Over at “The F-Word”, there’s a blog post about the ban on the Burka and similar pieces of clothing in Belgium. The poster rightfully points out that this is, to a certain degree, a ban on religion (or at least the way people live their religion).
In Germany, a similar law has been discussed recently, even though we have little women wearing that kind of clothing here. The reason for this is that those things are only worn in certain countries and we don’t have many people from those countries (and if we have them, they’re mostly looking for a haven, because they’re in danger in their own countries and thus usually no religious fundamentalists).
Why am I talking about religious fundamentalists here? Because, in essence, the demand for women to hide their whole body (which is achieved by this kind of clothing) is usually only found in combination with very fundamentalist Muslims. While the Koran demands women (and men, by the way) to be dressed in a certain fashion, it does not demand of women to completely hide beneath a veil or similar piece of clothing. The same demand to dress according to a certain moral standard also features in the bible and thus in Christian belief.
Many women in Europe perceive the Burka and other full-body veils as a form of oppressing women. It’s not a religious statement to them (although, for many Muslim women it might be one and nothing else), but a demonstration that women are worth far less in Islam and have to live with oppressive measures (such as perceiving the world through a small, netted window all the time). They see the Burka, in essence, as some sort of mobile ‘prison cell’ women are forced into. That is not necessarily the truth, admittedly, but it is seen as a statement fundamental Muslims make about the role and position of the woman in society.
Most of the different ways in which women inside and outside the Islamic world perceive those veils probably come from the little open discussion that is to be found between the (usually Christian) Europeans and the Muslims. We (as European Christians) only see the Burka in use inside fundamental systems in which the women do indeed suffer from oppression and thus associate it with this oppression.
And we (including me on purpose) feel very unsure when speaking to someone or meeting someone who’s hiding her face. In direct dialogue, I want to see whom I am talking to – especially the face. I want to see the reactions to the things I say and how that person looks while she is saying certain things.
In Germany, there is no direct ban on the Burka and similar full-body veils so far. There is, theoretically, no need for it, as we already have the “Vermummungsverbot”. This strange German word (and believe me, it’s even strange for Germans) means it’s forbidden to hide your identity (by means of hiding your face) in public areas (i.e. outside private homes). This ban has nothing to do with Muslims or Islam, it’s been in place since Germany faced the terroristic acts of the RAF during the 1970s. Technically speaking, this law also includes all forms of a full-body veil (especially as you can’t say whether there’s a man or a woman underneath the Burka – though normally it will be a woman, of course).
I am pretty sure the Belgian government does not want to suppress Muslims with the law. They probably think they’re acting against oppression (as the law would give women who are not wearing a full-body veil out of their own will, but because peer pressure or their family forces them to, a good reason to stop wearing it) and maybe they also think they’ll lower the possibility for terroristic acts.
Is the full-body veil a device of oppression or just an expression of belief? This far the question is hard to answer for Europeans.
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