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Ban the Burka?

THE burka is never far from controversy, and now the French are planning to impose £700 fines for wearing the Islamic clothing in public. A vote on the bill is due later this month.Today, we ask two Muslim women to give their points of view. Sun writer ANILA BAIG argues NO to a burka ban while businesswoman SAIRA KHAN - runner-up on the first series of TV's The Apprentice in 2005 - says YES.

Says writer ANILA BAIG
EUROPE seems to be in the grip of anti-Islamic hysteria. Switzerland banned the building of minarets and now Muslim women in France could be fined £700 for wearing the burka. Some, no doubt, will wish the same could be done here.

I'm a British-born Muslim but understand how the burka ruffles feathers*. My mother's generation wore slacks and smock tops when they came to this country, shedding their traditional salwar kameez* in a bid to fit in.
She even wore Western clothes in Pakistan but now you see swathes of Muslim women in Britain covered from head to toe.
I don't understand those who choose to wear the burka. To me it represents a medieval, narrow-minded and harsh side of Islam.
The problem is, I know women who choose to wear it and they are not medieval, narrow-minded or harsh. They are often intelligent, articulate and passionately believe they are serving God.
They certainly don't care what French president Nicolas Sarkozy thinks. And I am not happy about a government telling women what they can and can't wear. It is simply wrong to ban it.
If women can choose to wear as little as they like, it is UNACCEPTABLE that they can't wear as much as they like too.
If the West wants to see fewer women in the orthodox garment, it would be better if the message came from a respected Imam rather than a secular president with a clothes-horse* wife.
I really hope some don't use this news as a stick with which to beat burka-clad women. We should have far more tolerance and realise that, underneath the burka, is a human being.
But Muslims need to realise that we can practise our faith without going to extremes.
I am sure it will be some time before Muslim women in Britain take off their burkas but maybe us Muslims should make more effort to show the human face of our religion.

Says Apprentice star SAIRA KHAN
In the mainly Muslim enclaves of Derby, near my childhood home, you now see women hidden behind the full-length (burka) robe, their faces completely shielded from view.
In London, I see an increasing number of young girls, aged four and five, being made to wear the hijab (head covering) to school.
Thanks to fundamentalist Muslims and "hate" preachers working in Britain, the veiling of women is suddenly all-pervasive and promoted as a basic religious right. We are led to believe we must live with this in the name of "tolerance".
And yet, as a British Muslim woman, I abhor the practice and am calling on the Government here to follow the lead of the French proposal and ban the burka in Britain.
I believe the covering of one's face in public is dangerous and, for security reasons, should be banned from British streets.
Nowhere in the Koran does it state that a woman's face and body must be covered in a layer of heavy black cloth.
Instead, Muslim women should dress modestly, covering their arms and legs.
The burka is an imported Saudi Arabian tradition and the growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of a creeping radicalisation which is not just regressive* but oppressive and dangerous. So what should we do in Britain? For decades, Muslim fundamentalists, using human-rights laws, have been allowed to get their own way.
It is now time for ministers and ordinary British Muslims to say enough is enough. For the sake of women and children, the Government here must ban the burka in public places. To do so is not racist, as extremists would have us believe, it is common sense.
In today's society. where we are threatened with terrorist acts, we should demand to see people's faces in public - so that we do not feel scared or frightened. It will only be a matter of time before extremists use the wearing of the burka to breach security and carry out attacks on innocent people.

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Source: The Sun of Jan. 10, 2010


* to ruffle sb's feathers - jmd. verärgern
* salwar kameez - ein Kamiz ist ein längeres Hemd, das locker über einer Hose (Salwar) getragen wird
* clothes-horse - slg. Modetussi
* regressive - rückständig

1. Summarize the two views on wearing the burka, naming the main argunments put forward by the two Muslim women.
2. Which of the two views - in your opinion - has the more convincing arguments? Substantiate your opinion.
3. Do you think that wearing the burka or the headscarf should be banned worldwide?
4. Would you tolerate Muslim women or girls wearing the burka, the niqab (Gesichtsschleier) or the headscarf?

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Banning the burqa unveils some nasty traits in us

By India Knight

France is considering passing a law that would mean women who wear the burqa or niqab* in public would face a £700 fine. French MPs will vote on the proposal later this month; the fine would apply to anyone “whose face is fully covered in public”. Jean-François Copé, parliamentary leader of Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP group, told Le Figaro that the proposed law was based on sexual equality and public safety considerations, not on religious ones.

“We spoke to religious and secular figures, who all confirmed [the burqa] was not a religious prescription. Wearing the full body veil is about extremists who want to test the republic,” he said.

It is already illegal to wear a headscarf in French state schools (the law came into effect in 2004 — you’ll remember the furore); the French constitution specifically requires the separation of church and state. So even in a country that is nominally Catholic, there are no prayers at school, no crucifixes on state-school walls, no religious assemblies and so on.

This last bit seems perfectly sensible but the headscarf issue raised all sorts of questions — the law is opaquely* worded and refers only to “ostentatious”* religious symbols: would a Sikh boy in a French state school be required to remove his topknot and cut his hair, for instance? Would a Jewish child not be allowed his yarmulke*? Would somebody who was vegetarian on religious grounds be offered no alternative to meaty school lunches? Or was the law just against Muslims, adherents to the second largest religion in France?

I find this whole subject uncomfortable because I don’t really know what I think; I change my mind constantly. I start off, as most people would, from the point of view that everyone should be allowed to wear what they like, regardless of how peculiar it might strike others as being, without being dictated to.

The fact that I dislike being unable to see someone’s face is neither here nor there, really: it’s their face, to expose or conceal (or pierce, or tattoo, or smear in chocolate) as they wish. But the “without being dictated to” part cuts both ways*: there is always the suspicion that women in burqas or niqabs may not be wearing them out of personal choice. And how do you tell? It’s hardly as if their appearance invites you to saunter up* and say, “Excuse me, did you put that on of your own free will?”

Then I am made uncomfortable by the incredibly patronising* assumptions that white western women make about brown women who are fully veiled, which is basically that they are all tragically mute victims of an especially monstrous patriarchy and are probably beaten or set fire to if they don’t cook supper nicely.

That may be true, and it may be true for vast numbers of women, but it simply isn’t true of every single one; besides, as we know, vast numbers of women are brutalised and abused by people known to them in all cultures and regardless of their clothing. So that whole “we must rescue the veiled women; they must be more like us; they must be free to weigh 20 stone and wear a miniskirt and get smashed on Alcopops and then post about it on Facebook” thing makes me uneasy. Spin “they must be more like us” round by only a few degrees and you have totalitarian regimes founded on intolerance.

Then of course there’s the idea that if a woman does wear a burqa of her own choice, that may be because she has been indoctrinated — or treated as a chattel* — since birth. I get this and it’s not good. But surely a functioning society should be compassionate enough not to force her to do what must be a traumatic thing — stripping off the veil overnight and showing her face to strangers for perhaps the first time in decades — rather than call what might be an elderly grandmother “an extremist who wants to test the republic”.

My other concern is that burqas turn women into objects — creatures, if you like. You don’t think: “Oh, there’s Mrs So-and-so”; you think: “There goes one of those women peering out of a grille.” It’s as if there’s a bird in a cage and someone has thrown a sheet over it. With the best will in the world, it’s hard to see (literally) how the concepts of citizenship, freedom and democracy are working for the bird person. As for the question of sexual equality that Copé* refers to: sexual equality is marvellous and we’re all for it, but you can’t will it into being by banning an item of clothing. Riots in the banlieues* and the burning of the tricolore, yes. Instant sexual equality, not so much.

The bottom line, I guess, is that you have to fall into line with the country you’re living in. I was in Marrakesh a couple of months ago and, as ever, was treated to the sight of idiot tourists wandering around the souks half-naked, complaining loudly about unwelcome attention and taking photographs of the picturesque natives without asking first. So you could argue that banning the burqa is a variant on the same thing: stopping people offending the social mores of the country they find themselves in. On paper that sounds reasonable. In reality and when the legislation appears to be aimed firmly at one — huge — section of society, based on one skin colour and one religious affiliation, it can’t help but leave a bad taste in the mouth.

............. Still, the law will probably be passed and the world will watch with interest — France has become a useful testing ground when it comes to these issues. I still go back and forth. If someone held a gun to my head and forced me to make a choice, I suppose I’d come down in favour of the ban on the basis that my instinct says — shouts — that no little girl comes into the world longing to be covered in a black tent when she grows up. Instincts don’t make laws, though. But there’s no gun and no one’s forcing me to do — or put on, or remove — anything, for which I am very grateful.
1070 words

From The Sunday Times, January 10, 2010

* niqab - Gesichtsschleier
* opaquely - unklar
* ostentatious - demonstrative, protzend
* yarmulke - Kopfbedeckung eines jüdischen Mannes (bei Ausübung seiner Religion)
* to cut both ways - ein zweiseitiges Schwert sein
* to saunter up - auf jdn. zugehen
* patronising - bevormundend, herablassend
* chattel - bewegliches Gut
* Jean-François Copé - (before mentioned) French politician
* banlieues (frz.) - Vororte einer Großsatdt
* troll - Troll, Kobold

1. The authoress of the article seems to be in a dilemma on her view about the issue of banning the burqa or not. Find remarks which underline her insecure view and finally say how she would eventually decide.
2. Mrs Knight compares wearing teh burqa with other religious symbols that people are allowed to woship. Pick two or threee of them and say if they stand comparison.
3. Find out on the Internet how the US, British, German and French governments treat the issue of Muslim women wearing burqas, niqas or headscarves.
4. Write a letter to the editor of a paper expressing your own opinion on banning the burqa in western countries.

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