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Boris Johnson MP recently divided opinion - drawing condemnation from the Prime Minister and provoking a disciplinary investigation by his Conservative Party - for controversial remarks about Muslim women who wear burkas/burqas. Though he did not advocate a ban, his comments have reignited the debate following bans on the full-face-and-body coverings becoming law in countries including France, Belgium, and Denmark. This conversation looks at whether similar prohibitions should be introduced in the UK. It operates on the basis that women are making a free choice when wearing burkas, and are not forced to be doing so - something which all parties would reject.

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Arguments supporting this position

Details

Context

In a secular society, the government is expected to remain separate from any religious traditions, affiliations or theological influence. As a result, several secular societies, including France, the Netherlands and Austria, do not permit females to wear the burka in government buildings. France and the Netherlands extended the ban further to include all public spaces.[1]

The Argument

The burka represents a clash between European secular government and Islamic religious identity. In secular society, religion has no place in legislative life. It should be kept out of governmental decisions and interactions. Therefore, it seems logical that such an overt symbol of religion has no place in government spaces. This would include any brazen religious icon or symbol. There is no place for crosses, kippahs or burkas in any government building.

Counter arguments

Freedom of Religion and Expression Aren't freedom of expression and freedom of religion also pillars of secular government? A ban on the burka from any sphere of public life would be a grotesque infringement of an individual's freedom of expression and religious freedoms. The principles of a secular state dictate that religion should be kept out of government, but this does not mean religious attire. Nor does it mean that those with religious beliefs cannot express those beliefs through their clothing while in a public office.[2] Islamophobia The fact that limits on religious expression in public offices and buildings is only discussed in the context of a burka ban exposes the anti-Islamic motives behind the ban. We never hear a politician stand up and denounce Christian civil servants for wearing a crucifix around their necks. If these politicians truly feared religious attire and iconography infiltrating public spaces, they would denounce all symbolism, including religious tattoos, necklaces, turbans, kippahs, and headscarves, with the same gusto they attack burkas with. In reality, those calling for a burka ban in government offices are mounting an attack on Islamic culture behind the veneer of secularism.

Premises

[P1] Secular society demands the complete separation of religion and state. [P2] Therefore, there should be no religious iconography of symbolism in government buildings. [P3] Therefore, the burka should not be permitted in government buildings.

Rejecting the premises

[P1] Secular society also demands the freedom of expression and freedom to practice any religion. [Rejecting P2] Therefore, citizens should be free to express their religion in all public spheres. [Rejecting P3] Therefore, the burka should not be banned from any public spaces.

References

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13038095
  2. https://www.peacepalacelibrary.nl/2010/07/the-islamic-veil-secularism-and-freedom-of-religion/

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This page was last edited on Friday, 3 May 2019 at 15:29 UTC