Banning the Niqab: Freedom versus Inconvenience
Feb 4, 2011

Banning the Niqab: Freedom versus Inconvenience


The scope of debate over wearing the burqa or nicab varies between countries. In France, it is very broad with new legislation that will ban them in all public places. Conversely, in Canada it is very narrow with the controversy surrounding requiring face veils removed in a government language class for immigrants in Quebec.


The fallacy I wish to combat is that if one is arguing against the burqa in a narrow situation like drivers licenses, the above Quebec situation and the like, but not against it in general ala France then the only arguments one can bring are arguments about practicality.

Instead, it seems to spark a much larger discussion against the burqa/niqab involving how it is a symbol of oppression, how it harms women from engaging in society and other such things. These comments should be taken seriously, and can be countered on their own and by adding other general arguments about the freedom of religious expression etc. However, all of this is only subtle enough to distinguish between a comprehensive ban or no ban. It can't tell the difference between allowing it in the language class or not. Either the argument is persuasive and applies universally or it isn't.

The result is that on any of these specific narrow issues the debate becomes exclusively one of balancing inconvenience with balancing religious freedom. That is a much harder debate for the anti-burqa crowd to win, especially when most of the inconveniences are fairly easily dealt with by pragmatic solutions such as making females available to take a drivers license photo privately. Dealing with inconvenience is a small price to pay for religious freedom, and this is clear when we don't conflate the issue with general discussions of the alleged harm.

Conversely, if one wants to advocate a general ban, then one cannot invoke the convenience arguments. This seems obvious, but I have seen this conflated many times.

I have previously discussed the issue of polygamy and cast that as a debate between freedom and harm. This is because a ban on polygamy is entirely general and so general arguments about its alleged harm are a priori admissible, even if I don't find them compelling. It is the specificity of the face veil argument to narrow places that transforms it from freedom vs harm to a debate about freedom bs inconvenience. 

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't seriously think that those who have their knickers in a knot about the Niqab are really interested in the status of women. Nor are those who are hyperventilating about polygamy. We have the tools to support new women immigrants. We have the tools to enforce marriage (underage) laws. We have the tools to enforce truency to make sure kids attend schools and know what their rights as residents and citizens are. But, we don't use the tools. The folks in charge dont want to upset the christians, but do want to upset the muslims, but no one is willing to stand up and complain about pay equity and women being harassed when they go to clinics to use their right to control their reproductive choices. I'm not thrilled that some women buy into a religion that makes them wear a portable prison, but I sure don't want anyone telling me what to wear, so go ahead with the niqab, and I will do my best to make sure that ALL canadian women understand their rights, and demand them from our government.

bazie said...

I more or less agree, but calling it a portable prison goes too far in my view

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