There has been much discussion about proposed “burkha bans” (actually bans on veils in public) around the World including the UK.
All the discussions I have seen have concentrated on the civil liberties / freedom angle and I have nothing to add on that score. I think it an obnoxious garment but then so is the mankini. Sorry, that is flippant. The burkha is a politico-religious statement in a way that (God help us if I’m wrong) the mankini isn’t. Having said that it should not be banned purely on the basis of personal freedom. By which I mean that is a necessary condition not to ban by itself.
Now that that is out of the way what about the practicalities and effects of such a ban?
Firstly, despite living in a lot of areas with very high Muslim populations I don’t recall seeing a “classic” burkha. The niqab (veil) is more common but still not that common. This is really a very petty cause. It would be like banning lederhosen in 1940. It really isn’t worth it.
Secondly, Muslims would go ape over it. The most obvious recourse they would have would be to stage massed veiled protests against the ban. Every Muslim woman who wear hijab would be able to quite easily obtain a niqab and that’s it. Frankly, I’d support them doing that. But is that the Muslim way of protesting? Maybe in this case, maybe not. Depends if the firebrand clerics get them into the (all to frequent) skirling rage and this would give them an excellent excuse to do just that. Victim-hood is what firebrand clerics excel at.
Thirdly, almost every case from Salman Rushdie to Geert Wilders of Islamic “pissed-offness” with the West on cultural grounds (I’m leaving war and terrorism out here) has not been the West’s fault. This time it would be over a ridiculous piece of gesture politics. A piece of gesture politics of such piddling utility that if I were an Islamist leader I’d think it made the West look even more weak and ineffectual. The perception of that weakness amongst many Muslims is a significant part of the problem. If we really want to do something about some of the unpleasant aspects of the culture of too many Muslims within our lands then there are far more important causes than something which is (almost literally!) about window dressing. Forced marriages and female genital mutilation are clearly far more important causes.
Finally, it is impossible to deny that dressing how one likes is an example of freedom of expression. By clamping down on Islamic dress we are offering the mullahs a Gotcha!. And they’d be right too. The West (some of it) was right to say, “sod off” over the MoToons of Doom (the UK media disgracefully wasn’t) because freedom of expression is a fight worth fighting. If an item of clothing were banned Muslims would have every right to cast in doubt our true commitment to that principle. It would make our defence of that fundamental principle of our civilization untenable.
PS. It could be argued that on the grounds of taste and decency the mankini ought to be banned but when something is it’s own punishment…