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European Court ruling on niqab ban sets legal precedent

European Court ruling on niqab ban sets legal precedent

Categories: Latest News

Friday July 04 2014

The Daily Mail observes The Local’s revelation that Denmark, Norway and Austria are contemplating banning the niqab following the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights earlier this week upholding the niqab ban in France.

Bans have already been introduced in Belgium and in some parts of Switzerland with Italy and Holland reportedly considering following suit.

The Local notes that Austria’s Freedom Party  are expected to put a motion before parliament next week with party spokeswoman, Carmen Gartelgruber, proclaiming that women are considered as second class citizens by “wide, conservative circles of Islamic immigration society” and that the burqa is “one of the many instruments for oppressing women”.

Discussions to introduce a ban took place in Denmark between 2009 and 2010 and in Norway in 2013 with political parties in both countries hailing the European court ruling as setting a legal precedent and paving the way for further bans.

Martin Henriksen of the Danish People’s Party told the Danish newspaper Politiken that “The way has been cleared for a ban.

“[A ban] would send the signal that we do not accept parallel societies and isolation. We see [the burqa] as a rejection of Danish society. It is a sign that one wishes to distance themselves from the rest of society.”

Similarly, the Labour and Progress parties in Norway also suggested reconsidering a ban in light of the ECHR ruling. Jan Bøhler, member of the Labour Party claimed that “When parliament rejected such a ban in 2013, the main argument was that Norway risked being censured in the ECHR. Now that argument falls away.”

In the Daily Telegraph, Allison Pearson restates her support for a burqa ban in the UK challenging the comments by Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti on the ECHR ruling.

Chakrabarti had criticised the ruling for criminalising what women wear under the guise of ‘liberating’ them and for banishing Muslim women from the public sphere by denying their right to dress as they please in public places.

Pearson argues that many find “the sight of a woman wandering around in a bin bag” offensive saying a ban would “liberate women by criminalising their clothing because you send out a strong message that garments that have nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with grotesque misogyny and the treatment of females as second-class citizens, have no place in a modern democracy. If the state bans such clothing then the hope is that young women will gradually be empowered to hold out against it.”

Pearson seems oblivious to her own hypocrisy in denying women the right to choose for themselves and negating their reasoning. Claiming the niqab has ‘nothing to do with religion’ and ‘everything to do with grotesque misogyny and the treatment of females as second-class citizens’ contradicts the motives offered by Muslim women themselves who adopt the niqab. Challenging the liberals who claim them to be in need of ‘empowering’, these women, much like the French woman SAS who brought her appeal before the ECHR, argue that the niqab was their choice and their choice alone. How then is it liberating when such women are told what they can and can’t wear by the state?

It is ironic that Pearson proclaims that women wearing the burqa are coerced into doing so but when it comes to public engagement, she says it is their “choice” to avoid public places. She argues “if she wishes to be part of Western society, then she must adopt a style of dress outside the home that shows she is willing to be part of the community. An unveiled face is a bare minimum in this regard. The burka and niqab are hostile and scary to our eyes, and for good reason.”

She further clams that “The burka is rather a cause of racism, not a symptom” and that failure to integrate is what is “fuelling” an increase in racism. 

Pearson is obviously ignorant of research conducted on the impact of the bans on veils and niqabs on Muslim women across Europe. To invert the situation and make the victim the source of her own misfortune instead of taking aim at aggressors who single out Muslim women for abuse and assault is deplorable. By stating that the “burka is rather a cause of racism, not a symptom”, Pearson emboldens those who point the finger of blame at Muslims for ‘failing to integrate’ instead of looking at their own intolerance towards the religious rights of others.

In the Daily Telegraph also are reported the remarks of Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis and Chief Rabbi of Moscow, who expressed concern at the ‘unravelling’ of the philosophy that informs the state tradition in Europe. Goldschmidt writes, “the burden of proof used to lie with those who were seeking to deny religious freedoms, (sometimes with good intentions) it is now for faith communities to make the case for their rights to be upheld.”

He argues that the ban on building minarets in Switzerland in 2009 and now on the burqa have “crossed a red line” adding that claims the burqa ban is designed to promote community relations are “deeply suspicious”.

He poses the questions: “how badly would your life be affected if you had to walk past a minaret on the way to work every day? How intimidated would you really be if a lady with her face covered walked past you?”

On the ECHR’s defence of its ruling on the basis of requirements for ‘living together’ Goldschmidt notes, “Of course many people make a judgement about a woman wearing a burka and that appraisal might not be conducive to social harmony but that is no different to the judgement you make when you walk past a group of thugs on a street corner. If you’ll forgive me for stating something so obvious – people should be judged on their behaviour not on the sort of clothes they might wear.”


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