on free speech grounds. It is hard to show that your headgear is necessary for free speech. The niqab ban would be fought on Establishment Clause grounds, and since the ban only calls out the niqab it’s absolutely trivial to point out that it “prohibits the free exercise” of the Islamic faith (for one gender, anyway). No attempt has been made to justify the law on secular grounds, otherwise it would be a more generalized headgear/facial coverings ban.

    - The fact that they recognized the KKK was advocating on the Christian faith by no means makes the case similar. There is no commandment or holy teaching that “thou shalt wear a white pointy hood”. The niqab (or similar coverings), on the other hand, is explicitly called for in the religious teachings.

    I have nothing but sympathy with regards to your religious exposure. I commend the work you do with NPNS. But I do wish you would approach this more honestly, instead of trying to cherry-pick non-comparable incidents that seem to support/justify the ban. Or try to pretend it’s about identifying people in the public square, when that’s blatantly not the aim of the legislation.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I am nothing if not honest. I don’t know why you would bother to commend or express sympathy to someone you see as a liar. You can keep your sympathy and your commendation. I neither need nor have use for either.

    I happen to work with a number of Muslim women who would vehemently disagree with almost everything you just said above about Islam. But, as I already mentioned in my piece, the tenets of Islam are irrelevant.

    I actually think the burqa/niqab case would be approached completely differently than the case I mentioned.

    I just thought it was so interesting that, at the core of each issue, is the same subject matter — a mask as part of a costume worn in public.

    This is how the case will be approached: a carefully constructed anti-mask law (which is facially neutral and generally applicable) will be attacked on free exercise grounds, but this approach doesn’t have a leg to stand on, because neutral, generally applicable laws that incidentally encroach upon religious expression are good to go.

    But, actually, if they can’t win on free exercise grounds, the only other option is to attack the law as the KKK did, and we can already see how successful they were not — at least in the 2nd Circuit.

    I intend to write about yet another approach to this issue — which is to treat the emancipation of women as a compelling government interest, just like we treat diversity, which is what makes affirmative action policies possible. (As I also mention in my piece in a quick parenthetical.)

    There are always multiple ways to approach an issue. Honestly.

  • Paul

    I am nothing if not honest. I don’t know why you would bother to commend or express sympathy to someone you see as a liar.

    I’ve pointed out the statements that I consider to be not approaching the issue honestly. That does not mean I dislike you or anything like that, and I don’t understand why you think disliking one’s tack for a certain argument means you must dislike them.

    I just thought it was so interesting that, at the core of each issue, is the same subject matter — a mask as part of a costume worn in public.

    You also stated that it “applies particularly well to the burqa / niqab issue”. That is what I took issue with. It can be helpful to look at, but the findings you mentioned have very little to do with a law that specifically bans the burqa / niqab.

    a carefully constructed anti-mask law (which is facially neutral and generally applicable) will be attacked on free exercise grounds

    If it is a carefully constructed anti-mask law, any argument based on free exercise would be quite weak. This has nothing to do with the French burqa ban, which is by no means carefully constructed to oppose masks (the only verbiage I saw specifically mentioned veils that cover the face, as if veils are the only type of masks). It could be attacked on the basis that there are masks or other non-veil face coverings that are equally covering yet not banned, showing that particular types of face coverings are being targeted instead of the face covering itself.

    Granted, this means nothing to US law. If there actually were a “carefully constructed anti-mask law” I’d likely have no issue with it (the civil libertarian in me would be pretty irritated, but it moves the issue to a completely different level that’s not likely to see summary dismissal as soon as a court lays eyes on the blatant Establishment Clause issues). But that’s not what we’re looking at. We’re looking at something that can very easily be demonstrated to be legislating against a specific religious practice, without demonstrating a compelling reason for such. Please note that while I think there is reason to discourage the burqa / niqab, that’s quite different than grounds for a law prohibiting their voluntary use.

    But, actually, if they can’t win on free exercise grounds, the only other option is to attack the law as the KKK did, and we can already see how successful they were not — at least in the 2nd Circuit.

    You’re ignoring the difference between the KKK case and the case of a burqa ban. This is what I was calling dishonest.

    There are always multiple ways to approach an issue. Honestly.

    I definitely agree. Which is, of course, one reason why I was pointing out that trying to sell a burqa ban as “a requirement to reveal one’s identity in the public space” was a non-starter. Another approach is needed to get rid of this oppressive practice.

  • Staceyjw

    Thanks Sarah! I am for the ban too, I think it’s a good thing.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thanks, Staceyjw. I want to point out one thing:

    It is possible to think that a well constructed anti-mask law is BOTH a legitimate public safety measure AND a measure that will further women’s rights as a compelling government interest. (And, at their core, both of these issues are issues of democratic representation.)

    It is possible to think both of these things at the same time.

    It is possible to think both of these things at the same time while also thinking that neither concern has as its aim the hindering of religious exercise. Religious exercise is incidental to the conversation.

    You might think I’m lying or fooling myself or being disingenuous.

    But, this is not the case.

    Insisting upon placing the protection of religious exercise at the center of this conversation is a repudiation of the principle of secularism.

  • Archimedez

    Thumpalumpacus and Tommykey,

    Re your reasonable requests for some evidence for my statement that “There have been numerous robberies by men or women disguised in burqas, not only in Muslim majority countries such as Jordan, but also in the West (e.g., in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, France, and others).” I’ve forgotten how to get the links right, so please excuse the mess. The list is by no means exhaustive but confirms what I had in mind when I wrote the above claim.

    Jordan
    http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090804/FOREIGN/708039838/1002
    Crime wave by men wearing the khimar
    Suha Philip Ma’ayeh, Foreign Correspondent
    Last Updated: August 03. 2009 11:21PM UAE / August 3. 2009 7:21PM GMT
    AMMAN // Over the past month, Dalal Abbadi, a 30-year-old woman who wears the khimar, an Islamic veil that fully covers the face, has felt uneasy when stepping out to do the shopping or visit a clothes store, following a recent spate of robberies by criminals wearing the garment.
    In the past two years, police have dealt with 170 crimes committed by 50 people who wore concealing Islamic clothing to hide their identities, according to police officials.
    Police are still looking for two men who were wearing the niqab when they opened fire on policemen in a western Amman neighbourhood in July and escaped.
    It was not clear if they were militants or robbers.
    Last year, two niqab-wearing men were arrested after robbing Société Générale Bank in Amman at gunpoint and taking US$37,000 (Dh1360,000).
    [...] “Using the niqab as a means of disguise is very harmful to this dress, which is revered in our Islamic society. But it is evident that the number of criminal cases where the niqab is used has increased,” Jamal Bdour, the director of the Criminal Investigations Department at the Public Security Department, told a press conference in July.
    Public cautions by the police regarding the niqab and khimar have triggered a debate in the country over how to tackle the use of the garments in crimes, with some calling for them to be restricted or even banned.[...]
    Mohannad Mubaydeen, a columnist with the daily Alghad, angered religious pundits in a column last month titled Corruption under the niqab.
    “The issue is not the philosophy of the niqab nor it’s legitimacy, but it lies with how it has become invested in malpractices that lead to disastrous results,” he wrote.
    “Has it become a safety tool to conceal any act that is above the law and public morality?” [...]”

    U.S.
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3745402
    Burqa-Wearing Bandit Baffles Detectives
    N.C. Authorities Don’t Know Whether a Man or Woman Held Up a Bank Tuesday
    By DAVID SCHOETZ
    Oct. 18, 2007
    “Authorities in North Carolina don’t know whether they are looking for a man or a woman in the search for a burqa-wearing bandit who walked into a bank Tuesday and pointed a gun at a teller before exiting with a bag full of money.[...]

    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-104728436.html
    Article: Alleged ‘Burqa Bandits’ nabbed
    Article from: The Philadelphia Tribune Article date: December 24, 2004 Miller, Larry
    Philadelphia Tribune, The 12-24-2004
    “Four arrested in raid; investigation continues
    Acting on tips from the community, police may have gotten a major break in
    the “Burqa Bandits” case yesterday.
    University of Pennsylvania police raided an apartment at 40th and Market
    streets yesterday and arrested four people who are considered suspects in a
    string of robberies.
    Police have been on the trail of a gang of thieves who committed their
    holdups dressed in Muslim women’s clothing. The robbers donned burqas in
    order to conceal their identities.
    Police said during the raid they confiscated Muslim women’s attire,
    firearms and [...]”

    U.K.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/west_midlands/7307412.stm
    ‘Burka’ robber targets jewellers
    Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 16:09 GMT

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1209006/Jewellers-robbery-Oxfordshire-burka-clad-man–150-000-designer-watches-stolen.html
    The ‘burkha bandits’: Robbers armed with knives and an axe wear Muslim dress to raid stores.
    By Andrew Levy
    Last updated at 2:13 AM on 27th August 2009

    http://www.ukwirednews.com/articles.php/57584-Robber-wearing-niqab-targets-Birmingham-Lloyds-TSB-bank
    Robber wearing niqab targets Birmingham Lloyds TSB bank
    Published: 6th May 2010 18:26:53

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/glasgow_and_west/8021627.stm
    Page last updated at 23:32 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 00:32 UK
    Shop raid prompts Muslim veil ban
    By Catrin Nye BBC Asian Network
    “ATAA Jewellers in the west end of Glasgow was raided by two Asian men entirely covered apart from their eyes.
    The pair wore full Muslim female dress, including the Niqab headwear, and were carrying handbags.
    The two girls working at the time were left so shaken there are plans for a sign banning anything covers the face.
    The store’s owners said they think it is an idea that will be taken up by other businesses.
    They acknowledged that such a move may offend some people, but they said safety was their priority. [...]”

    Canada

    http://www.citynews.ca/news/news_5475.aspx
    Brampton, Ontario, Canada
    (Male) thieves use a burqa disguise to steal a million dollars worth of jewels
    Wednesday November 22, 2006

    http://www.mississauga.com/news/article/31740–police-hunt-burqa-bandit
    Police hunt burqa bandit
    “Louie Rosella Jun 30, 2009 – 2:53 PM
    An armed man who was dressed in a burqa this afternoon when he robbed the Scotiabank at Applewood Village Plaza is being hunted by police.
    Peel Regional Police say the man, disguised in the head-to-foot garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions, walked into the North Service Rd. bank just before 1:30 p.m. and indicated he had a gun. The butt-end of a revolver was seen by bank employees.
    Police say the robber demanded cash from a teller and made off with an undisclosed amount of money.[...]”

    Australia

    Cross-dressing man in burka robs jeweler
    From: NewsCore May 06, 2010 11:43PM
    http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/world/cross-dressing-man-in-burka-robs-jeweler/story-e6frg1p3-1225863364080

    More about this case:
    http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/news/local/news/general/columbians-in-gong-court-over-burqa-robberies/1829754.aspx

    More on the above case:
    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/1049472/senator-calls-for-burqa-ban-after-robbery
    08:00 AEST Fri May 7 2010
    7 days 1 hour 31 minutes ago
    By ninemsn staff
    Senator calls for burqa ban after robbery
    “A Liberal senator has sparked outrage and debate after he called for a ban on wearing the burqa in public, saying it is “un-Australian”.
    South Australian senator Cory Bernardi yesterday wrote a post on his personal blog saying the veil was “emerging as the preferred disguise of bandits and n’er do wells”
    [...] counter-terrorism and aviation security consultant Roger Henning said anything which prevented identification posed “a massive risk” to public safety.
    “People have used burqas to escape prison, for bank robberies and terrorists carrying explosive devices are sometimes disguised as women,” Mr Henning said.
    [...]”

    France

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/7189090/Burka-wearing-gunmen-raid-French-bank.html
    Burka-wearing gunmen raid French bank
    Two burka-wearing bank robbers have pulled off a heist near Paris using a handgun concealed beneath their full Islamic veil.
    By Henry Samuel in Paris
    Published: 3:24PM GMT 08 Feb 2010

    Netherlands

    Netherlands
    http://islamineurope.blogspot.com/2008/06/rotterdam-pickpockets-dressing-up-as.html
    Friday, June 27, 2008
    Rotterdam: Pickpockets dressing up as Muslim women
    “Markets in Rotterdam have been harassed the past few weeks by East-European pickpockets who dress up as religious Muslim women. The police doesn’t have definite numbers but say there’s a ‘sharp increase’ of thieving fake Muslimas.
    These are mostly female Bulgarian or Romanian thieves who are quite elusive with their head covering robes. A police spokesperson says that it’s become a known phenomenon and that they see it more and more often in nearly all Rotterdam markets [...]”

    Bosnia-Herzegovina

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL0380407920070703
    Men disguised as Muslim women rob bank
    SARAJEVO
    Tue Jul 3, 2007 9:39am EDT
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – “Two armed men disguised as Muslim women in burqas held up a bank in Sarajevo and got away with some $40,000, Bosnian police said on Tuesday.[...]”

    India

    http://ibnlive.in.com/news/burqa-ban-muslims-to-boycott-traders/29760-3.html
    Posted on Dec 29, 2006 at 13:55 | Updated Dec 29, 2006 at 16:14
    Mumbai: “Maharashtra jewellers have decided to remove the restriction on the entry of burqa-clad customers into their shops.
    The Jewellers’ Association’s demand that veiled women be barred from entering shops had invited sharp reaction from the Muslim clerics, who had even called for a boycott of the shops that imposed restrictions on the entry of veiled women.
    [...] The jewellers’ body had earlier sought permission from the police to bar customers sporting veils from entering jewellery shops to deal with the ‘menace’ of an increase in robberies by burqa-clad customers. While the police have refused to give such permission to the jewellers, the traders have said the burqa-clad customers should at least allow themselves to be photographed in CCTV.[...]“

  • Thumpalumpacus

    It is possible to think both of these things at the same time while also thinking that neither concern has as its aim the hindering of religious exercise. Religious exercise is incidental to the conversation.

    Whether or not a law intends to violate a Constitutional right, if it does so in practice, is it not unconstitutional?

  • Sarah Braasch

    With respect to the Free Exercise Clause — no.

    The Supreme Court has made clear that a neutral, generally applicable law that incidentally impinges on religious exercise is constitutional.

    The SC has also determined that the states are under no obligation to provide religious exemptions to neutral, generally applicable laws.

    And, think about what would be the alternative.

    What would it mean if legislators were under an obligation to consider religious doctrine before crafting laws?

    What would it mean if states were required to provide religious exemptions to anyone claiming religious exercise in opposition to any law whatsoever?

    It would turn our secular government into either a theocracy or anarchy.

  • Archimedez

    Tommykey,

    Re the visual field issue for drivers who wear the niqab, burqa, etc. You ask: “Have studies been done to determine if wearing a niqab while driving is a factor in causing traffic accidents? If causality has been demonstrated, I am perfectly happy to support making it an offense to wear such a face covering while driving. Otherwise, the burden is on the supporter of the ban to offer solid evidence that it is a matter of public safety.”

    Re such scientific studies (i) specifically isolating causality, or (ii) statistical studies comparing accident rates in burqa/niqab wearers vs non-wearers, I’m not aware of any. I’m not aware of studies that have been done on women wearing these items while driving or in simulated driving tests. (I currently don’t have access to scientific journals where I reside). However, after reading your question, I did come across an abstract–I can access only the abstract–online describing the results of a study of niqab wearers involving a visual field test relevant for driving, where the garment’s aperture size (for the eyes) was apparently regulated and measured. Under these conditions, the authors noted that “When wearing the niqab, all subjects achieved a visual field adequate to satisfy UK/European driving standards. A measurement of the limiting aperture size was obtained and a self-test method for niqab wearers was determined.” The study: 2008: Pearce E Ian; Walsh Glyn; Dutton Gordon N Does the niqab (veil) wearer satisfy the minimal visual field for driving? Ophthalmic & physiological optics : the journal of the British College of Ophthalmic Opticians (Optometrists) 2008;28(4):310-2.
    ————

    The niqab and burqa differ in that the latter has a much more restricted field of vision, sometimes having a screen or grill or thin veil-like fabric across the entire visual field. For driving, the burqa (and other similar items that cover or screen the eyes and severely restrict the visual field) is, I think, out of the question. Those products would have to be redesigned to meet driving safety standards. (The end result of such a compromise in design would perhaps look like a hijab).

    The niqab face veil (plus the head-covering portion) is of a soft material that apparently can be adjusted by the wearer, altering the size, shape, and boundaries of the visual aperture. I’ve seen examples where the visual aperture is set small, and others where it is set wider. These individualized differences in adjustment preferences may make the difference between an aperture setting that does meet the driving test standards versus a setting that might not meet those standards. For example, see the niqabs in the photos at these links:
    http://www.mybindi.com/lifestyle/perspectives/niqab.html
    http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20100331/niqab_mugshot_100331/20100331?hub=Canada

    One question is, how do we regulate this? Can the aperture of the niqab, being made of a soft-fabric garment, even hold its own setting while the wearer is driving, turning the head this way and that, moving around, getting in and out of the car at stops, and so on, over a long period of time? What about individual product type or style variations in the burqa and niqab, and other such veil-type face covers? (I’ve heard of one type of niqab that has an aperture for only one of the eyes; the other is covered). Is this now something that is going to have to be controlled and regulated?

    I agree that the advocate of a ban of such items used in driving has a burden of making a solid case for the ban. However, I also believe the advocate of allowing people the option to wear such items while driving has a burden to demonstrate that such items are safe. Driving, after all, is one of the most dangerous things we do in our modern society. Indeed, as with all such products, they should be proven safe before they are approved for use. Until studies show that wearing the items is safe or at least not significantly worse than not wearing the items, all else being equal, the approval of such items should not be permitted.

    Also note: Aside from what the driver sees, for the niqab and burqa, there is still the issue of the obscuring of the driver’s face and identity, which I mentioned earlier.

  • Archimedez

    p.s. Tommykey,

    The problem of determining what is an acceptable visual field aperture size and shape for a niqab may be the source of this disagreement between a niqab-wearer and a policeman in France. The driver says her visual field was not restricted by the niqab, but the policeman apparently disagreed.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100423/ap_on_re_eu/eu_france_muslim_veils
    By PIERRE-BAPTISTE VANZINI, Associated Press Writer Pierre-baptiste Vanzini, Associated Press Writer – Fri Apr 23, 2:33 pm ET
    Driver wearing Islamic face veil fined in France
    NANTES, France – “A woman driver wearing an Islamic face veil has been fined by French police for not having a clear field of vision. The fine was small, but it garnered big attention Friday and may illustrate what is to come as the president pushes to outlaw the veils nationwide.[...]“

  • Wednesday

    Okay, let’s accept for the sake of argument that all women who wear the burqua are doing so as a direct result of oppression at the hands of their families and religion. Then by definition, the burqua ban creates a penalty for women for being oppressed. (Unless it’s just a symbolic ban with no penalty for violating it, in which case I frankly don’t see the point.) Punishing women for being victims of abuse is generally not an effective way to liberate them.

    If the burqua really is a symptom of abuse, then we should teach law enforcement and social workers that, and teach them how to investigate these cases effectively so that they can protect the victims and convict the abusers. Heck, if it’s a symptom of abuse, then banning it in public is requiring that evidence of abuse be kept hidden in public. It’s like requiring abuse victims to hide their bruises.

    It’s disingenuous for you to liken claims like “Plan B will lead to teen sex cults” to concerns that the burqua ban might lead to some women being further oppressed. It’s well documented that abusers often isolate their victims, restrict their movements, control their manner of dress. This is consistent with both the burqua-as-abuse and with cloistering women in the home. By contrast, eg, access to emergency contraception does not correlate with creation of cults of any kind that I am aware of.

    Finally…
    Creating a law that prohibits concealment of identity in public is going to be majorly problematic for transgendered persons. It’s a common accusation that transgendered folks are “deceptive”, and this has been used successfully in court as a defense for murder. We really do not need a law that could (and would) be used to punish transgendered folks just for being trans.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    However, I also believe the advocate of allowing people the option to wear such items while driving has a burden to demonstrate that such items are safe.

    Thanks for your response Archimedez. However, it is the advocates of a ban who have the burden of proving that something is unsafe, not the other way around. Here in the US, many states have bans (albeit mostly unenforced) on using a cell phone while driving. The bans came about because of accidents that involved drivers using their cell phones while driving. In other words, the proponents of the ban had evidence in their favor.

    With regard to making it an offense for a driver to wear a niqab while driving (it is my understanding that what is being called a burqa in France is actually a niqab), from what I have read, the number of women who wear the niqab in all of France are a few thousand at best. Out of that number, do the ones who drive have a greater propensity to get into traffic accidents out of proportion to their numbers?

    Now, if there was solid evidence for this, I would absolutely be in favor of a ban on wearing such a facial covering while driving. But it is the proponents of the ban who have to make this case. It is not enough to point to a handful of accidents here and there in which one of the drivers was wearing a veil, because we all know unveiled people get into traffic accidents all the time. You would also have to factor in the experience of the driver. If a niqab clad women of 50 who has been driving for 15 or 20 years and has a track record of getting into car accidents, that would be something. But if it is a 20 year old with a year or two of experience who got into an accident, that would not be as convincing, given that I was involved in accidents and fender benders on a yearly basis for the first 3 or 4 years I drove a car.

    Oh, and thanks for the crime links (I scrolled in reverse and saw your field of vision comments first). Like I wrote above, I didn’t doubt it happened sometimes. When it comes to banks, I am a proponent of no one being allowed to wear face covering of any kind when it comes to entering one. Here on Long Island where I live, banks are robbed all the time by heroin addicts who go up to the teller and demand cash. Sometimes they wear baseball caps to conceal their identities from the cameras. I would go further and support banks requiring persons to show their identification upon entering the bank and having their picture taken. The problem is, banks find it more convenient to just hand a wad of cash to a robber than spending extra money on security procedues to reduce robberies.

    While I am leaning against a ban, I can be convinced the other way if the evidence of a tangible public harm can be demonstrated. This is an emotional issue for a lot of people. If I had my way, no one would wear such restrictive clothing. But I don’t want my opposition to it to be based on just the fact that I am an atheist who detests such public displays of religious fundamentalism and ignorance. I realize I have to rise above my own personal prejudices on issues such as this and base my support on the facts.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Oh for goodness sakes! I accidentally blockquoted my entire comment instead of the quote from Archimedez. Tried the edit function, but it would not allow me to scroll down to the bottom of my comments to delete the blockquote tag there. Guess the length of the comments affects this.

  • ethin

    “The Supreme Court has made clear that a neutral, generally applicable law that incidentally impinges on religious exercise is constitutional.”

    And yet this is colloquially being referred to as the “burqa ban”. It’s pretty obvious that it is not a neutral, generally applicable law, but was drafted to specifically target Muslim immigrants. I can’t believe any reasonable person would support this ban, but I guess even reasonable people tend to rationalize when it comes to culture shock.

  • Paul

    Whether or not a law intends to violate a Constitutional right, if it does so in practice, is it not unconstitutional?

    With respect to the Free Exercise Clause — no.

    That is not accurate, no matter how much you want it to be. Let’s look at the Lemon Test.

    First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose. This could be argued. I won’t say a burqa ban is a violation of this prong, although that is a possible finding.

    Second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. A ban specifically on the burqa, no matter what the “intent” behind it is, at even the most shallow glance fails this prong.

    Finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. It doesn’t fail this prong, IMO, but some might disagree.

    The burqa ban plainly fails the Lemon Test based on the second prong. This is regardless of the intent of the lawmakers.

    Insisting upon placing the protection of religious exercise at the center of this conversation is a repudiation of the principle of secularism.

    Secularism isn’t code for wishful atheist thinking. If you want to fight the burqa, do so on grounds that aren’t easily repudiated by the principle of secularism. It’s a two way sword. The government can’t advance religion, but neither can it explicitly act to prohibit it. The burqa ban fails the Lemon test because the primary effect is inhibiting religion. Don’t pretend that because you are in favor of the ban, you’re the only one that cares about secularism. It’s possible to say the ban is stupid and unconstitutional, even if one believes in secularism and wants to shrink the influence of religion. It’s a stupid ban, and would not hold up in court based on precedent (although it’s always possible the court would shirk precedent and break the Establishment Clause, as we expect with the inevitable NDOP backtracking).

  • Sarah Braasch

    Paul,

    You’re talking apples, and I’m talking oranges.

    If you want to talk about apples, by all means, discuss apples.

    But, I’ve made it perfectly clear that I’m not talking about apples. I’m talking about oranges.

    But, please, continue discussing apples. But, you’ll have to forgive me if I stop responding.

  • Paul

    You’re talking apples, and I’m talking oranges.

    Bull. You made specific claims, and I pointed out where they were misguided or factually incorrect. If you want to pretend we’re talking “apples and oranges”, fine. I have no interest in rubbing your nose in your mistakes if you refuse to recognize them.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Paul,

    This is not an Establishment Clause issue. It is a Free Exercise Clause issue.

    If you don’t believe me, ask another lawyer or a law school student. They don’t even have to be very well versed in con law — this is very basic stuff.

    Even if we use the Lemon Test, notice that the second prong requires that the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion be the primary or principal effect. Not the case here.

    Additionally, if we apply the Lemon Test as you do, realize the absurd result.

    Are you prepared to say that the anti mask law in NY, which the 2nd Circuit deemed constitutional, is a violation of the Establishment Clause based upon applying the Lemon Test as you have done above?

    The extrapolation of your analysis is that any law, even neutral, generally applicable laws, which incidentally impinge upon the free exercise of religion, are unconstitutional violations of the Establishment Clause based upon the Lemon Test.

    This is absurd and in direct contradiction to much Supreme Court jurisprudence.

    Establishment Clause — govt taking a step towards establishment of religion

    Free Exercise Clause — govt inhibiting free exercise of religion

    Even the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is only now applicable against the federal government, requires that the interference be substantial and that the tenet interfered with be a fundamental tenet of the faith (which I think is egregious govt entanglement with religion, BTW — govt determining the sincerity of beliefs and which tenets are fundamental).

    But, I have a feeling that you’re going to argue this as well, even though this is first year con law material.

    You shouldn’t challenge someone who just spent a whole summer studying this material for the bar exam.

    It tends to make them feisty.

    I am not misguided nor factually incorrect. And, I have no problem recognizing the many mistakes I’ve made. But my stance on this issue is not one of them.

  • Sarah Braasch

    You could still argue that the anti-mask law is unconstitutional, but you have to say that it is an unconstitutional infringement of the right to free exercise of religion. Or, as the KKK did, a violation of free speech rights.

    Saying that it is an Establishment Clause violation is ridiculous.

  • DSimon

    Even if we use the Lemon Test, notice that the second prong requires that the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion be the primary or principal effect. Not the case here.

    Sarah, I don’t understand this conclusion. It seems clear that the primary point of the law is to ban burqas, even if the law is made into a general “no face covering” law that doesn’t mention burqas by name. As a somewhat similar example, I remember Intelligent Debate proposals that were shot down in court as obviously just being vehicles for Christian creationism, even though the ID language itself is careful to be vaguely deistic at most.

    (BTW: I have no law knowledge, so please consider this a request for edification rather than an attempt at making an educated counter-argument).

  • Rowen

    I’m a little late to the party, but I just wanted to point something out about hate crimes that some people seem to be missing.

    The Federal Civil Rights Bill of 1969 allows FEDERAL prosecution of anyone who “willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person’s race, color, religion or national origin.” It goes on to state that this only applies when the victim was participating in a federally protected activity (such as going to school or voting).

    The Violent Crime Control Act of 1994 increases the penalties for the 1969 civil rights act. The recent Matthew Shepard Act adds real or percieved sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disablity to the list, while removing the clause that the victim must be participating in a federally protected activity.

    What this boils down to is that after committing a crime against someone, it can be proved, in court, that you did it from a motivation of hate, then the punishments will be more severe. Also note that the “protected classes” include white people, men, and Christians.

    I hope this clears some things up. It’s not quite the “thought crime” straw man that lots of people create (usually because they’re unaware of what’s actually being said).

  • Archimedez

    Tommykey,

    It looks like our discussion on this niqab visual field issue, which is merely one sub-issue within the whole case for or against the kind of extended ban the French may adopt, will not move forward until evidence of the sort we’ve discussed is brought forward. That said, I differ with you on a couple of points of principle.

    1. I think there is a burden on both sides of the issue to present evidence in support of their position (and against the other’s position if possible). I believe this as a principle in general. There are exceptions, but I don’t find this to be one of them. On this sub-issue, I am burdened with showing that in practicality the burqa/niqab presents an increased risk of accidents in driving, whereas you are burdened with showing that in practicality it does not.
    2. In the absence of clear direct scientific evidence one way or another, we must use common sense reasoning based on what we know (including drawing upon indirect scientific evidence), and err on the side of caution in the interest of safety.

    Your cell phone example is also relevant to supporting my case. I don’t want to get too far into that topic, but I would say there was already indirect evidence (e.g., from psychological studies on the effects of divided attention, etc.) as well as common sense considerations that should have led us much sooner as a society to prohibit cell phone use while driving, until such a time as studies (e.g., simulated driving tests, driving tests in controlled test situations, etc.) showed that cell phone use while driving was as safe (or no less dangerous or risky thing to do) as driving without cell phone use. Plenty of products go through safety testing before they are ever allowed to be released on the market. For the context of driving–already one of the most dangerous of things we do on a regular basis–a use of a product has to be shown to be safe before it is allowed. How many deaths are attributable not merely to cell phone use while driving, but our long (I’d say too long) delay in starting to ban that practice?

    p.s. (Just for clarification, the opening sentence in Tommykey’s comment #90 in the blockquote is a quote of me, and the rest that follows is Tommykey’s response).

  • Sarah Braasch

    Hey guys,

    Hate crime legislation — nice try, Rowen, but no dice. Why are penalties more severe? (And, BTW, we’re not just talking a slap on the wrist.) Because of motive. Motive is being penalized. As a crime. Sounds like thought crime to me. Motive is why. Also, this brings up HUGE equal protection issues. We penalize some people more severely, because we’ve decided that they are really really bad people. Because we just don’t like them. We think they’re immoral. Not because of anything they’ve actually done. Red lights should be going off everywhere for everyone.

    DSimon, I get what you’re saying. But, the difference is: it is irrelevant who is wearing the identity obscuring face coverings.

    Let’s say that there were no Muslim women in the US wearing niqab.

    Let’s say that the interest in reviving the anti-mask law debate was an ostensible response to a KKK revival across the US.

    You can still think it’s a public safety and security and welfare issue, which it is (and which the courts have noted).

    You can still think it’s a legitimate function of government to regulate public activity.

    You can still think it’s an issue of democratic representation.

    You can still think that a carefully constructed law can be constitutional (non-violative of free speech rights).

    Let’s go a step further, and say that it was some other subgroup, non religious, who started making all of their women wear niqab or burqa in public.

    (This is a novel approach and hasn’t actually been pursued yet.) But, you can still think that the emancipation of women is a compelling government interest. It is clearly an issue of democratic representation. No democracy can survive for long when a large enough subclass of the citizenry has second class citizenship status imposed upon them. This is why I support the diversity as compelling government interest argument on behalf of affirmative action policies. It is about distribution of power. It is the same reason why we have separation of powers. If any one group has too much power, they immediately begin discriminating against and oppressing other groups. No matter the group.

    In our current day and age, it, yes, unfortunately, happens to be Muslim women who are engaging in this behavior – private citizens obscuring their identities in the public space.

    But, it has nothing to do with religion. Really. I’m not being cute or disingenuous.

    Even with the fancy, dressed up language – the ID movement goal: to propagate the idea of a higher power or being.

    The only way such a neutral, generally applicable anti-mask law could be attacked is if it were a federal law — using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

    But, even then, whoever attacked it would have to show substantial interference with religious exercise. And, the tenet interfered with has to be a fundamental tenet of the faith.

    Ok. This is getting into analyzing a religion (which, shockingly the courts have done under the RFRA), but I don’t think not being able to wear niqab is substantial interference with religion, and it certainly isn’t a fundamental tenet of Islam.

    Talk about government entanglement. Yikes.

    But, it wouldn’t be a federal law. But, it will happen. More and more local and state laws will pop up, or be enforced, if they already exist, and be challenged in the courts.

    It’s already happening in the US.

  • Archimedez

    DSimon,

    Re your comment #33 which was in response to part of my comment #31 re the burqa/niqab:
    You write:

    “Archimedez, I think your examples of the danger of anonymity are not compelling.”

    You didn’t address this one, which seemed compelling to me when I suggested it in comment #31: “How about the voting fraud that could be carried out if people were not required to remove their face coverings at the voting station?”

    “For the purposes of identification to get a driver’s license or enter a secure building, or to see properly when driving a car, I’m fine with a law requiring that everyone show their face (at least temporarily) to do so. I would be surprised if such a law were not already in place. The same applies to police officers and guards, who have to identify themselves as part of doing their job; there’s no need for an additional law there.”

    We are for the most part in agreement thus far. (The four examples I mentioned, off the top of my head, were in relation to a more general point about how public anonymity could threaten democracy). Note however that police officers and guards may not be subjected to these same rules in jurisdictions where exceptions allowing face or head covering may be made for religious reasons; i.e., in some jurisdictions the issue does not seem to be resolved.

    “How does seeing a politician’s face let us know if they’re telling the truth? Politicians are perfectly capable of learning how to put on a poker face.”

    I wasn’t referring to the ability to evaluate truthfulness vs deception by relying only on facial expressions, though I see how that might have been one of the unintended implications readable from my example. I was referring to people’s ability to understand what was being said, what the politician’s attitude might be toward certain issues, how confident they seem, expressions of pleasure or displeasure and disapproval in regards to certain topics and positions, expressions of enthusiasm, the movements and configuration of the mouth in pronunciation, and so on—in short, all of the information that is picked up in addition to straight verbal content but which can enhance understanding of that verbal content.

    It occurs to me that my reference to facial expression is too specific and limited. The general issue associated with that point was communication. The burqa and niqab, to some extent, can muffle the speech of the wearer, reducing the clarity of speech. In addition, the wearer’s ears are covered, so they may have greater difficulty hearing.

    A different problem with the burqa/niqab-wearing politician debating in a public forum or appearing in a public inquiry: Doesn’t this conflict with separation of religion and state? Can priests, cardinals, and nuns run for or hold public office and still wear their full religious garb in their capacities as politicians? The same questions would apply to Muslim politicians wearing religious garb, such as the burqa/niqab.

    Also, how do we know that a given politician X in a burqa/niqab is actually politician X on any given occasion?

    “I also don’t understand what you mean about making threats from anonymity; threatening people is already illegal, and so people who do so often find ways to do it anonymously in order to avoid being arrested. Adding another law saying people have to identify themselves when they break a law won’t do anything.”

    Of course, threats are already illegal, but the point is that anonymous threats made in a real situation in public, such as those coming from veiled/masked individuals who make threats and then flee the scene, are practically more difficult to police. Such threat-makers are more difficult to catch by virtue of the lack of identifying information that might have otherwise been obtained by witnesses and from cameras. Yet the anonymous or identity-obscured threats remain effective in instilling the fear the threat-maker desires to instill in order to achieve whatever political or ideological goals he or she wants to achieve. The risk of the threat and its psychological effects may be reduced if the threat-maker is caught, but not if the threat-maker remains at large.

    “I absolutely agree that culturally ingrained practices which deny women equal rights and opportunities are deeply immoral and must be fought. But, I don’t think that a burqa-ban law would be helpful. It would break a lot of totally legitimate civil liberties and fail to address the cultural root of the problem.”

    One of the problems in this discussion in this thread is that the details and the extent of “the ban” in France have not been spelled out. Some extent of incidental banning or prohibition of the burqa/niqab is already in place according to existing laws, both in terms of specific contexts (e.g., like getting a driver’s licence photo, or showing one’s face to a police officer when asked) and general secularist policy (general ban on ostentatious display of religious symbols in public institutions). My understanding is that the French government is currently attempting to arrive at some kind of agreement on exactly how far the “ban” will be extended, specifically with the problems of the burqa/niqab in mind. One of the issues still being debated, as I recall having read recently, was whether the ban on these face covers would be extended to include people just walking along on the street.

    “We need to fight this at its core, by (civilly, but repeatedly and thoroughly) informing Muslim women being forced to wear the burqa that they have the right to refuse, that they deserve the same dignity and opportunity as men, and that secular law enforcement can be relied upon to protect them without attacking their personal beliefs. Then, we have to also make sure that the last is actually true.”

    I agree with most of this, except that enforcement of even a limited ban, of the sort to which you would seem to agree based on your statements above, will probably lead some ardent defenders of the burqa/niqab to insist that this is an “attack” on their personal religious beliefs. It is, at least incidentally, if not intentionally, in opposition to their personal religious beliefs.

    “That’s the way to fight this, not a misdirected law.”

    I would say we need some of both, and I don’t believe the law is misdirected. There may need to be further legislation punishing men who, in reacting to the ban, try to confine women to their houses, if such laws are not already there (e.g., unlawful confinement), but I believe the ban is generally correct. The main question now is How far exactly, into what contexts, should the ban go?

  • Dark Jaguar

    For some time now I’ve seen the burqa as a symbol of oppression, one that women should not be forced to wear, and they should have legal recourse if they are.

    However, even after reading all of the above, which made some points I hadn’t even considered before, I still am against the idea of a blanket ban on it. It’s probably a part of American culture, we just don’t like anything banned if the thing in itself is not inherantly harmful to society, the idea just being that it constitutes hurting people who never did anything wrong to have something they enjoy just taken away from them because someone else “ruined it for everyone”. It’s why state after state here rules against laws prohibiting the sales of violent games to minors (I am in agreement with those decisions too).

    That in mind, the burqa’s forceful requirement on women is sickening to me, and legal protection for them certainly gets my full support, but to drive the point home, you yourself admit to freely wearing one in public for the point of making a demonstration against them. That’s a fine example of just one political use of it, and there’s plenty of artistic uses as well. Surely there’s some irony in using a particular method of demonstration in order to ban the very method you used.

    The argument of it being dangerous to hide your identity in the public space is one I’ve never heard before I read this article, demonstrating well enough my ignorance of the “European conversation” on it just as you had said. However, it’s not very convincing and in fact rather frightening. Let’s face it, anonymity is valuable, too valuable for the threats of “stranger danger” on the street to make me want to sacrifice it. I think we can both agree that online anonymity is harmless, and I personally partake in that quite well.

    I can respect the fear one may have of cloaked figures walking towards them. However, there are perfectly good reasons. Someone above mentioned simply being able to make a demonstration of numbers while the individuals can be safely protected from retribution, for example a public display in front of a scientology office wearing Guy Fawkes masks. You may talk about how each person limited from wearing normal protection isn’t “REALLY” hiding their identity, but it comes off as splitting hairs. I can understand your argument for the construction worker or doctor, but the skiier on the slopes? There’s really no way one can say that person isn’t hiding their identity (though it’s unintentional) there. All you really know is they are a skiier, hardly enough to consider yourself completely able to identify them should they do something bad. You could make the same argument of someone in a burqa, they are clearly a muslim most of the time, but that’s not really a full identity as you clearly admit. More fundamentally, Halloween would be basically killed by this sort of thing. Or at least, not nearly as fun if you demand all the costumes never ever cover or disguise the face.

    Heck during winter I wear a ski mask because it works very well against the cold, I’m basically anonymous as I can’t even be called a skiier, and I do walk into buildings wearing it. Depending on if I get hot or am just going to leave in a second, I may or may not bother with taking it off. Of course, if someone gets scared and ASKS me to remove it, I will out of politeness, but my point is there are far more people out there covering their identities for perfectly legitimate reasons than aren’t. That alone should make this particular angle of argument completely overbearing and wrong.

    You seem to imagine a situation where the entire populace is simultaneously cloaked and never reveals their identity. That’s quite a silly strawman there. I really doubt such a thing would ever happen. It never has and isn’t happening now. It reminds me of the silly arguments against homosexuality arguing that if EVERYONE went “gay”, the human race would go extinct.

    I’m not arguing that governments need to “respect” a demand not to reveal identity when interacting with them, or companies, or anyone you deal with. I think they are free to say “if you want a liscense, you need to tell me who you are”. If a police officer is questioning you on legimimate grounds or charging you with something, it’s perfectly acceptable for them to demand to know your identity. However, demanding that of people who aren’t asking for anything from you at the time, who’s broken no laws and are otherwise not acting in any way you could consider suspicious, legally, is far too much power.

    I could understand the burqa ban if you were arguing on the grounds of forcing women to wear it being a violation of human rights. I may disagree on the legal method on how to help them out of that situation, but I would respect that argument. However, the argument that it’s about “revealing your identity in the public space”, aside from seeming like an obvious subject change from the real issue, is something I could never agree on.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I just want to thank everyone for their thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

    This has really helped me to refine my argument and made plain my weak spots.

    I will have much more to say on this general subject in the near future.

    I have to step away, unfortunately. I actually should have stepped away earlier. I totally got sucked in. I’m banning myself for a few days.

    Thanks again. Be well and wonderful.

  • Arni Vidar

    Well, this is certainly an interesting debate.

    I would like to throw in my non-american views on the issue, but let me begin my saying that I love America, have been considering moving there to live and work for many years and most of my friends are Americans.

    That being said, you lot have some SERIOUS psychological problems in the area of trust issues. To automatically assume that anyone wearing an item to cover his or her face is doing so to hide malevolent intent, is at best ridiculous. Trying to create legislation that bans face-obscuring wear in public is pure PARANOYA and at the root of it has absolutely nothing to do with security and everything to do with being scared out of one’s wits of those darned muslims.

    Not all muslims are mad suicide bombers coming after you and your children.
    Not all black people are inherently lazy or in a dangerous gang.
    Not all gay people are plague-infested and to be avoided at all cost.
    Not all tattooed people have been in jail and are heading there again.
    Not all women wearing burkas do so because they are forced

    To create a legislation which will (despite all high and mighty intent) force a whole nation to suppress his or her personal expressive needs and wants, is something I see as an attack at the core values that make America so great. How anyone can support such a heinous act is simply beyond me.

  • Herb

    Not all women wearing burkas do so because they are forced

    Very interesting take at the Atlantic:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/05/teachable-moments/56725/

  • Archimedez

    One of the key arguments against the burqa/niqab ban is that such a ban violates the individual wearer’s freedom of expression, which in this case is freedom to choose what one wants to wear. To support this argument, however, requires evidence from at least one adequate study that the women and teenage girls who wear the burqa/niqab are indeed making the choice freely, without coercion. This would require at least poll and survey evidence obtained from the population of Muslim females in France who wear the burqa or niqab, interviewing them or providing questionnaires about whether other family members, imams, etc., are coercing them to wear it. It might also be informative to survey or poll these women’s relatives, husbands, etc. to examine their attitudes about the wearing of the niqab or burqa. Unless there is strong evidence that the majority of these women or teenage girls are freely and without coercion choosing to wear the burqa or niqab, the argument by appeal to freedom of expression isn’t supported.

  • Leum

    I just want to thank everyone for their thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

    This has really helped me to refine my argument and made plain my weak spots.

    I will have much more to say on this general subject in the near future.

    Sarah, I hope you do. This conversation has been fascinating and I hope Adam permits you to post more on it (or that you get your own blog).

  • monkeymind

    “Where were you when the massive waves of protests were overwhelming our major cities to protect the right of Native Americans to hunt bald eagles? Where were you when the write in campaigns were flooding the offices of our legislators in Congress to protect the right of Native Americans to smoke peyote?”

    Just wanted to point out that the the “nondrug use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church” is exempt from federal criminal penalties. It’s eaten, not smoked, by the way. While all hunting of bald eagles by Native Americans is outlawed by the Endangered Species Act, Native Americans can obtain eagle feathers from wild-killed eagles through the US Fish and Wildlife service.

  • DSimon

    Archimedez, regarding the voting fraud issue, I agree that it is reasonable for a voting station to check peoples’ identities, and so people should have to show their face (and that same face on a valid ID card) before voting. Generally, it should be legal to require that people show their faces at least temporarily in any situation where it’s already legal to require that they show their ID.

  • DSimon

    (Sorry, submitted my previous comment too early. To continue my response to Archimedez:)

    [...] [T]hreat-makers [whose faces are concealed] are more difficult to catch by virtue of the lack of identifying information that might have otherwise been obtained by witnesses and from cameras.

    I agree with this, but disagree with your proposed solution. In addition to unnecessarily breaking civil liberties and free expression, I don’t think it would even solve the problem you bring up.

    The hypothetical threat-maker has (a) a public area in which they wish to make a threat, and (b) an escape route they can use to escape the police while still being disguised. Given this scenario, an anti-mask law wouldn’t stop them from simply entering some hidden area like a restroom stall, waiting a while, then putting on their mask and rushing out and making their threat. Without the law, the police have a window of potential arrest that extends from when the threat is made up until the threat-maker gets away. With the law, that window only extends very slightly backwards in time to the point where they emerge from their hiding place wearing their mask. The anti-mask law makes the perpetrator no more identifiable, and only very slightly easier to catch.

    I was referring to people’s ability to understand what was being said, what the politician’s attitude might be toward certain issues, how confident they seem, expressions of pleasure or displeasure and disapproval in regards to certain topics and positions, expressions of enthusiasm, the movements and configuration of the mouth in pronunciation, and so on—in short, all of the information that is picked up in addition to straight verbal content but which can enhance understanding of that verbal content.

    I think you describe an excellent reason why politicians should not wear masks if that prevents them from communicating well, but I don’t think this is a compelling argument for a law preventing politicians from wearing masks. If you intend to make a law against politicians expressing themselves badly, you’re going to need to build a lot of posh minimum-security prisons in a hurry. :-)

    I don’t see why a politician shouldn’t wear a mask if they want to (provided that they identify themselves when necessary, same as anybody else). If that makes them poorer orators, so be it; I don’t think good speaking style needs to be mandated by law.

    I agree with most of [DSimon's proposed strategy for helping women who are forced to wear the burqa], except that enforcement of even a limited ban, of the sort to which you would seem to agree based on your statements above, will probably lead some ardent defenders of the burqa/niqab to insist that this is an “attack” on their personal religious beliefs. It is, at least incidentally, if not intentionally, in opposition to their personal religious beliefs.

    To be clear, I don’t support any sort of ban. All I support is the creation and/or enforcement of laws that people temporarily reveal their faces if it is required to do so to match them with their photo ID, or while driving if the evidence shows that whatever kind of mask they’re using interferes with their ability to drive well. This is only a “ban” on people refusing to identify themselves when they’re legally required to do so, which is a very limited sort of situation.

    Regarding religious people claiming that things are an “attack” on their religious beliefs: reducing such complaints isn’t my goal. People everywhere complain about being persecuted, but I’m only concerned about legitimate claims of persecution. For example, allowing people to draw political cartoons of Mohammed isn’t a violation of anyone’s civil liberties. Requiring that people show their face for a moment so that it can be checked against their photo ID isn’t a violation of anyone’s civil liberties.

    However, forcing people to not wear a certain article of clothing in public even if they want to is, and it’s not a violation which I feel is justified by any significant benefit.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I am under the impression that in situations where people are legally required to show their ID, the legal requirement to show their face when asked is implied.

  • Archimedez

    DSimon,

    There are at least a few aspects of this issue that I think need to be clarified in future discussion. One is the range of specific contexts (i.e., “public” contexts) in which the burqa/niqab “ban” would be extended. Another is the set of reasons for the ban. Still another are the range of persons, by virtue of occupation, who should or should not be permitted to wear the niqab/burqa in their vocational capacity.

    Re the range of contexts, there is this information from an article a few months ago, about a panel assigned to make recommendations:

    http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/58915,news-comment,news-politics,mob-of-80-muslims-attack-hassen-chalghoumis-mosque-in-paris-suburb-burka
    “[...] Among the 15 recommendations put forward were that women wearing full veils should be barred from hospitals, universities, post offices and public transport, while a similar sanction would be applied to any burka-clad woman seeking state benefits or citizenship.
    Yet the panel couldn’t agree on whether the burka should be outlawed on the streets, despite President Nicolas Sarkozy declaring such a garment as “not welcome” in a speech last year.[...]”

    So, besides specific situations where people have to show their real faces when they show the photos of their faces on their ID, there would be at least five general areas where the face covers could possibly be banned, with streets being the most contentious. (I’d like to see a list of all the areas, but I haven’t found it). Anyways, a “public” ban might also include parks, an outdoor public square type of setting (that is made for cultural events such as entertainment, political demonstrations, etc.), and arenas, movie theaters, etc. I suspect that it is the “street,” parks, and public squares etc. that are the contexts that are contributing to the source of the disagreements amongst commenters in this thread.

    Sarkozy is pushing for a complete public ban. The majority of the French in polls agree to at least a partial ban, while a minority wants the full ban.

    Re the set of reasons for the ban on burqas/niqabs, these include safety, security, health, social segregation issues, and religion-state separation issues. (I think the first three are the most objective and probably should be the main topics of discussion as pertaining to a ban, prohibition, or regulation of the burqa and niqab).

    You write:

    The hypothetical threat-maker has (a) a public area in which they wish to make a threat, and (b) an escape route they can use to escape the police while still being disguised. Given this scenario, an anti-mask law wouldn’t stop them from simply entering some hidden area like a restroom stall, waiting a while, then putting on their mask and rushing out and making their threat. Without the law, the police have a window of potential arrest that extends from when the threat is made up until the threat-maker gets away. With the law, that window only extends very slightly backwards in time to the point where they emerge from their hiding place wearing their mask. The anti-mask law makes the perpetrator no more identifiable, and only very slightly easier to catch.

    In what “public” context? In your example you seem to assume there are no cameras or witnesses recording or watching what unfolds before the criminal goes into the hiding place so that some kind of continuity cannot be established when he or she comes out with the mask. The criminal would also have to change the rest of their clothes. In addition, you have come up with a particular type of situation that allows the mask-wearer to do what you describe. What percentage of situations are just like that? A bank is not like that. A government office is also not like that. Most stores have cameras. These types of buildings have cameras and people all around, inside and out. (Whether hidden bathroom cameras are allowed probably depends on the jurisdiction and the context). I stand by the point that a facially identifiable criminal is much easier to catch than one that is not.

    You write:

    “I think you describe an excellent reason why politicians should not wear masks if that prevents them from communicating well, but I don’t think this is a compelling argument for a law preventing politicians from wearing masks.”

    Perhaps, but my comment was in response to an open-ended challenge about possible dangers to democracy posed by the face covering, which was only one aspect of the problems posed by politicians wearing burqas/niqabs.

    The semantics of the word “ban” aside, I think almost everyone in this thread agrees that there are at least some contexts where the wearer must remove the face cover. Based on polls I’ve seen in the U.S., Canada, and U.K., it seems about 80-85% of people support some extent of “ban” on the burqa/niqab. Individuals only disagree in how far this should go. This is why I think the discussion should focus on the specific contexts; on the specific safety, security, and health issues that arise; and on the specific persons (by vocation) who should or should not be permitted to wear the niqab/burqa in their vocation.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I like the way you think, Archimedez.

    I think the most plausible objection is on free speech grounds. (I don’t think Free Exercise has a leg to stand on.)

    Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not identity obscuring face coverings are protected by the First Amendment and in what contexts and whether compelling government interests exist, which may justify impinging upon the right to obscure one’s face, if such a right exists in certain contexts. (I would argue that one of those compelling government interests is the emancipation of women.)

    This is truly a question for the legislators (state and local) and, then, the courts.

    Which doesn’t mean that we can’t undertake the intellectual exercise.

    I have a question: Are those of you who are so adamantly opposed to an anti-mask law also opposed to those laws, which already exist? (Most of which were a response to the KKK.)

    And, how do you feel about anti-public nudity laws?

    I’m out the door and headed to an Evening to Protest the Burqa with Ni Putes Ni Soumises in Paris.

    There will be much debating and exchanging of ideas in a convivial atmosphere.

    I’ll let you know what goes down.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    I’m torn on this whole thing. I have something of a mish-mash of nice-sounding ideas, strong intuitions, and enough political learning to know that society runs on agreement (with which any number of absurdities are possible, and without which almost nothing is feasible); at the end of the day, I know how I feel, but I’m not quite sure what to think.

    First, I think the burqa is stupid and nobody in their right mind ought to wear one. But then, I do plenty of stupid things which I like for no good reason, and so long as no unwilling participants are involved, I don’t see it as a problem. Determining just who is or is not a willing participant seems to be the crux of the issue here.

    Second, I agree with Thomas Jefferson when he said that the law ought only apply to such acts as are harmful to others (with some exceptions, such as empty bomb threats – you still shouldn’t incite panic, even if it doesn’t cause any “actual” harm, but that’s a whole ‘nother can o’ bees). If zero harm has been done, then there’s zero problem – but of course we now have the issue of sorting out the harm done by brainwashing, and distinguishing that from advertising, and all sorts of other complications.

    Third, exigent circumstances do – and damn well should – sometimes call for otherwise worthy principles to be overruled. We’re not deontologists, after all, and letting any old fool get access to a nuclear weapon wasn’t even a possibility back when it seemed like a good idea to make sure that citizens were well-enough armed to overthrow the government if the need arose.

    Fourth, I’m a fan of anonymity. Yeah, it’s a double-edged sword, like the right to bear arms and the ownership of a motorized vehicle, and it’s also subject to my third point above – but anything with a legitimate purpose may, in principle, be abused for an overwhelming number of evil purposes. You can’t stop people from having evil purposes, the trouble is in finding the balance where people are comfortable enough not to start fucking shit up for others, but not so comfortable that they won’t risk that comfort to stop some shit-fucker who decided to fuck the shit out of the decent parts of the status quo. (But a rotten status quo ought to get the living shit fucked right out of it.)

    So, like, I want everyone to stop wearing burqas voluntarily, but I don’t want a ban to be needed for this, and definitely not for the reasons given concerning anonymity in public. But a ban might be necessary in the long run; I mean, Islam is kinda-sorta invading the civilized world (in some ways it is, in others it isn’t, and which ways are most important is a matter for debate) and I think it would be terrible if it succeeded. Men forcing women to cover themselves excessively is a problem, I am entirely in agreement with this point – but how to combat it is where I get fuzzy. I think a ban might be the best way to go about it, but I’m not sure how to calculate our utility forecast versus other methods (I don’t even know how else we’d legally combat it, to be honest).

    For the record – and because you asked, Sarah – I’m all in favor of public nudity. Sure, there are people who I don’t want to see naked; but I don’t want to see those people at all, and the lack of clothing doesn’t really change much for me. I think we as a society need to be more in touch with our bodies, we have a paradoxical shame and superstitious awe about our bobbly bits which I think is totally misplaced. I think there are all sorts of sanitary and hygiene issues that could crop up with nekkid peeple all over the place, and so there ought to be legislation about that (you dirty stuff up, you pay a fine and take a class, maybe there could also be a nudity license or something). But I don’t think there’s anything wrong or shameful about the human body that requires covering it up, unless some health/weather/job issue requires it. Then again, I also think that we’re too sanitary as a society, we need to give our immune systems more practice, we ought to voluntarily subject ourselves to selection pressures, the noble savage is a myth which we should try to make into reality (plus some rugged, accessible technology), and we should embrace wilderness as a brute fact rather than trying to overcome it. In other words, I have some very weird ideas and I know it.

    Can’t wait to find out how your protest goes!

  • DSimon

    Archimedez:

    [Requote] Among the 15 recommendations put forward were that women wearing full veils should be barred from hospitals, universities, post offices and public transport, while a similar sanction would be applied to any burka-clad woman seeking state benefits or citizenship.

    I don’t think those proposed limitations are any improvement at all over a ban on wearing burqas on the street. In particular, the bar from entering hospitals is uncommonly cruel; is the hospital literally expected to turn a badly-injured burqa-wearing woman out of the emergency room?

    In your example you seem to assume there are no cameras or witnesses recording or watching what unfolds before the criminal goes into the hiding place so that some kind of continuity cannot be established when he or she comes out with the mask. The criminal would also have to change the rest of their clothes. [...] [Y]ou have come up with a particular type of situation that allows the mask-wearer to do what you describe. What percentage of situations are just like that? A bank is not like that. A government office is also not like that. Most stores have cameras. These types of buildings have cameras and people all around, inside and out. (Whether hidden bathroom cameras are allowed probably depends on the jurisdiction and the context)

    The scenario you originally posed was a person issuing a threat in a public place and then fleeing the scene. Bathrooms were one of the hiding places I was specifically thinking of, because bathrooms are nearly anywhere and entering one isn’t suspicious at all, and because bathroom cameras are (thankfully) quite rare.

    Regarding the continuity problem: just wait in a bathroom stall for a long time. Regarding needing to change clothing: reversible clothes, wearing clothes in layers, keeping a sheet or a big heavy coat in a bag, etc. etc. etc. Voila, anti-mask law foiled, unless you start resorting to even more excessive measures like putting intrusive cameras in the bathroom, or requiring that people not only not wear anything that disguises them, but also that they not carry anything that could potentially be used as a disguise, which would be a tyrannically wide ban.

    [M]y comment was in response to an open-ended challenge about possible dangers to democracy posed by the face covering, which was only one aspect of the problems posed by politicians wearing burqas/niqabs.

    I certainly agree that wearing a burqa is, in many ways and many situations, a bad idea. But that would be somewhat of an off-topic conversation; I’m more interested in discussing the implications of a law barring people from wearing burqas.

    It seemed that the main thrust of your original argument had to do with ineffective communication, and also identification. I responded to the former, and to the latter I have the same general response I have to issues of ID: people have to take off anything that masks their face when being officially identified. I’d certainly expect heads of state entering a conference room or television studio to be identified, or else you wouldn’t even need a burqa to impersonate them, just a lookalike or some skill with cosmetics.

    What other problems are you referring to?

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/morality-exposed.html keddaw

    There should be no laws passed in response to one specific, temporary, group. Either there is a good reason to stop people doing something or there isn’t. That the KKK misused the system to their own ends, making threats while hidden etc., is no reason to ban face coverings in protests.

    We don’t ban trial by jury just because it makes it harder to get a conviction allowing many guilt people to walk free, we don’t make cars have a limited top speeds or kill codes so police can catch getaway cars.

    So, the KKK should have been allowed to wear their costumes, face covering and all, and if anyone in that crowd did anything illegal then the police should attempt to catch them. Just because you don’t like the group, just because a minority were likely to commit crimes at the events, doesn’t mean you should be able to either ban the event or limit the US citizens’ constitutional freedoms.

    And public nudity should be allowed. There is no logical, rational argument against it. None. Ask any psychologist, child or otherwise, the human body in its natural form is only dangerous to minds that have been brought up to believe it is and that is simply bad parenting.

    Good luck at your event, Sarah. I hope there is much discussion and trading of ideas.

  • DSimon

    [T]he trouble is in finding the balance where people are comfortable enough not to start fucking shit up for others, but not so comfortable that they won’t risk that comfort to stop some shit-fucker who decided to fuck the shit out of the decent parts of the status quo.

    D, you are a poet. :-)

    More seriously, I agree with the sentiment of this statement as a rationale for determining what laws make sense. We should not be seeking to create a society where laws protect us from every potential harm, because it’s not currently possible for us to do so without limiting us from all opportunity and liberty as well.

  • DSimon

    Sarah:

    I have a question: Are those of you who are so adamantly opposed to an anti-mask law also opposed to those laws, which already exist? (Most of which were a response to the KKK.)

    I’m not clear on the details of these laws.

    (One Google session later…)

    Okay, I am now superficially knowledgable about these laws. :-) And, yes, I am opposed to them, on the same grounds that I am opposed to the proposed ban of the burqa: wearing a disguise can certainly be a form of free speech, it certainly is in this specific case, and I think it is counter-productive and against the spirit of the First Amendment to shut down anyone’s free expression (no matter how disgusting what they’re expressing is) by force of law, unless there’s a direct, obvious, safety-related reason to do so.

    And, how do you feel about anti-public nudity laws?

    I also am against these laws. If there’s solid evidence that seeing nude people in non-sexualized contexts is harmful to children or anyone else, then I would have to rethink my position on this. However, I don’t currently know of any such evidence, and I’ve searched around.

  • Archimedez

    DSimon,

    The categories of problems that I think are most relevant to the ban have to do with safety, security, and health–which I’ve mentioned in multiple posts now–and these apply to the wearer and to others who may be affected by the wearer of the face covering.

    “In particular, the bar from entering hospitals is uncommonly cruel; is the hospital literally expected to turn a badly-injured burqa-wearing woman out of the emergency room?”

    I doubt it. I don’t recall the news source, but I do recall reading that this ban would not affect emergency services. Of course I would agree that no one should be denied emergency services based only on refusal to remove a face mask. However, I agree with the proposal that niqab/burqa wearers should have to show their face in a hospital. Also note that, ban or no ban, medical treatment often requires removing a lot more than a face cover.

    In regular (non-emergency) situations, what if a doctor or nurse refuses to treat a patient who refuses to remove their face covering? Has the doctor or nurse violated the face cover wearer’s freedom of expression and privacy, and thus should the doctor or nurse be subject to legal prosecution?

    My original comment re the face-covered threat-maker didn’t specify a public space, but if you want to use that for the example, that’s fine with me. Re your bathroom example, bathrooms generally occur in buildings (whether public or private), and buildings generally have (a) cameras, and (b) people. And the people nowadays often have cameras of various sorts. In proximity to exactly what public space do you envision that a bathroom could be used in the way you suggest, without the would-be perpetrator of a threat being detected when going into the bathroom unmasked? In your example, is the person he/she intends to threaten located right immediately outside the bathroom?

    You write:

    “Regarding the continuity problem: just wait in a bathroom stall for a long time. Regarding needing to change clothing: reversible clothes, wearing clothes in layers, keeping a sheet or a big heavy coat in a bag, etc. etc. etc. Voila, anti-mask law foiled”

    Must this usually be so? And if there is a camera outside the bathroom positioned so that those going in and out of the bathroom are recorded, the outside camera evidence could be used to rule out everyone who went in and out of the bathroom except the threat-maker–who doesn’t have the mask on when he/she goes in.

    “…unless you start resorting to even more excessive measures like putting intrusive cameras in the bathroom”

    There already are cameras in some bathrooms, so your example requires that the perpetrator has to go to the trouble of finding a bathroom that certainly has no camera. Any additional time and effort the threat-maker has to invest makes the threat less probable.

    “…issues of ID: people have to take off anything that masks their face when being officially identified.”

    Well, that’s the thing–people disagree on exactly where and when they have to do this.

    “I’d certainly expect heads of state entering a conference room or television studio to be identified”

    If the face cover wearers refuse to identify themselves and keep their faces covered, can the owners of the conference room (e.g., in a major hotel) or television company then refuse to let them avail of their services? Can the conference room owners and TV company owners get in trouble legally for denying them their freedom of expression and privacy?

  • DSimon

    If the face cover wearers refuse to identify themselves and keep their faces covered, can the owners of the conference room (e.g., in a major hotel) or television company then refuse to let them avail of their services?

    Yes, provided that identifying yourself is part of the regular procedure for using that facility.

    Archimedez, we need to stop arguing about situations of identifying yourself, because I think we’re now just agreeing with each other very loudly. :-) To reiterate: I absolutely feel that it’s not a violation of freedom of expression or privacy for people to have to momentarily remove face coverings in situations where it is already legal for them to have to identify themselves.

    I certainly understand that there are people who don’t feel that this is so, but I don’t think they have a good argument. Identifying yourself is only required occasionally, only takes a moment of time, and only requires you show your face to the person checking your ID, which means it doesn’t violate general anonymity.

    In regular (non-emergency) situations, what if a doctor or nurse refuses to treat a patient who refuses to remove their face covering? Has the doctor or nurse violated the face cover wearer’s freedom of expression and privacy, and thus should the doctor or nurse be subject to legal prosecution?

    No, the doctor or nurse is not violating the person’s rights as long as the medical procedure they’re doing requires that the patient remove their face covering (which includes pretty much everything in a regular checkup).

    More generally, if a person wants to go and take advantage of a service, and the service by its nature requires they do something they don’t want to do… then they have to make a choice about what’s more important to them, and no law could do anything about it. Freedom of expression doesn’t include the right to force people to do things that aren’t possible. :-)

    I don’t recall the news source, but I do recall reading that this ban would not affect emergency services.

    I’m glad to hear this.

    However, I agree with the proposal that niqab/burqa wearers should have to show their face in a hospital.

    Do you mean momentarily to identify themselves, or do you mean throughout their time in the hospital, even i.e. in the waiting room or when visiting an injured family member?

    In your example, is the person he/she intends to threaten located right immediately outside the bathroom?

    I thought we were talking about issuing a general public threat, not a threat to a specific person; it’s much easier to do the latter with anonymous letters or phone calls.

    Public bathrooms are often near where lots of people travel for obvious functional reasons. The bathroom only has to be close enough for the threat-maker to get to the populated area before police/security response to their violation of the hypothetical anti-mask law would begin.

    And if there is a camera outside the bathroom positioned so that those going in and out of the bathroom are recorded, the outside camera evidence could be used to rule out everyone who went in and out of the bathroom except the threat-maker–who doesn’t have the mask on when he/she goes in.

    This is a good point I hadn’t thought of. However, it does still require that every single person who entered and left the bathroom that day is clearly identifiable (that is, no-one is innocently facing in the wrong direction or just poorly recorded as they enter or leave the bathroom), and no-one else changed their clothing or appearance in the bathroom for innocuous reasons.

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/morality-exposed.html keddaw

    It is entirely possible to identify yourself without revealing your face: simple have your fingerprints taken and/or retina scanned and then you have a readily available ID for most situations (banks, government buildings etc.)

    It is not so good for smaller institutions, but that’s your tough luck if you want to keep your face covered. It doesn’t stop you accessing social services, medicine or banking institutions.

  • DSimon

    Keddaw, for security purposes, over-reliance on biometrics is a good way to end up shooting yourself in the foot. Retinal scans and fingerprint scans are lovely technologies, but (like all other lovely technologies) they can run into nasty problems, especially if they’re implemented without basic sanity checks like checking if the person actually has the right face.

    Even though I’m a total computer geek who thinks technology is super awesome, if I were running a big bank’s security, I’d never ever rely on fingerprints or retinal scans alone to identify people. I’d want to see their face and some picture ID too, just to make sure nothing silly was going on.

  • Polly

    All these arguments about masks and face-coverings, to me, are really beside the point. Women are being subjugated like it’s the fucking dark ages (actually worse) and we’re letting it happen right in the land of the free. How incredibly stupid!

    We don’t allow polygamy – to the point of dragging women and children from their homes – which is a far more intrusive restriction, and simply because…why? Maybe to protect women who are trapped in an abusive, outmoded, patriarchical sub-culture, perhaps? Even if they ostensibly choose it for themselves. (I’m ambivalent about this)
    If we can eliminate whole family structures we don’t like then surely a mere sartorial issue should be quick work.

    As to the threat of locking women up in their homes, it’s illegal to detain someone against their will – false imprisonment. If a grown woman can’t escape from a residential home or contact anyone in this digital age she just isn’t trying. While there are bound to be exceptional and rare complicating scenarios, I don’t believe in letting the tail wag the dog.

    I also agree with the security issue. Walking around in a burka makes it easier to elude detection by cameras. Faisal Shahzad was caught on camera in public. Had he been less of an idiot, that video would’ve been all they had.

    Also, unlike a mask, which is gnerally socially unacceptable, the burka hides everything: clothing, shoes, body type and even their gait or stride. I can sometimes recognize a person from far away just by that last one.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Polly,

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    And, this is exactly why we need an equal rights amendment. And, ratification of CEDAW.

    It is crazy to me, that in 2010, I am talking about gender equality and desegregation as a compelling government interest — as a novel approach.

    Insane.

    We need a new feminist movement in the US that demands women’s rights as universal human rights without compromise. A new feminist movement that demands secularism and gender equality and gender desegregation without compromise. A new feminist movement that rejects cultural relativism and obscurantism.

    We need a Ni Putes Ni Soumises USA.

    Ok. New project.

  • DSimon

    Sarah, I absolutely agree with gender equality and desegregation as a high-priority government interest; to at least the degree that we’ve already devoted effort and created a lot of turmoil in the pursuit of racial desegregation. (And we still need more work on that front, but that’s another story).

    However, such a goal still just does not justify an anti-mask or anti-burqa law. In the US, we shouldn’t have and didn’t fight racial segregation by making it illegal for black people to sit next to each other in a group at a restaurant, we shouldn’t and don’t fight gender work-force inequality by making it illegal for women to be unemployed, and we similarly should not (and I sincerely hope, will not) fight against women being forced to wear burqas by making it illegal for anyone to wear a burqa.

    It would foster a greater “us vs. them” attitude between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations, rather than improving the cross-communication and mutual trust we would need to truly enact cultural change.

    It would be a punishment against the very people we’d be trying to protect, and let those responsible for the abuse get away scot-free.

    It would in no way solve the root problem of women not being able to make important choices about their lives for themselves; in fact, it would do precisely the opposite.

  • DSimon

    If a grown woman can’t escape from a residential home or contact anyone in this digital age she just isn’t trying.

    Polly, perhaps the reason she isn’t trying is because she knows the punishment if she’s found out would be extremely severe!

    Or, because she doesn’t have any reason to trust the secular authorities she’d be running to for help, because they’ve demonstrated far more interest in limiting her clothing choices than in limiting the ability of her husband to abuse her.

  • Sarah Braasch

    DSimon, I fear that I am going to offend you. I keep seeming to upset people.

    I really appreciate your contribution to this conversation.

    But, your post is exactly why we need a Ni Putes Ni Soumises USA.

    We need an anti-cultural relativism, anti-obscurantism, anti-communitarianism contribution to the discourse on women’s rights in the US.

  • Polly

    Polly, perhaps the reason she isn’t trying is because she knows the punishment if she’s found out would be extremely severe!

    There are many abused wives who fear their husbands too much to call the police or even run away. And you just made my point that, at heart, this issue is about domestic abuse. The violence is implied if obedience isn’t forthcoming. What does that say? It’s OK to threaten your wife with “extremely severe” consequences as long as she’s so scared of you that you’ll never have to follow through? Are we living in the 1st world or some shithole on the fringes of Afghanistan?!? When I say we shouldn’t allow this shit in our own home turf, this is precisely the sort of culture of fear and dominance I mean.

    As for your second point, there’s just too much speculation and in a direction I can’t really take seriously, no offense.

    If we show our intestinal fortitude when it comes to maintaining, and yes even pushing our ideals of individual liberty for women as well as men, the other side will succumb. The first generation, most likely. The second generation, definitely.
    But if we keep molly-coddling what are essentially cultural-imperialists on our soil, we will be spawning generation after generation of outsiders rather than Americans. We’ll create yet one more nation-within-a-nation with radically different and opposed and retrograde values…and a missionary zeal.

  • Archimedez

    DSimon,

    You write:

    “It would be a punishment against the very people we’d be trying to protect, and let those responsible for the abuse get away scot-free.

    The legislation, as Sarah noted, addresses the issue of people (e.g., husband, father, imam, etc.) forcing the woman to wear the burqa/niqab. The penalty to anyone forcing her to wear it is much more severe than the fine for the wearer. This would be in addition to any penalties for forcible confinement, e.g., if a man decides to force his wife to remain in the house if she doesn’t wear the burqa/niqab.

    I keep finding bits and pieces of information about the law, but nothing all in one place in one summary article. Anyways, there is this, in a related story:

    France has first ‘burka rage’ incident
    A 60-year-old lawyer ripped a Muslim woman’s Islamic veil off in a row in a clothing shop in what police say is France’s first case of “burka rage”.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/7735607/France-has-first-burka-rage-incident.html
    Peter Allen, Paris
    Published: 10:25AM BST 18 May 2010
    “[…] Mr Sarkozy’s cabinet is to examine a draft bill which will impose one-year prison sentences and fines of up to £14,000 on men who force their wives to wear a burka.
    Women themselves will face a smaller fine of just over £100 because they are “often victims with no choice in the matter”, says the draft.
    The law would create a new offence of “incitement to cover the face for reasons of gender”.
    And it would state: “No one may wear in public places clothes that are aimed at hiding the face.” […]”

    Bangladesh also has a law like this:

    Ban on forcing women to wear burqa: Bangladesh
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/bangladesh/7572085/Burka-bullying-banned-by-Bangladesh-court.html
    Published: 5:16PM BST 09 Apr 2010
    Burka bullying banned by Bangladesh court
    Bangladesh’s high court has banned educational institutions in the Muslim-majority country from bullying female employees into wearing headscarves or veils, a lawyer said on Friday.

  • DSimon

    Sarah, please don’t worry too much about offending me. This is an important topic, so it’s crucial that we be able to speak freely (though civilly) about it rather than tip-toeing around each others’ feelings at the expense of clear communication.

    In any case, I’m not sure I understand your response. I am definitely not a moral relativist (which is what I assume you’re getting at by the claim of “cultural relativism”; am I correct on this?). Just because the practice of the marginalization of women is traditional in a culture is no reason to shy away from fighting it; if anything, it means that it needs to be fought that much harder to overcome all that historical inertia.

    I also am not an obscurantist; on the contrary, I believe the most effective way to fight this type of misogyny is through providing accurate information to the victims about how they can seek protection.

    And to be honest, I’m not at all sure of why you mention communitarianism. Can you explain in more detail?

    There are many abused wives who fear their husbands too much to call the police or even run away. And you just made my point that, at heart, this issue is about domestic abuse.

    Polly, more than making that point about domestic abuse for you, it also is precisely the point I’ve been trying to express in nearly every comment I’ve made on this thread! For example, here is something I wrote earlier:

    [W]e need to fight this the same way as we fight other forms of domestic abuse against women, by showing these women that they deserve not to be coerced into anything and how the law can provide protection, and ensuring that it actually is capable of doing so. Women who are being coerced into wearing a burqa ought to be already protected under existing US laws (and probably French laws too).

    Consider the similarity between women being forced to wear burqas and the prior situation in the US of women being essentially forced to wear dresses. I certainly agree that the burqa is far more severe, but in both cases, the clothing is best seen a superficial but symbolically important part of a larger system of oppression.

    We did not solve that problem by making it illegal for women to wear dresses. That would’ve been ridiculously counterproductive. Feminists solved it through a successful cultural and information-spreading campaign. We need to use that same approach now, and also the approach we’ve been using for addressing domestic abuse, which we’ve seen some success with.

  • DSimon

    The legislation, as Sarah noted, addresses the issue of people (e.g., husband, father, imam, etc.) forcing the woman to wear the burqa/niqab. The penalty to anyone forcing her to wear it is much more severe than the fine for the wearer. This would be in addition to any penalties for forcible confinement, e.g., if a man decides to force his wife to remain in the house if she doesn’t wear the burqa/niqab.

    Thank you Archimedez, I hadn’t realized that this was so, and I’m glad to hear it. I would have no objection to such a law provided that burqa-wearing women were themselves not vulnerable to being punished by it.

  • Polly

    @DSimon,

    I know what you’re saying. There’s always the “soft” kind of peer pressure and awareness campaigns which are fine. Passing a law doesn’t preclude that, and I believe both methods work well in tandem.

    A law can take the stigma off of the women and put it onto the government, which can better bear the ire of Muslim men, if we stay strong. Imagine a woman who doesn’t want to wear a burka. In tha absence of a law, she has to resist all by herself. Her preferences don’t make for a strong case in the house. But, with a ban, the law is on HER side:

    ” ‘They’ won’t let me walk around like this.”
    “Then you stay home.”
    “Fine. You do the shopping and take the kids to school.” **Hands him a shopping list. #5)tampons.**
    “…well at least wear the scarf.” **hands it back.**

    I don’t think it will work out so neatly, of course. The point is that laws can act as intangible and even unassailable* 3rd party arbiters on the side of the weak. (That’s exactly what minimum wage laws do. They cut into the negotiations, taking the side of the weaker party – the easily replaced, unskilled worker.)

    *”Unassailable” except through the democratic and judicial process, I mean.

  • DSimon

    Polly, that scenario you’ve described is the best argument I’ve heard so far in support of the ban, at least for me. I hadn’t considered the possibility of the law being used to provide a sort of plausible deniability to women seeking to overcome the cultural restriction. “Of course I still want to wear the burqa, but the secular government (damn them!) won’t let me, so… Anyways, want to go bowling?” If the law does get enacted, I would hope that this would be its most significant effect.

    However, I don’t think that potential justifies the ban. Unlike the minimum wage law, the burqa ban removes power from the weak as well as from the strong. Anyone should be able to wear a burqa if they want to. If you think there’s no good reason for anyone to want to, then we’re in agreement! But, that’s not a decision the government should be making for its citizens; I remain entirely unconvinced that burqas being worn creates any significant threat to safety, and in lieu of that, there should be no law.

    I again bring up the comparison to dresses and the history of US feminism. It is a major, even if only symbolic, victory that women can now wear pants and not have to put up with (nearly) any cultural BS about it.

    If, however, it had been accomplished through a law banning dresses, it would not have been nearly as effective, as it would’ve unnecessarily limited the ability of women to wear dresses if they themselves chose to. I can make a pretty good hypothetical argument for why women shouldn’t ever want to wear dresses anyways: they’re unnecessarily restrictive of movement, they prioritize appearance (to men) over capability, they make possible obnoxiousness like this, and so on.

    But that’s not my choice. That choice belongs the woman deciding in the morning if she wants to wear a dress or pants. Taking away womens’ power to make decisions for themselves is a very poor kind of anti-sexism tactic.

    If we’re going to fight this as a till-now unchecked form of domestic abuse, then that’s the sort of law we should be enacting.

  • DSimon

    Passing a law doesn’t preclude [an awareness campaign], and I believe both methods work well in tandem.

    Polly, why do you say the law doesn’t preclude it? That is, if there’s a law against wearing a burqa in public, then a campaign to let Muslim women know that it’s alright for them not to wear a burqa in public is rendered kind of pointless.

    Additionally, in the context of a ban law, that kind of campaign develops the added taint of being merely the first, polite, layer of an unavoidable restriction. It’s rather like a parent telling their child “You don’t have to buy that chocolate bar if you don’t want to”, and then if the child goes and tries to buy it anyways, yanking it away. The initial layer of soft “advice” was actually just a way of avoiding having to get tough too early on.

  • Archimedez

    DSimon,

    You write: “But, that’s not a decision the government should be making for its citizens; I remain entirely unconvinced that burqas being worn creates any significant threat to safety, and in lieu of that, there should be no law.”

    1. If a burqa/niqab-wearer walks into a store, and the store owner asks them to remove the face-covering portion while they are in the store, and the burqa/niqab wearer says “no” and remains in the store, and the store owner refuses service, what then? Who decides? And what is the consequence of the decision? What punishments, if any, would you like to be brought down against the store owner? And if you don’t want punishments brought down on the store owner, how do you propose to protect the burqa/niqab-wearer’s freedom of expression?

    2. You say you remain “entirely unconvinced” about the security threat posed by the burqa/niqab. Have you in fact done some homework, and reviewed some of the evidence on this issue? On what are you basing your opinion? Above I’ve cited a security consultant… “[...]counter-terrorism and aviation security consultant Roger Henning said anything which prevented identification posed “a massive risk” to public safety. “People have used burqas to escape prison, for bank robberies and terrorists carrying explosive devices are sometimes disguised as women,” Mr Henning said.”

    Why should I give your opinion on security more weight than that of the security consultant?

    3. Where is the empirical evidence that most women who wear the burqa/niqab are doing so voluntarily, freely, and without coercion, such that wearing the item is indeed an example of free, and not coerced, expression?

  • DSimon

    Archimedez, those are good points. Here’s my response to each:

    1. I would say that the request should need to be justifiable as having some practical purpose (“Look, I’m sorry, but you just can’t use a tanning booth unless you’re willing to take off your clothes”), or else it should be treated exactly the same as, say, asking someone to leave your store because they’re wearing a cross around their neck.

    I don’t know if this is how these laws currently work, but if it were up to me, I think the store owner should have to pay a moderate fine for discriminating against customers based on their religious beliefs alone (that is, without the customer actually behaving in a disruptive or suspicious way, and without the burqa getting in the way of the purpose of the store), which is what kicking someone out of a store solely because they’re wearing a burqa comes down to.

    To reiterate an earlier discussion we were having, though, it should always be reasonable for stores to expect any customer to at least momentarily show their face if there is a reasonable need to identify them.

    2. Regarding doing my homework, I do have to admit that I haven’t looked up any of my own sources on this matter. However, I think the responses I’ve made to your individual arguments about matters of safety have addressed them well; if you disagree and want to re-open any of those discussions, I’m willing to do so.

    I tried to find the source of that Henning quote, but wasn’t able to find anything except the news article you linked, and similar stories with the same quote. I therefore have to do the best I can responding to it out of whatever context it originally had. Anyways, he specifically talks about anything which prevents identification. As I’ve said, I do not support the use of a burqa or any other face-concealing garment as an excuse to avoid having to identify oneself in a situation where that would normally be required.

    If you’re wearing a burqa, a store has the right to ask you to take it off so that your picture can be taken, or leave. I’m now on the fence about whether or not banks and other high-security stores (i.e. jewellery stores) should also be able to require that their customers have their faces visible at all times in the store, not just initially; I think this might be reasonable, but I need to think about it some more.

    Regarding using a burqa for criminal purposes not related to identification (i.e. hiding an explosive or a weapon), are you proposing that we ban heavy clothing on the street as well? A thick coat could conceal a bomb just as well as a burqa. This issue is not relevant to face-covering-ban laws.

    Regarding the prisoners who escaped a prison by wearing burqas, presumably by disguising themselves as visitors and leaving with the group: prisons should have the right to (and really really ought to, every single time!) do identity checks when people leave, as well as when they enter. Otherwise, any clothing that is like that of the visitors could be used to escape, whether it’s a burqa or a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

    3. My argument about freedom of expression doesn’t rely on evidence that most women who wear the burqa are doing so “voluntarily, freely, and without coercion”. Regardless of how many women do so at present, women can wear the burqa entirely of their own will, and that that right needs to be protected as part of their freedom of expression.

    Also, it would be difficult to gather the data you request because there’s a spectrum between self-motivation and external pressure rather than a sharp division. How should we classify women whose immediate families have no problem with them not wearing a burqa, but who wear one anyways so as not to get the occasional dirty look from neighbours? How about a woman whose entire local community has no problem with them not wearing a burqa, but who wears one so as not to upset her grandparents (even though they live in another town)? And what if we combine the above situations with a genuine, perhaps mild or moderate, desire on the part of the woman herself to wear a burqa?

    The only way to determine how many women are truly wearing a burqa of their own independent decision is to fight these cultural pressures. A burqa-ban law would not do that; it would solve this one symbolic, superficial issue, but I also think it would drive the separatism and cultural isolationism deeper into the ground, where it would be even harder to reach.

  • Polly

    @DSimon,

    An awareness campaign about taking off the burqa after a ban would be pretty pointless, I agree. I meant the generic type information campaigns:
    You have rights
    No one can force you to stay at home
    Here are some numbers to call
    female police officers and other authority figures doing or participating in seminars at cultural centers, etc. to show that they are there to serve and protect everyone.

  • DSimon

    Polly, thanks for the clarification. I support those ideas fully, but still feel that any kind of awareness campaign (whether specifically about the burqa or more generally about womens’ rights and methods of seeking protection) would have more impact and legitimacy without intrusive laws.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I disagree. The “This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs” campaign was wildly successful, to the point of being a cultural meme, despite the prohibition of drugs.

    If the campaign were smartly designed and slotted into the appropriate media, I don’t see why any law would delegitimize it.

  • DSimon

    Thumpalumpacus, that’s true, but it isn’t quite the same situation, because the messages (“drugs are bad so we’re making them illegal” and “drugs are bad so don’t use them”) don’t conflict, and because the war on drugs was about further illegalizing things that were already illegal, rather than rendering illegal something that was previously permitted.

    To make it more analogous to the burqa-ban situation: If the anti-drug campaign’s message were “Hey, people who regularly drink alcohol: You don’t have to anymore!”, and this PR message started coming out at the same time as a new prohibition law, wouldn’t that seem patronizing?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    You have a point there, agreed. But I also think if the message were tailored carefully, condescension would be minimized, and compassion maximized; and I also think that the campaign should go in before the legislation takes effect.

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/morality-exposed.html keddaw

    I apologise for the late arrival of this post, but I thought it worth sharing (others may disagree), your position is:

    The best way for men to stop telling women what they can and cannot wear is for men to tell women what they can and cannot wear?

    Am I the only one that sees the horrendous hypocrisy in that?

  • Gentlecat’s Gentleman

    I think wearing a burqa is a stupid thing to do. I also think that of drinking alcohol, and going seatbelt-less in a car. But I think adults should be allowed to do these things, if they choose to. I’m all in favour of punishing husbands who coerce their wives to wear it, but it doesn’t seem right to punish the women themselves.

  • Archimedez

    I was reminded of this thread when I viewed the so-called “black bloc” tactics of anarchists in relation to the current G-20 meeting in Toronto. This further supports my view that people should not be allowed to wear such face-covering items in numerous public situations where security and safety is a concern. The face coverings allow criminals to wreak havoc and endanger others while attempting to avoid responsibility. They then slip into the crowd and use innocent protesters as cover or human shields when the police try to respond. The face covering is a major element that allows these thugs to cause violence, destruction, and to incur major damages, and to rack up huge security costs, while overshadowing the messages of legitimate protesters.
    http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/100626/national/g20_black_bloc

  • Sarah Braasch

    Good point, Archimedez.

    Also, recently, the mobs of young men in Kyrgyzstan who were indiscriminately executing and terrorizing ethnic Uzbeks?

    Masked. Of course.

  • Helene

    Erm, why do you think you have the right to identify everyone you are walking around with in public? Should we all wear our ID cards on our chests whenever we leave the house? Hair is a major identifier – should hats be banned?

  • Sarah Braasch

    That is a truly ridiculous comment. The definition of straw man.

    I will ask you the same ridiculous question then.

    Are you prepared to say that the right to privacy is illimitable?

    Are you prepared to live in a society where no one has to reveal his or her identity ever?

    Not even to the authorities?

    Come back when you want to have a serious conversation about a serious issue.

    Otherwise, don’t waste our time.

  • Jim Baerg

    Sarah: Have you read David Brin’s book The Transparent Society ?

    See this for a brief discussion of the ideas in the book.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Hey, Jim. Thank you for the suggestion.

    I think this is an endlessly interesting and fascinating issue. At what point does one maximize the political decision-making power and freedom gained by revelation of one’s identity and where does it begin to constrain one’s life and limit one’s choices, especially in our internet age in which we live virtual lives and our every online deed is recorded for posterity?

    It is very analogous to the libertarian / utilitarian debate about how much law and order in the public space creates the venue in which we are able to live free lives and when does it become oppressive.

    However, I would like to keep the focus here on the issue of masks in the public space.

    I am sympathetic to the slippery slope argument, but I feel that prohibiting masks in the public space falls well within the realm of attempting to create a safe and egalitarian public space in which all citizens enjoy equal rights and equal protection under the law — where a liberal constitutional democracy is possible.

    But, my interest has been piqued. I will definitely check that book out.

  • Rollingforest

    I agree that identification is important in society and if the burqa was not singled out then that would take away a lot of the controversy. There were a lot of exceptions in the law to my understanding. We should check to make sure that A. those exceptions (such as ski masks) provide ways of identifying the people (such as registering who goes onto the ski slope) and B. if there is a way to identify women who wear the Burqa without banning it (perhaps requiring them to show their face whenever they are asked). If we are banning the burqa for other reasons besides public safety (such as women’s rights) then we need to debate that, not identification.

    I am okay with things like surveillence cameras in public places, but the book “The Transparent Society” reminds me too much of 1984, which makes me uncomfortable.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Erm, why do you think you have the right to identify everyone you are walking around with in public?

    Public safety would seem to demand it, in certain cases.

  • Jim Baerg

    Rollingforest #151 “I am okay with things like surveillence cameras in public places, but the book “The Transparent Society” reminds me too much of 1984, which makes me uncomfortable.”

    Brin’s contention is that given the cheapness of surveilance cameras etc. our choices are between a 1984 type situation in which the powerful can spy on the not-powerful but the not-powerful don’t know what the powerful are really up to, or an open transparent society in which the not-powerful can observe the powerful as easily as vice-versa.

    The connection with hidden faces & public security is that those who hide their faces are opting out of a tacit bargain of non-anonymity so those who do wrong can be more readily held responsible.

  • Rollingforest

    I have heard that there are devices that can “sweep” for electronic devices, allowing us to discover any hidden cameras in our homes. That would counteract the power of the elite by giving us the ability to destroy cameras that exist in our private places. This would allow us the ability to have legitimate privacy in situations that require them (such as having sex or talking with an co-worker about you opinion of the boss, or enjoying a hobby that others might mock you for)

  • Anonymous

    “I have a right to know with whom I am interacting in the public space.”

    This is the key stone of your discussion and you treat it with some smoke, mirrors and hand waving. It is this point that makes the issue so complex.

    You claim that lawlessness will result. One can always argue reduced rights leads to greater security but that just leads to no individual rights. And history has proven you wrong.

    You suggest that a person’s face defines their identity. This is a very superficial and limiting definition. For example, many people like to define themselves through their clothing. Photo identification is just one possible way of proving identity.

    In your own protest, you claim to have trampled on the rights of everyone that saw you. Do you really think so little of the rights of others?

    The issue of the Burqa is fairly straightforward if you claim that it is a right to see another person’s face. Luckily for the rest of us, that isn’t the case. I have the right to remain anonymous from you in a public space just as I am in this very post. In return, you have the right not to interact with me if you so choose.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Actually, the safety and security issue makes the anti-mask law debate very simple. Not complex.

    Individual rights are not possible in a society without a certain threshold of safety and security. Do you think most religious men would stand for women claiming their human rights if they didn’t have a state police force backing them up?

    On that note — an interesting comparison would be to look at societies where women wear burqas (coerced or no) and societies where women do not wear burqas — in which societies do women have greater access to their human and civil rights? I’m just going to take a wild stab in the dark.

    Facial identity may be superficial and limiting, but it is also the basis of our society. What would you prefer? Should we have to give blood and urine samples or be fingerprinted before entering federal buildings or withdrawing funds from a bank? Which is less invasive?

    As I have already mentioned — we were filmed by the press and government officials (all of whom had been informed of our activities) both putting on and removing the burqas during our protest.

    Actually, anonymous, you don’t have the right to obscure your identity from me by hiding your face in public in many, many parts of the US. They’re called anti-mask laws.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I’d voice my argument anonymously too, if it was that weak.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    One can be anonymous while being unmasked.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Exactly, Thump.

    Asking citizens not to be masked in public is NOT asking them to wear t shirts emblazoned with their social security numbers, measurements, blood types, criminal records and standardized test scores.

  • Aolis

    I feel very strongly that we should do what we can to end the oppression of women. Is the Burqa really the problem or just one of many signs of the dominance of men in their culture? Does the problem vanish with the Burqa or maybe just in our collective minds? Shouldn’t the true test of a woman’s liberty be that they feel free to choose not to wear a face covering? Isn’t forcing them to remove it just another form of dominance?

    The question is does the public benefit and security outweigh the loss to individuals in choosing how they want to dress? Your answer seems to be, “Of course it does” pointing to how you do things in America. America isn’t exactly a good example of security (citizens with assault rifles) or individual rights (warrentless searches from the Patriot Act).

    If there is the rare situation in which a person needs to identify themselves, they could do so temporarily to that one authority and continue to wear their face covering otherwise. That is a far cry from you, who happens to be walking down the street at the same time as them, demanding to see their face in the name of public security and your personal rights.

    I do stand by my views. Posting anonymously in no way endangered you or prevented a dialogue between us.

    Incidentally, I live in Montreal where the police recently asked for an anti-mask law and it did not pass. So if my arguments are weak, I am in good company.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Aolis,

    I think you should give more thought before typing your comments.

    You make it too easy for me.

    You might want to think twice before maligning Americans as you do.

    Most of them agree with you. Not me. (I think this is because of deeply rooted notions of religious communitarianism and women as the reproductive and sexual chattel of their families and communities and a de facto hierarchy of rights dominated by religious liberty, as is evident in American jurisprudence. I think these notions are so deeply rooted that it is difficult for most Americans to recognize how their ostensible rugged individualism is little more than myth, especially for women and children.)

    What is that expression about being the company you keep?

    Do you still find it as pleasant as previously?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Most Americans don’t even realize that we already have anti-mask laws all across the US.

    They think, “Oh, us Americans, we would never do such a thing. Those French are crazy.”

    But, we already have, and we do.

    I question the source of their umbrage.

    I think that if this issue didn’t center on women as the sexual and reproductive property of their religious communities, no one would have a problem with anti-mask laws.

    They would think, “Oh, of course. That’s ridiculous. Of course people can’t walk around in public in identity obscuring face masks.”

    Because that is what Americans have and do think and say when the issue isn’t women’s vaginas.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Also, the police in Montreal (a super safe, chill city) asked for an anti-mask law, because, presumably, they felt that they needed it in order to do their jobs of keeping Montreal’s residents safe, and the public said no, presumably for the sake of cultural relativism or out of fear of obscurantist labels of racism, Islamophobia, etc., etc., and you think you’re in good company?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    @ Sarah, 161:

    My objection to burqa bans has nothing to do with a desire to oppress women, but rather my desire that people be free to express their religion as they see fit. To then base your argument on “the company you keep” is merely a repetition of the theist fallacy that because Stalin was an atheist, we all support gulags.

    In short, you’re deploying, and swatting, straw men.

  • Aolis

    There is an activist group here in Montreal called COBP that does an annual march against police brutality. Invariably they wear masks and many (50) of them end up getting arrested each year, presumably for good cause. There are a large number of protests in the city each year and some of them do turn violent. It is almost like we have a society of professional activists.

    The police wanted the anti-mask law specifically because they say that protesters wear masks, commit crimes and escape back into the crowd.

    I give credit that there is a reason to have an anti-mask law. I also think that you simple disregard any reason not to have a anti-mask law.

    The law didn’t happen for several reasons including protests from various groups and a lack of political will on the part of the city. The most important reason, in my mind, is that we a Canadian charter of rights and freedoms that guarantees freedom of expression. I have the right to wear a mask of one of my politicians in order to criticize them (parody is very important to Canadians). Just as you would have had the right to wear a Burqa to demonstrate in Montreal.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thump,

    Read Aolis’ posts and you’ll understand why I made my cheeky comment about the company you keep.

    Aolis,

    It seems like we are reaching that point where we’ll simply have to agree to disagree.

    As I’ve already mentioned, reasonable people can and do disagree about whether employing identity obscuring face masks in public is constitutionally protected (in the US) content, requiring a compelling govt interest (most courts say that public safety and security is pretty compelling) and a narrowly tailored means (it’s usually the means that the courts vacillate on regarding face masks in public), or is it not part of the message (which courts have also decided), giving the govt more leeway to restrict masks (they aren’t stopping the public from saying what they want to say; they are just placing constraints upon the appropriate time and place, etc.).

    Obviously, I would argue that a prohibition on identity obscuring face masks in public is a reasonable restriction. (And, this doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be secular exemptions.)

    No freedom is absolute. If someone wanted to argue for an absolute freedom of expression, then they would have to acknowledge that they are against much other civil rights legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 64.

    I know there are persons who adamantly insist that their reasons for being against anti-mask laws have nothing to do with notions of religious communitarianism and women as property.

    But, I guess I would have to ask: where was the outcry over all of the existing anti-mask laws.

    Who stood up for the KKK?

    There is a tidal wave of (unwarranted IMO) outrage over the “burqa ban”. I don’t think this should be the outrageous issue it is. I think it is appropriate to ask why.

    I think I know why.

    I also am constantly surprised at the lengths to which allegedly freethinkers will go to protect a woman’s right to express her ostensible religious conviction.

    Seriously. What other issue even brings the atheists out in droves to stand up for the freedom of religious expression.

    I don’t see atheists outdoing each other to stand up for parents’ rights not to vaccinate their children based upon religious conviction.

    I don’t see atheists outdoing each other to stand up for the rights of Native Americans to use peyote or Bald Eagle feathers in their religious ceremonies.

    But, I write a piece about a simple anti-mask law, and, suddenly, all the atheists have switched teams, even the feminists, especially the feminists. (Ok. Not all in the US. Some people do agree with me. But, most don’t.)

    Again, I think it’s appropriate to ask why. I think we need to ask why.

    I think the atheist community should do some soul searching on this issue.

    I especially think the feminist atheist community should do some soul searching on this issue.

    I think people have cultural blinders on.

    I would love (and am trying to) bring Sihem Habchi, the President of Ni Putes Ni Soumises, and Lubna Al Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who was almost whipped for wearing pants in Khartoum, who is working with NPNS, to the US to speak on this issue.

    They are both pro burqa ban. And, they both have compelling stories to tell.

    I think they would be able to reach people in a way that I don’t seem to be able to do.

    But, it makes me sad to admit it. I think it is yet another example of tribalism and cultural relativism, which will be humanity’s undoing.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Sarah, I did. Perhaps I just missed your “cheek”?

    Also, court decisions in America have both upheld and struck down anti-mask laws, and the Supreme Court has yet to rule on them.

    I personally don’t see the issue as didactically as you do, but that’s okay. I’m certainly not going to get too worked up over it; I think we have bigger fish to fry.

  • Sarah Braasch

    It has nothing to do with morality.

    There is no bigger issue than the full recognition of the humanity of women.

    The survival of our democracy depends upon it. Not to mention the survival of our species.

  • Sarah Braasch

    And, I have also already mentioned that courts have gone both ways on anti-mask laws.

    And, they have struck them down for various reasons, and they have upheld them for various reasons.

    They are taking a very context specific approach to anti-mask laws.

    I, too, will be interested to see what the SC does. It will eventually go up through the Circuits. Maybe not soon. But, it will be addressed, eventually.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t claim it was a moral issue, nor did I advocate for lesser recognition of the humanity of women. I think I only said that my issue with banning burqas was not because I wish to repress women, but because I’m loathe to encroach upon religious freedom.

    There are women who prefer religious garb, even including burqas. Far be it for me to deny that to them if they so desire. Far be it for me, as well, to support forcing them into it.

    I think I’ve made it plain that my feelings on the topic are mixed. Simply because they are mixed does not mean that I am advocating lesser recognition for women. Such an imputation is incorrect.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thump,

    Look up the word didactic.

    I think your last comment is yet another example of how some people just don’t get it. It’s not just about letting people wear whatever they wish. If only it were that simple.

    Don’t worry about encroaching upon religious freedom. I just read an article yesterday about how a tidal wave of states are implementing their own state-wide versions of RFRA’s.

    Pretty soon, it will be a bloody free for all, with anyone being able to break any law or establish their own sovereign mini-states within the US based solely upon religious law, and the authorities will be unable to stop them. Yay for religious freedom!! Down with secularism. Oh, yeah, also down with democracy and human rights (especially women’s rights) and rule of law and our Constitution.

    But, hey, at least people will be able to wear whatever they want.

    I’ve made my position abundantly clear, both here and in the other pieces I’ve written on the subject.

    At this point, I think it’s appropriate to just agree to disagree, unless you feel there is some ground, which we have not covered.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Amazing article on what is fast becoming the fall of secularism in the US:

    http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20101014.html

    No one will suffer more than women and children.

    This is why I get so upset when I see the atheist community in the US rush to defend religious freedom at the very suggestion of an anti-mask law. (Look at it as either a public safety measure or a women’s rights measure.) It’s like they all forgot what secularism means in their wild attempts to distance themselves from any suggestion of Islamophobia.

    Recently, Christopher Hitchens wrote an amazing article in Slate on this very subject.

    Like I’ve already said:

    Religious ideas have to sink or swim in the public marketplace of ideas without privilege or favor, especially from the US government.

    All of these new state RFRA’s make the need to get the ERA into the Constitution as quickly as possible even more urgent.

    Seriously. The situation is scary. We have forgotten what secularism means in the US. And, we chide and chastise France for trying to remind us.

    Actually, I think we forgot long ago.

    This is my fav part of the article:

    “The very name of the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts connotes America and apple pie. After all, who could disagree with a law in favor of restoring religious freedom, which is our constitutional right? The laws sound liberating, not harmful.”

    Yet the laws’ name is highly deceptive: Women and children predictably suffer when such legislation is proposed and passed. And the new laws are the worst: Providing such a low threshold for a religious group or individual to avoid justice and accountability virtually guarantees that such groups will be able to hide behind high legal barriers before they ever have to take responsibility.”

  • Sarah Braasch

    Here’s the Hitchens article, which is also great:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2266154/

    Government has the unfortunate responsibility of making sure that everyone abides by our secular laws.

    Even the religious.

    In my opinion, our government has been shirking its constitutional duty for far too long.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    All secularism means, in a civic or political context, is disregarding religious considerations in the decision-making process.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thump,

    Seriously?

    I thought to myself, “Just let it go.”

    But, I’m just going to say —

    Don’t buy into the myth. Open your eyes and look at what is actually happening in the US.

    Your US where people can just wear whatever they like and government isn’t influenced by religion and women and children have full access to their civil rights is an imaginary place.

    It doesn’t exist.

    We have to fight to make it so.

    But, the atheist community, including the feminists, in the US, has largely conceded the field. They’ve bought into the myth of the US and they seem to be (unknowingly?) furthering the agenda of the religious communitarians at the expense of women’s rights and secularism.

    An anti-mask law to ensure a safe public space or to end gender apartheid in the public space (which is not really possible under the current American legal system, because women are second class citizens and religious liberty trumps women’s rights in the US still in 2010!!!) IS A SECULAR LAW!!!

    Islam has to sink or swim on its own merits in the public marketplace of ideas. I know that it seems like any effort to advance women’s rights is an inhibition of the free exercise of religion, but that’s just because religion is the institutionalization of misogyny. But, that’s not my problem. And, that’s not the government’s problem either.

    Government has NO responsibility to guarantee that each citizen is able to practice his or her religion, however he or she defines it, in exactly the way he or she would like to do so.

    That is what secularism has become in the US. This is the end of secularism.

    This is wrong. This means anarchy. This means religious communitarianism. This means the end of women’s rights and children’s rights.

    Secularism, as you put it, is government giving no care and paying no heed to religion whatsoever.

    If a secular law happens to curtail someone’s ability to practice his or her religious faith, too bad, so sad.

    What is the alternative? Each and every secular law curtails some nut’s ability to practice his or her religion. Should we just let it be a bloody free for all? As long as you claim a religious practice, you should just be able to do whatever you want?

    Well, we are living the alternative, and it isn’t pretty. This is what is happening in the US. And, it is especially not pretty for women and children.

    And, it’s not pretty for homosexuals either.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I want to just reiterate something:

    If you want to create an anti-mask law in the US for reasons of public safety, you can. (Well, in theory you can, but nowadays you’ll get a lot of resistance and charges of racism and Islamophobia.)

    If you want to create an anti-mask law in the US for reasons of ending gender apartheid and segregation and slavery in the public space, you can’t.

    Just let that detonate in your brain.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Sarah, you seem to think that because I don’t agree with you that I am blind.

    Aside from any other point I could make — and I shan’t try, because you’re obviously convinced and beyond changing your mind about this issue — but aside from any other point I might make, don’t you think your condescension is off-putting?

    I certainly do.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thump,

    I am convinced. Thoroughly convinced. I think most Americans are incredibly wrongheaded on this issue. And, I am sure that that seems like I am belittling them.

    But, I am open to changing my mind, and, in fact, my arguments here have really helped me to challenge, shape and improve my position.

    My mind has been changed. And, I’ve become even more convinced of my position.

    I encourage you to try to change my mind some more, but I do think we’ve reached the end of our rope.

    I don’t like to continue to rehash the same issues over and over again.

    Readers can simply read the thread from the beginning.

    I thank you for engaging with me.

    Good night.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Indeed, Sarah. Your posts have certainly given me food for thought, and I’ve no desire to badger you.

    And thank you.

  • Jim Baerg

    This news item certainly seems relevant to the argument here:

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/veil-foiled-my-rescue-kidnap-victim-elizabeth-smart-tells-court/story-e6frg6so-1225951693000

    Hat tip to Butterflies & Wheels

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thank you, Jim.

    I find her testimony to be a powerful vindication of pretty much all of my arguments in favor of public bans on identity obscuring face masks.

    Public safety and security. Check. Anti-slavery. Check. Gender desegregation. Check.

    Her face veil kept her imprisoned as a sex slave.

    I just find it so sad that she is still ensnared by Mormonism.

    I hope that her testimony — decoupled from the emotionally fraught terrain of Islamophobia and immigration and racism — will force people to finally see the obvious.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I was also much encouraged by some recent statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Australia.

    I think America might be starting to come around.

    It’s time to take the cultural relativism / obscurantism / religious communitarianism blinders off.

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/burqa-ban-has-merit-says-clinton-20101107-17iyl.html


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