Monday, 18 January 2010

UKIP and burkas: it's minarets all over again

Many bloggers have already covered the fact that UKIP are enthusiastic about banning burkas. Lord Pearson said it first, and my hope that Nigel Farage would disassociate himself from this idiocy were quickly dashed. As someone who has been sympathetic to UKIP, I am particularly disappointed.

But let us look at the reasons Mr. Farage gives.
"I can't go into a bank with a motorcycle helmet on. I can't wear a balaclava going round the District and Circle line."
Possibly - but you can wear a motorcycle helmet or a balaclava in public should you so desire. These items of clothing are not banned.
"And the real worry - and it isn't just about what people wear - the real worry is that we are heading towards a situation where many of our cities are ghettoised and there is even talk about Sharia law becoming part of British culture."
If people want to live with people of their own culture, then why shouldn't they? That may lead to difficulties, but it is not a problem per se. As for Sharia law, people may talk about it becoming part of British culture, but talk is cheap. The important thing is to make sure that it does not become part of British law. But I can't see how banning burkas will help.
A "different" culture was "being forced on parts of Britain and nobody wants that", added Mr Farage . . . .
Who is he talking about? Muslims? New Labour? In as much as I am culturally different from my neighbours (and I must be, because by taste in music is rather different from theirs), I can appreciate such sentiments. But having to put up with things in other cultures which we don't particularly like is part of maturity.
"There is nothing extreme or radical or ridiculous about this, but we can't go on living in a divided society," he told The Politics Show.
I'm afraid that I must respectfully disagree, Mr. Farage. I think that it is extreme, radical, and ridiculous.

Mr. Ed Balls says that no sensible party would back a ban on face veils. Well, if anyone had told me a week ago that within 7 days, I would be strongly agreeing with Mr. Balls and strongly disagreeing with Mr. Farage on a political issue, I would never have believed it. But it has come to pass.

There is, however, the big issue here. Mr Farage, again:
"What we are saying is, this is a symbol. It's a symbol of something that is used to oppress women. It is a symbol of an increasingly divided Britain."
Ahh, we are back to Swiss minarets: perfectly harmless to anyone, and yet worthy of a ban, because they are a symbol. And if the Swiss feel so strongly as to vote in a referendum to ban symbols, then UKIP may believe that the British feel likewise, and that there are votes in banning burkas.

This fear of symbols, and desire to ban them, is interesting. Swastikas are banned in Germany; indeed, a few years ago, some German politicians called for the banning of swastikas throughout the EU. There was also the de facto banning in Northern Ireland of the flying of the Irish tricolour.

Peculiar, isn't it?. People have this incredible desire to ban symbols of whatever it is that currently happens to be the "threat to civilisation as we know it". For Northern Irish unionists, that happened to be Irish Republicanism; for Germans it is Nazism; for many in modern Europe, it is militant Islam. But does banning symbols actually do any good? I've yet to see any evidence that it had any positive effect in either Northern Ireland or Germany.

UKIP seem to think that just because burkas are symbols of things that they fear, they should be banned. This view, it seems to me, is totally irrational. Sadly, UKIP isn't alone in this irrational view. Indeed, if the Germans, the Swiss, and the Northern Irish can be taken as representative, irrationality seems to be the norm rather than the exception.


measured said...

Don't you think though that the burka should be discouraged? This is in fact what is occurring when UKIP gain publicity about their views on this issue.

Your post does not consider how the burka is derogatory towards women and often is worn, not as the free choice by the woman, but as a result of the control her husband and family have over her. In my opinion, the burka should be regarded as this century's equivalent to long skirts. We can still wear long skirts but who does? It was back in the 19th century that they were popular and so hopefully the burka will become more frowned upon.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello, measured!

I am not sure that I think that the burka should be discouraged any more than long skirts should be discouraged, though from an aesthetic point of view, long skirts definitely look nicer on ladies than burkas.

What I do think should be discouraged are some of the things which lie (or may lie) behind the wearing of burkas; women being controlled by their husbands and families to such an extent that they are forced to dress in a way they would rather not dress, for example. But it may also be true that some women prefer to wear burkas, or are quite happy to wear whatever their husbands and families want them to wear, because they love and respect their husbands and families. Control is a funny thing. There are several intermediate positions between a woman wanting to wear a burka because she likes the things, and being ordered to do so.

From a political point of view, there are two questions. One is "Should the state ban burkas?" The other is "Should the state actively discourage certain attitudes?" The answer to the first question is, from a libertarian point of view, fairly simple. The answer to the second is a lot more complicated.

And then there is Islam, itself. I don't think that it is a good thing - but that does not mean that I think that the state should discourage it.

bethyada said...

Part of the problem is that "respect for culture" allows groups to force things based on perceived prejudice. One gets into the situation that if burkas are not banned, then demand for normal "rights" while wearing burkas.

If banks and other businesses were allowed to refuse custom, if passports were uniformly denied, and the like, then allowing burkas may be less of an issue.

Perhaps a law not banning burkas, but one allowing the enforcement of equating personal identity with facial identity would be helpful.

Young Mr. Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Young Mr. Brown said...

Good point, Bethyada.

Bishop Hill, best known for his blogging on climate change, said much the same in a post last year.

His whole post is worth reading, but here is the important part:

"The problem is that there are vast numbers of people who feel threatened and alienated by people parading the streets in what amounts to a disguise. They don't like it.

I don't take any particular view on whether they are right to dislike burqas or not, but the fact is that they are not allowed to express their dislike, even in non-violent or non-agressive ways. People are banned from discriminating against the burqa-wearers. They can't turn them away from their shops and businesses, saying "I'm sorry I'm not serving you while you are wearing a disguise". Society, in its wisdom, has decreed that these are crimes, and hate crimes to boot.

The ability to discriminate gives the host culture the ability to gently apply a cost to the wearing of burqa. You will probably still get served in the bank, but you might just have to go a bit further to find one that would rather have your money than enforce a burqa-free clientele. You might have to give up swimming because the pool won't take you. Perhaps the garage won't fix your car if you refuse to show your face.

I've blogged before about how the introduction of authoritarian laws often leads to a spiral of authoritarianism, with all sorts of unpleasant spin offs. The anti-discrimination laws are a direct affront to freedom of association and have encouraged emigrants to refuse to integrate and to develop a kind of apartheid, demanding, for example, muslim-women-only swimming sessions.

By the way, on the subject of climate change, you may be interested in a discovery that I made today. Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate Change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, turns out to be the Mike Hulme that I was friendly with back in my days at university. We didn't keep in touch, and I hadn't heard anything about him for over 20 years!

measured said...

Paddington (if I may),

Returning to the topic of Islam, how do you reconcile Sharia law with British laws without being deemed to be discouraging Islam? We all live in the same jurisdiction and we are a country that upholds Christian values.

Young Mr. Brown said...


If I understand your question correctly, I would say that under the
principle of the rule of law, all people are subject to the law of the state,
and no-one is above it. I have no great knowledge of Sharia law, but my
understanding is that there are elements of Sharia law that can be practiced
by individual Muslims without breaking the law of the state, while there
are other elements of Sharia law that cannot be practiced without breaking
the law of the state. If Islam, or any other religion, were to argue that
upholding its precepts required it to ignore the legal code of the state, then
one would have a situation in which the state would, inevitably, be
discouraging the some aspects of the practice of that religion.

It’s a tricky
issue, and one reason why, in my view, the state should have fewer rather than more laws.
The fewer laws we have, the less likely we are to introduce laws that
conflict with deeply held opinions.

"we are a country that upholds Christian values."

That's a controversial statement these days, but I believe that it is true - in
the sense that Christian values have shaped modern European culture over
the past 1500 or so years. In other ways, I don’t think that we really do
uphold Christian values as a country. But the question of which values are
Christian values is not an easy one to answer.

p.s. Yes, you may. We’ve known each other for quite a while now!

measured said...


You distilled my question very adeptly and also recognised the inherent contradictions that will arise if religious and cultural practices do not coincide with the laws of the land. You are correct about the Rule of Law, a concept fundamental to any fair society that is not governed by a corrupt regime. Thank you for responding to my comment. I must now find a dark corner and consider the Libertarian movement which admittedly has admirable aims.

bethyada said...

Thanks for the link. Interesting. I note that Walter Williams often opposes ideas that he claims arise from previous bad ideas or law.