Banning Burkas and Burning Bras – What does it mean to be liberated?

The Hijab can mean different things depending on the country and culture, for clarity, when referring to the Hijab I’m talking about a headscarf/head covering, the niqab and burka are veils covering the face except the eyes.

The rise in anti-Muslim sentiment has, as of late, reached a new high in Europe, with the recent surge of alt-right groups and white nationalism across western Europe. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Switzerland and France are some of the countries that have implemented either full or partial bans on wearing Niqabs and Burkas in public. Some of these countries banned the Niqab over a decade ago whilst others have followed suit in the last few years. Even though organisations such as the Human Rights Watch and the UN have argued against the humanity of the laws and bans prohibiting women from wearing the Burqa, the European Court of Justice has ruled that countries are not violating the human rights of Niqab wearers by banning ‘religious items of clothing’. In fact, in 2017 the EU courts have ruled that it is within an employer’s rights to ask an employee to remove religious symbols and clothing when working. Although this isn’t directly a ‘Hijab Ban’, there is research suggesting that the ruling will affect Muslim women more than any other group.

The decade’s long war against ‘Islamic clothing’ worn by women has become a hot topic for those wanting to give their two cents on the current climate, in return for a little controversy and twitter mentions. Mentioning the Hijab, Niqab or Burka is likely to get you a reaction from both the far-right and Muslims alike, therefore, it comes as no surprise that politicians and inflammatory media figures regularly like to debate on the topic (look no further than Katie Hopkins, Piers Morgan, etc). Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London and possibly the next Prime Minister, wrote an article in the Independent criticising Denmark’s decision to ban the Burqa by… poking fun at the aesthetics of Burka wearers. Whilst people were quick to react to Johnson, accusing him of pandering to the far-right with his ‘Islamophobic’ delivery, his comments say more about societies acceptance of men’s ‘input’ when it comes to how women dress. Even though many of the comments made about Niqabs, Burkas and Hijabs are fuelled by Islamophobia the crackdown on the Hijab is inherently a feminist issue, whether we want to admit it or not.

The thing that gets me most angry and confused about conversations surrounding the Hijab Ban is the argument that it liberates women. Because we love to think of Muslim women as the oppressed group who need saving from the confines of their society, people on either side of the debate tend to ignore the views of Burka wearers themselves. It may seem unreasonable to ask women to remove clothing in the name of liberation, but this is the argument in some cases used to justify banning the Hijab. A couple of years ago a Muslim woman, on a beach in the south of France, was asked by police to remove some of her clothing because she was ‘too covered up’. On the other extreme, a woman, wearing a crop top, was recently asked to cover up on a flight because she ‘wasn’t covered up enough’. So is there ever an ideal way for a ‘liberated’ woman to be dressed? I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw men debating this on another TV show.

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