I think we should ban baggy jeans. They are unattractive for all body types and offend my sense of freedom. I don’t want to see a quarter inch of anyone’s Calvin Klein underpants. Maybe Belgium and France, two countries that have considered banning the burqa, will agree with me. While those wearing baggy jeans and burqas may not have much in common, one thing they should share are civil liberties.
The religiosity of the burqa offends the presumably secular French and the security conscious Belgians say it renders the wearer unrecognizable. The Belgians already have restrictions allowing local governments to fine women for wearing the garment. Last year 29 women were fined. This oxymoronic imposition of freedom on Muslim women in Europe did not begin when the first burqa-clad woman entered the continent though.
Not until 9/11 did Europe catch American paranoia and realise what a threat a few yards of cloth is to their ‘way of life’. In a constant state of knee-jerk, Europe selected its weapon of choice — minarets, burqas and, of course, moderately offensive comic strips. The Patriot Act was too obvious. Europe has class. Amnesty International has expressed concern that the Belgian initiative could be followed by others. France has already banned headscarves, skullcaps and crosses in schools and President Sarkozy has said the burqa is ‘not welcome’ in the country.
That’s 1,900 French women whom the president shut the door on — just because he does not like what they wear and how they wear it. For many, the burqa is a symbol of suppression. Having allowed extremists and militants to hijack Islamic ideology, any physical manifestation of that ideology is now automatically associated with extremism. But whether women are forced into the burqa by moral police, or threatened out of it with legal consequences by governments, the situation is exactly the same.
Women are being told what to do because ‘we know better.’ A woman’s right over her body, apparel and identity is as vulnerable in Belgium as it was in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Despite discriminatory attitudes, in the east and the west, the veil is not a symbol of submissiveness. Some women say their veils empower them and make them feel safe from misogynistic attitudes. They prefer to wear the veil because it makes them comfortable. I don’t wear a burqa.
Do you? Would we want to be told we can’t wear one anymore? Or our favorite t-shirt? Or a necklace our grandmother gave us? What we wear is a part of our identity. And to be stripped of that is embarrassing, unnecessary and cruel. When the government tells us what we can and cannot wear, we know freedom is taking its toll on liberty.