Home > Christopher Hitchens, civil liberties, Islam, Religion > Does Banning Burqas Promote Freedom?

Does Banning Burqas Promote Freedom?

Hitchens argues the French ban doesn’t harm freedom of expression so much as defend the rights of women.

The French legislators who seek to repudiate the wearing of the veil or the burqa—whether the garment covers “only” the face or the entire female body—are often described as seeking to impose a “ban.” To the contrary, they are attempting to lift a ban: a ban on the right of women to choose their own dress, a ban on the right of women to disagree with male and clerical authority, and a ban on the right of all citizens to look one another in the face. The proposed law is in the best traditions of the French republic, which declares all citizens equal before the law and—no less important—equal in the face of one another.

This continues to be a difficult issue for me, but I just remain unconvinced that an equivalent American ban would be right. The burqa or similar clothes, which are certainly often imposed on women, aren’t the problem in themselves. The subjugation of women should be assaulted in a different way. I’m all for speaking out against the practice as harshly as anyone, but a legal ban goes too far for me. Unfortunately, too many on the left venture into defending the act itself. Here’s a reader at The Daily Dish:

I get really pissed when people say a woman in America, or any other western country, should be banned from wearing anything she frickin feels like wearing. When I was a youth I had piercings, a mohawk, I wore doc martens and tried my best to look as scary as possible. I was punk rock, baby, and I loved it. And if anyone told me not to wear what I wanted, well I didn’t give a shit. I was expressing my rebellion when I wore those clothes for everyone to see. Woman in burqas, veils or whatever are expressing their relationship with their God, and by extension their society, and accepting whatever harsh treatment they receive because it it, just like me with my punk rock clothes.

No, it is nothing like wearing “punk rock clothes,” and often the women aren’t necessarily freely choosing to express “their relationship with God.” They are forced to wear them by reactionary wack-jobs. Odd he mentions that they are “accepting whatever harsh treatment they receive” for wearing those clothes, but fails to mention the harsher treatment they would receive by not wearing the garments. This reader clearly needs to view the sad reality of real rebellious women, not the phony punk rock rebellion. Would he argue the women are “accepting” of this treatment?


Any deliberate crimes against women are already illegal and should be prosecuted. The difficulty in determining which women are truly making a free choice shouldn’t lead to a ban on all religious garments, but a more piercing rhetorical critique coupled with stronger enforcement against domestic abuse. 

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