The controversial issue of banning the veil has taken the Europe by storm. One after other country is endorsing the idea against some Muslim women the wearing of the veil that covers them from head to toe.
There seem to be unanimity towards accepting the majoritarian view on such dress norms but there is little effort to explain the reasons why this is necessary to do so.
Some analysis have come out as counter the ‘ban veil’ propaganda and it is necessary to bring them into circulation so that the one sided cacophony on this issue should not become a gospel of truth.
Five arguments are commonly made in favor of the proposed ban of Veil. First, it is argued that security requires people to show their faces when appearing in public places.
Second, argument says that the kind of transparency and reciprocity proper to relations between citizens is impeded by covering part of the face.
Third, Veil is a symbol of male domination that symbolizes the objectification of women and they are being seen as mere objects.
Fourth women wear the Veil because they are coerced. The last being, Veil per se is unhealthy, because it is hot and uncomfortable!
Martha Nussbaum an American philosopher with a particular interest in political philosophy and ethics and has written extensively on gender and social justice has come out with some cogent arguments that demolishes the entire five propositions advanced in campaign of the banning of the veil.
She says both the arguments; first, security requires people to show their faces when appearing in public places and second transparency and reciprocity that’s proper to relations between citizens is impeded by covering part of the face, are applied inconsistently.
She says its gets very cold in Chicago, as, indeed, in many parts of Europe. Along the streets we walk, hats pulled down over ears and brows, scarves wound tightly around noses and mouths. No problem of either transparency or security is thought to exist, nor are we forbidden to enter public buildings so insulated.
Moreover, many beloved and trusted professionals cover their faces all year round: surgeons, dentists, (American) football players, skiers and skaters.
What inspires fear and mistrust in Europe, clearly, is not covering per se, but Muslim covering, she points out.
She further argues that a reasonable demand might be that a Muslim woman has a full face photo on her driver’s license or passport. With suitable protections for modesty during the photographic session, such a photo might possibly be required.
However, Nussbaum says, we know by now that the face is a very bad identifier. At immigration checkpoints, eye-recognition and fingerprinting technologies have already replaced the photo.
When these superior technologies spread to police on patrol and airport security lines, we can do away with the photo, hence with, what remains of the first and second arguments, she questions.
Nussbaum says there is a glaring flaw in the argument that veil is a symbol of male domination that symbolizes the objectification of women.
She argues that society is suffused with symbols of male supremacy that treat women as objects. Sex magazines, nude photos, tight jeans, all of these products, arguably, treat women as objects, as do so many aspects of our media culture.
And what about the "degrading prison" of plastic surgery, Isn’t much of this done in order to conform to a male norm of female beauty that casts women as sex objects? She asks.
Nussbaum asserts that proponents of the ban veil do not propose to ban all these objectifying practices. Indeed, they often participate in them. And banning all such practices on a basis of equality would be an intolerable invasion of liberty.
Once again, then, the opponents of the veil are utterly inconsistent, betraying a fear of the different that is discriminatory and unworthy of a liberal democracy, she says.
The way to deal with sexism, in this case as in all, is by persuasion and example, not by removing liberty, she suggests.
Taking on the fourth argument that women wear the veil only because they are coerced, Nussbaum says this is a rather implausible argument to make across the board, and it is typically made by people who have no idea what the circumstances of this or that individual woman are.
Its reply should be that of course all forms of violence and physical coercion in the home are illegal already, and laws against domestic violence and abuse should be enforced much more zealously than they are.
Nussbaum asks, do the arguers really believe that domestic violence is a peculiarly Muslim problem? If they do, they are dead wrong.
There is no evidence that Muslim families have a disproportionate amount of such violence. Indeed, given the strong association between domestic violence and the abuse of alcohol, it seems at least plausible that observant Muslim families will turn out to have less of it, she says.
The scholar calls the fifth argument that the veil is per se unhealthy, because it is hot and uncomfortable, the silliest of the arguments. She points out that clothing that covers the body can be comfortable or uncomfortable, depending on the fabric and not as one feels so.
She asks a more pointed question, would the arguer really seek to ban all uncomfortable and possibly unhealthy female clothing? Wouldn’t then we have to begin with high heels, delicious as they are? But no, high heels are associated with majority norms, so they draw no ire, she says.
She concludes that all five arguments are discriminatory and there is no need to handle this issue on the grounds of religiosity and plead the case of accommodation in multi religious and cultural societies.
She says all the five arguments advanced in favor of the banning of the veil are utterly whimsical. There is no place for such arguments in a society that is committed to equal liberty and equal respect to fellow being. The call the conscience requires us to reject them out rightly, she says.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com