Shall Ameica Ban the Burqa or is this a threat to “Free Speech”?
With the number of jihadist terrorists in Europe rising, and a concurrent increase in the number of women involved in Islamist terrorism and recruiting, Austria's centrist government passed a bill in May to prohibit all face coverings in the public sphere.
The measure, which carries a fine of €150, includes a ban on clown makeup, ski masks, and even hospital masks worn on city streets; but it is clearly the face-covering garments of Muslim women – the niqab and burqa – that are the law's real targets. The so-called “burqa ban,” which went into effect May 1, makes Austria the fifth European country to outlaw the wearing of face-coverings in public, and the fifth to do so on the basis of national security concerns related to Islamic dress. France, Belgium, Latvia, and Bulgaria already have such laws in place, and partial bans are in effect in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
Now other countries are starting to consider instituting comparable laws, despite ongoing protests from Muslim and many rights groups. Even Morocco, which is 99 percent Muslim, recently banned the sale and manufacture of burqas, citing safety concerns even though a small minority of Moroccan women wear face coverings. Reasons for such bans internationally range from similar security concerns to uneasiness about the oppression of Muslim women and their safety navigating in garments that restrict their movement and their vision.
Crimes have also been committed by women and even men disguised by burqas and niqabs: in 2009, a robber dressed in a burqa ran off with £150,000 worth of Rolex and Cartier watches from a jewelry shop Oxfordshire, England; a year later, two men, also in burqas, raided a French bank and escaped with €4,500; and when a non-Muslim Melbourne couple staged a robbery in August, the woman wore a burqa to conceal her identity.
Similar events have also taken place in the United States, most notably a rash of crimes in Philadelphia 2007 to 2013, including a number of bank robberies and the kidnapping and of a 5-year-old girl.
Yet a 2018 poll indicates that fewer Americans than Europeans support prohibiting the burqa and similar coverings. As in Austria and elsewhere in Europe, Americans' arguments against the bans tend largely to rely on the notion that they impinge on women's freedom to wear what they like as an expression of “Free Speech”. But this position ignores other public safety laws affecting dress – including complete undress – such as requirements to tie one's hair back while handling food, or to wear safety helmets on motorcycles and at construction sites.
Others insist such prohibitions violate laws protecting religious freedom, a position many Muslim feminists view as misguided, at best. Indeed, according to a Spectator editorial by Muslim activist and physician Qanta Ahmed, the idea of the full-face covering for Muslim women is a “recent invention,” a concept “derived not from the Quran or early Islamic tradition, but from a misogyny which claims a false basis in the divine.”
In this regard, Austria's approach is unique, as it actively seeks to address …