It recently became illegal to wear a burqa in France… and debate is raging over whether or not England should follow suit. Julie Bindel discusses this most oppressive form of dress.
The burqa is an item of Islamic clothing, consisting of a large piece of fabric, pleated under a cap that fits on the head, with a mesh to cover the eyes. It covers the entire body. On 13 July this year, France controversially banned the burqa, forbidding women from wearing it in official spaces such as hospitals, post offices and buses. This decision has divided the nation and provoked debate internationally.
My thoughts on the burqa are clear. To me, it is a symbol and a consequence of women’s oppression. Those of you who may believe that I am not entitled an opinion on this matter because I am not Muslim, answer me this: do you think the UK is right to criminalise female genital mutilation, or should we allow it to happen to children from extremist Muslim families because it is ‘tradition’? Or, would you argue that Brits have no right to condemn Irish priests for perpetrating child sexual abuse? Quite.
Hard-line Muslim clerics devised the burqa when they (mis)interpreted two verses in the Koran which read: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments, that they should draw their veils over their bosoms” and “Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them.”
Millions of Muslim women across the globe are isolated in these cloth prisons. In Afghanistan, under the Taliban, punishment for women who dared bare any flesh – including the face – was death by stoning. If an ankle was visible, she would be beaten. It must be terrible to be to be encased in such heavy black clothing, particularly during hot weather. It prevents interaction with passers-by, and renders the wearer both invisible and a target of derision. The burqa also sends out a signal that women are the property of individual men such as fathers, husbands and other male relatives – the only people allowed to see them without it.
Supporters of the burqa argue that it can prevent women from being treated as sexual objects and reduce the risk of rape. Nonsense – it is imposed upon women in order to control their sexuality, not liberate it. What does this excuse suggest about Muslim men? That they are all potential rapists, unable to control themselves if they catch a glimpse of female flesh…? The alarming levels of rape in Afghanistan and Iraq have remained unaltered since record-keeping began.
No-one can convince me that burqa is not a tool of female oppression. However, illegalising the wearing of it is far from straightforward, and I cannot support this measure. Instead, France and other countries with religious Muslim populations should look to criminalise those husbands and other family members who force or coerce women into wearing it.