BY ARIEL SMILOWITZ
In 2006, a teaching assistant named Aishah Azmi was suspended from the Headfield Church of England Junior School for wearing a full body veil while teaching. The case reflected the issue of cultural integration and religious tolerance all over the world, particularly in several European countries. The fierce debate, which was focused particularly on Muslim women, led many government officials like English Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to condemn the veil, claiming that not only is it demeaning to women, but it is also a threat to the public’s security. After four years, Belgium is now on the verge of becoming the first European nation to actually ban the burka and other veils that fully cover one’s face and body. Belgium’s actions are also mirrored in countries like France and the Netherlands, as both countries are considering banning the burka as well. The debate sheds light on the real problem in Europe: these Islamophobic countries lack the tolerance needed for successful cultural integration. Contrary to what these countries think, banning the burka is not a reasonable solution to improving public security and is a blatant violation of the basic rights that many Europeans enjoy.
The issue of the Muslim burka has been a staple in the politics and societies of several countries for years, especially in Europe, where there is a large population of Muslims. As a result of this constant increase in the European-Muslim population, many people are beginning to fear the rise of Islam and believe that it is not compatible with Western traditions and cultures. However, in reality, the numbers tell a different story as Muslims make up only about 7 percent of the population. Thus, out of a population of millions, only hundreds of women actually wear the burka. Therefore, not only does it make no sense to fear a complete cultural revolution from a small group of people, it also makes no sense to ban something that is worn by such a small number of people.
In response to their attempts to ban the burka, several European countries have cited their deep concern regarding all threats toward public security. These countries, particularly Belgium and Holland, explicitly claim that it is necessary to see one’s face at all times in case of a public emergency, and that these potential bans are for the greater good of the people as a whole. Currently, these claims are convincing even more people due to the suicide bombings that occurred in a Moscow subway station earlier this year. The attack, carried out by two Muslim women who were part of an Islamic militant group called the “Black Widows”, killed over thirty-eight people and wounded more than sixty others. These types of attacks increase the fear of Islam that is gripping Europe and are ultimately facilitating the establishment of a legal ban against the burka. However, it is extremely unfair to place a ban on a large group of people because of the actions of a select few. Outlawing the burka does not end terrorism; although national security is important, denying people the right to wear what they want does not solve the problem.
In addition to the threat of national security, many countries like France believe that the burka compromises the dignity of the women who wear them and that the veil is a symbol of degradation. What these people don’t realize is the fact that many women choose to wear the veil, whether for religious or social reasons. It is society’s obligation to protect a woman’s freedom of choice, religion, and expression and see to it that their rights are not denied.
In the end, outlawing the full body veil will not solve anything. It is a flagrant violation of one’s right to freedom of speech, expression, and choice. If the European people follow this path, eventually their denial of basic rights will escalate into the creation of a severely oppressive society for everyone that does not follow the same Western traditions. The fact that these governments are targeting one group of people is immoral; if one group is getting stripped of their rights, then everyone should get stripped of their rights as well. If these countries are worried about national security, then they should focus on how to fix the problem another way; persecuting the Muslim population does not eliminate the threat of terrorism, as terrorism exists among all religions, cultures, and races. Ultimately, outlawing the burka will backfire on Europe, as the denial of these basic rights will cultivate more hate between Muslim and Western societies. The European people must find a way to tolerate Islam and allow it to integrate into their society; if not, the burka ban will leave an egregious stain on the history of mankind.