the secular atheist sees no reason or evidence for belief in a god or gods
The Secular Atheist

Ban the Burka?

19 December 2016

Every fibre of my body rebels against legislating to limit people's right to choose how to live their lives. However, despite that, when it comes to the Burka and the Niqab, I think there are good reasons why it makes sense to ban both of them.

As an active atheist, I am strongly opposed to religion, but I am just as firm in my support of human rights. I will thus criticise religion as vociferously as I will defend a person's right to choose and practise their religion, with one and only one caveat - the practise of the religion must not infringe others' rights. My opposition to the Burka and the Niqab is not derived from my stance on religion but from the belief that they infringe the rights of the members of society.

To be absolutely clear, I do not advocate banning any other form of Islamic dress, just the Burka and the Niqab. I have issues with the Hijab, Chador, and Dupatta because of what they say about gender equality, but nonetheless, I believe that they should remain a matter of personal choice. The difference with the Burka and the Niqab is that the negative impact of covering the face outweighs a person's right to choose how they dress.

I am not referring to the easy cases where it is clear that the Burka and Niqab are unacceptable for reasons specific to the situation. For example, when passing through passport control on arrival in a country, the immigration officer must be able to see the person's face to be able to identify them, and this can only be done by lifting the veil.

Humans are social animals, and as social animals, humans live within a community, in which they are affected by the behaviour of those around them and in turn, their behaviour impacts others. For this reason, we regulate a wide range of public behaviours because they are considered deleterious to the community and its members. So, for example, if someone were to walk down a busy public street, screaming and shouting threats, it is very likely that the police will act to curtail their behaviour because it makes some people feel threatened.

Communication is such an intrinsic part of society, that when it is interrupted, we feel confused even uneasy. It is not a nice-to-have or an optional extra but so essential to a healthy, effective society, that where it is impeded, the community will suffer potentially evn becoming dysfunctional. Communication is not a matter of just the words a person utters, but involves the whole body including hand gestures, stance, intonation, and facial expressions.

So when a primary school teacher wears a Burka, it should not surprise us that the pupils feel uncomfortable and some even start crying. If the teacher smiles, the children know that all is well and relax, but if she frowns, they become hesitant, even concerned, until they understand whether or not they have done something wrong. In essence, the teacher's facial expressions are a crucial part of how she communicates with her pupils.

In addition, to the impact on communication, there is growing evidence that full facial coverings are detrimental to the health of the people that wear them. Having to cover their faces when in public, makes many women feel alienated and isolated from the society that they live in, which in turn increases illnesses and issues like depression and suicide. One might argue that an individual's mental health is not a social but a personal concern, however, this would be to ignore the knock on effect of the health of the individual on a society.

There are government departments set up to monitor and act in the interest of the public when it comes to physical illnesses because the impact for others can be huge. Mental illnesses are no different in terms of their impact. Aside from the direct costs to businesses and social welfare of people unable to work effectively, people with mental illnesses affect the mental well-being of the people around them, who in turn affect the people around them and so on. So, a depressed parent, can affect the ability of a child to prepare for a test, lowering a school's achievements and so on. Furthermore, in a family with serious mental health illnesses, the members of the family can themselves develop serious mental health issues as a result of the pressures. Mental health is thus a concern for society and not just individuals. It thus behoves us to act to treat the illness and where possible, remove the cause.

Because the Burka and the Niqab damage communication and increase mental health issues, they are damaging to building a healthy society, and the rights of the individual can justifiably be overridden. There is thus a real case to for banning the Burka and the Niqab because of their impact on people's right to live in a functional society.

About me

I describe myself as a secular atheist hence the name of the site. As an atheist, I am active in my opposition to religious privilege and intolerance especially when it comes to religion trying to enforce its values on all society such as the denial of equal rights for the LGBQT community and placing limits on women's reproductive rights.

I sometimes describe myself as a secular humanist because humanism matches my beliefs most closely. As a humanist, I am totally committed to human rights as defined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I am proud to have been a member of the British Humanist Society for many years now.

Lastly, I am a parent, a husband, a teacher, a mentor, a friend, and a Bridge enthusiast (although not very good at it). I enjoy sharing my thoughts and ideas, and this site is one of my outlets to this end.

Thank you for visiting, and thank you for reading.

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