Michael Totten

Just a Thought

The Netherlands is considering a ban on burkas. Naturally this is controversial. Some Arab and Muslim countries — Tunisia, for instance — won’t let women wear even a headscarf, let alone a veil or a burka, on schools or government property. But Western countries are and should remain freer. Tunisia’s law shouldn’t be a license for a similar Dutch law for obvious reasons: Tunisia also bans political parties.
The Dutch mean well, though. Burkas and veils are tools used by men to oppress women. (Spare me the excuses. I have heard them all and I’m not buying.) The oppression of women is clearly not something Dutch culture values too highly. Neither, though, is a state-enforced dress code. So there is tension.
Here’s an idea, even though the implementation might be a bit tricky: How about forbidding men from forcing “their” women to wear a veil or a burka? Women can wear them if they want (sometimes they do), but it would be illegal for medieval-minded men to use clothes to bully their wives, sisters, and daughters.
UPDATE: Okay, okay, the commenters win. I’m just thinking “out loud” on the page here, and I am convinced this isn’t workable. Does anyone else have any idea how Western societies can resist the importation of burkas, veils, and other tools of male dominance without being overly authoritarian?
It is, most likely, unconstitutional for the U.S. to ban burkas, and I shudder at the thought of a government dress code. 21st Century American men shouldn’t be slapping burkas on “their” women, though.
I saw a woman with her husband last year at the Fry’s Electronics store wearing a full burka. I’m not talking about a headscarf, a veil, or even an abaya. I mean the whole body sheet with a screen over her face. Her husband looked like he was from Pakistan. (Arabs don’t wear burkas.) I wanted to tell him to go eff himself, but I’m polite and didn’t say anything. My friend Ed said he would have told that guy to go eff himself, and I believe him.