Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

Published: September 18, 2010

The burqa ban – passed in the French parliament on Tuesday – flouts the foremost republican principle: respect for individual liberty.

When I was at university, the one person I would have difficulty saying ‘hi’ to on campus was a junior who kept her face hidden by a thick black veil. As is the case with cursory greetings in the passing, so much is gauged with facial expressions that I could never make out her response. Then, in my last year, a close friend made the decision to start wearing the niqab and subsequently almost completely dropped off the social radar. I felt her decision was extreme and unnecessary and I felt a lot of hostility towards the piece of clothing.

So you can understand that I’m all for banning the niqab – just as long as you don’t invoke republican principles to justify it.

“This is not about security or religion, but respecting our republican principles,” says Justice Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie.

But the burqa ban – passed in the French parliament on Tuesday – flouts the foremost republican principle: respect for individual liberty. The best that the French lawmakers have come up with is that the niqab restricts the full participation of women in society – and my experience with niqab wearing friends confirms that. But then shouldn’t the state take action against recluses of all description?

When the country in which the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen were written begins to disguise the ban as an act of liberalism, that’s when I begin to have problems. This ban is nothing more than a fascist in a liberal’s clothing. And while France, like a fretful nanny state goes ahead with the ban, it should remember that this law changes not just the kind of garments women wear but the way in which people will view liberal and secular philosophy.

At the heart of any liberal philosophy is pluralism – the ability of different belief systems to coexist without one threatening or assimilating the other. The burqa ban negates this concept and by equating liberalism with the way one dresses rather than with a tolerant, accepting, inquisitive frame of mind, it does liberalism and the republican character a great disservice.


Batool Zehra

A sub-editor on the magazine of The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • The Only Normal Person Here.

    Agreed. So how about the next article on how Arab countries don’t exactly exercise this theory of pluralism and how they SHOULD…..!!!!Recommend

  • Asad

    All countries put some restrictions on individual’s dress, no country gives people the option of not wearing anything in public outside few small designated areas. If a country can require people to cover some parts of their body without damaging liberal principals it should be able to force people to uncover some part of their body.Recommend

  • Isfand

    I disagree with the author,the burqa ban is a good thing,the burqa has nothing to do with Islam is simply has to do with the arab culture.
    Yes indeed we must be inclusive and tolerant with something of another culture with enrich us all, but a burqa is simply a mediavil costume of the arabs whihch simply negates equal liberty and equality for womens. Recommend

  • parvez

    If I understand you correctly you agree with the message but you don’t like the messenger.
    I cannot understand why people living abroad don’t adopt a “middle of the road” policy which would address both sides concerns. Compromise and tolerance is the way forward.Recommend

  • Ghausia

    I hate how many Muslims declare that the burqa isn’t part of religion. I’m agnostic and even I’ve read the teachings on it, what part of “mun pe chaadar latkadou” do you not get people? That aside, I loathe the burqa myself but many girls I know tell me that they actually feel safer and more confident in going about their daily activities down to haggling over fruits and vegetables. How is it hindering them from having an active social life? And since when does secularism mean suppressing freedom of expression? Plus, Sarkozy is a giant bigot and everyone knows it.Recommend

  • Sarah

    the author agrees with the banning of the niqab. all she’s saying is that the french government should not try to justify the ban by wrongly labeling it as an act of liberalism Recommend

  • Confused

    where is the ‘mun pe chaadar latkaado’ part? like i really want to know more about this issue, but its just interpretations. The Quran mentions modesty and covering appropriate parts, but the appropriate is the cause of the issue right?
    I wiki’ed it (yeah i know, i’m really into accurate data) but it doesnt say much except for interpretations and maulvi stuff. and the references seem the to be in the same vein.
    let me know the teachings you’ve read. i want to get more info :DRecommend

  • sarahelahi

    A lot of people believe the niqab has no place in Islam because women are not allowed to cover their faces during Hajj, the most sacred pilgrimage of all. Also, your translation of an Arabic verse is hotly debated by many who disagree about whether it asks women to cover their hair, bosoms or faces. Therefore, the burqa is correctly perceived as an Arab costume rather than a Muslim one.Recommend