Saturday, May 29, 2010
Belgium has banned the burqa, the head-to-toe veil worn in parts of the Muslim world. French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants his country to follow suit. What's an open-minded person to think? The answer is, you have every right to regulate your world.
Burqa-wearing is often forced upon women by men. By covering the face, it negates the woman's existence, and it hides her identity, thus becoming a security threat.
Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman defends the burqa with his usual wit, but his libertarian arguments fall short of making a sale. He writes that forbidding the burqa in public "trades one form of compulsion (you must wear this) for another (you may not wear this)."
Not quite. "You may not wear this" leaves considerably more latitude for personal expression than "you must wear this." The Parisian options include everything from a tiny tube covering just the essentials to a long granny dress and turban.
In this country, Chapman says, modestly dressed Amish women and miniskirted, cleavage-flaunting babes who do not approve of each other's attire can avert their gaze. But how can you discern an extreme mode of dressing without giving it a good look? No matter. Either the babe or Amish woman might evoke curiosity on the Champs Elysees but not the discomfort brought about by the complete anonymity of the burqa wearer.
Chapman makes his best case in questioning whether the veil is really a symbol of oppression by men. "The same thing could be said about surgically enhanced breasts in Europe and the United States," he says. To which I would add 4-inch spike heels.
His worst argument is the security one. Chapman holds that sunglasses and ski masks are also put to sinister uses by "camera-shy bank robbers." Why doesn't he try to enter a bank wearing a ski mask? I'll hold the video camera.
His second-to-worst argument is that, heck, very few Muslim women in the West wear the burqa, anyway. In France, it's less than 2,000 out of 5 million Muslims.
That's like saying that if only 12 out of 8 million New Yorkers want to stroll through Manhattan stark raving naked, no problem. Tell that to the cop trying to maintain order.
There are norms for the nude beach and norms for the streets, even in the world's liberal cities. Note that Amish women don't cover their faces, and babes don't go topless (not legally) on San Francisco's sidewalks.
I'll buy the libertarian pitch on such personal choices as smoking, drinking and drug use. But when it comes to communal settings, some freedoms must be curbed to keep things functioning and pleasant. I like zoning laws that stop builders from putting skyscrapers in old Victorian neighborhoods. And I like a few rules on dress.
Otherwise, our world turns into a libertarian mush. Cultures disappear, and every place looks the same. Classrooms resemble Halloween parties. (As it is, they've gotten close.)
Heaven knows, there's not much "compulsion" in the West on what one may not wear. I wish more people would voluntarily curtail their sartorial exhibitionism, but that's another column.
Every society gets to make its own rules for conduct, which includes dress. Some cultures require covered heads. Some require uncovered faces. We don't have to approve, but we have to respect. Granted, these arguments get dicey when they touch on civil rights. But the French should have the same option to ban burqas on the street -- or green socks, if they choose -- as Saudi Arabia has to proscribe miniskirts.
Libertarians will counter, "We think Saudis should allow miniskirts." To that I respond, "Update us on your progress."
COPYRIGHT 2010 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentary.
See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop .
V iews expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.