Yesterday evening, I got into a vigorous debate with an acquaintance regarding the wearing of the full Islamic face veil and the Burka. The discussion reminded me of this post, https://newauthoronline.com/2018/06/03/leave-women-free-to-dress-as-they-please/, in which I defend the right of women to wear the clothing of their choosing.
My acquaintance argued that while many Muslim women may not be “forced” to don the full face veil or the Burka, that they are “indoctrinated” into wearing these garments. Consequently, he maintained that the solution was to prohibit the wearing of either the full face veil or the Burka in public in the United Kingdom.
The argument of my acquaintance reminded me of that notion so beloved of Marxists (namely “false consciousness”, where a person genuinely believes that a thing which is, obviously against their best interests is, in point of fact very much to their advantage). Marxists use such arguments to denounce the “false consciousness” of workers who vote for non-Marxist parties and who (to varying degrees) support the free market economy. The Marxist notion of “false consciousness” denies individual agency. In effect (according to the Marxist) large sections of the “proletariat” are blind to their own interests and must be brought to a full understanding of the “class struggle” by the enlightened Communist/Marxist party.
Likewise my acquaintance believes that those Muslim women who wear either the full Islamic veil or the Burka are suffering from “false consciousness” (although he uses the word “indoctrination”) and must be compelled, by law to live as free non-wearers of either garb. If they refuse to do so then they should be fined or imprisoned.
My acquaintance contends that from early girlhood those who use the full face veil or the Burka have been “indoctrinated” by their families/the Muslim community to believe that by so doing they are complying with the teachings of the Prophet/Islam, and that to do otherwise than don these coverings would be unislamic.
It is certainly true that upbringing exerts a powerful influence on individuals. For example people who live in households where their parents vote for a particular political party are, on average more likely to support that party at the ballot box when they reach voting age. However many people disagree with the politics of their parents and espouse different opinions/vote differently on reaching the age of majority. Again, through education people are exposed to divergent political views to those espoused by their families. The UK is a free society where information is freely available (no one is exposed to only one point of view).
As with the above example, so also with the matter of Muslim dress. Young women may be strongly encouraged to wear the full face veil or the Burka. They will, however be exposed to girls, the overwhelming majority of whom, will not wear such garments and through such exposure decide that the Burka or the full face veil (or, indeed any kind of veil) is not right for them. To deny that this happens is to deny that we, as humans possess individual autonomy which (quite patently) we do.
Individual autonomy cuts both ways. I know of a number of Muslim women who have (against the wishes of their parents) chosen to adopt the full face veil. Just who is “indoctrinating” these ladies? The answer provided by my acquaintance is that young, impressionable girls read material online which encourages them to adopt a view of Islam in which the full face veil or the Burka is seen as being obligatory. This can (and does) happen. This is not (in my view) sufficient reason for going down the road of France, Denmark and some other European countries and banning the full face veil or Burka. The answer lies in educating both girls (and boys) from a young age in the importance of self-respect and the rights of the individual. If after having gained an understanding of such matters a young woman freely chooses to don the Burka or the full face veil that is a matter for her and her alone.
My acquaintance falls into the trap of many liberals in believing that because he can not (as a reasonable person) understand why an individual would adopt a particular course of action/dress in a particular manner, anyone who goes against his conception of “the good” must, of necessity be “indoctrinated” suffering from “false consciousness” (the latter term was not used by my acquaintence but, nonetheless I feel that “indoctrination” does, in this instance equate to the Marxist notion of “false consciousness”).
To maintain that all (or the majority) of Muslim women (in the UK) who wear either the full face veil or the Burka, are “indoctrinated” strikes me as the height of arrogance. How can one possibly look into the mind of another and judge their motivation in such matters? The answer is that one can not. We should (as liberals in the true sense of the word) take at face value statements by women who say “we freely choose to dress in such and such a manner” unless there exists evidence that they are being forced so to do.
Apart from the compelling arguments in favour of individual freedom there is the little matter of police resources. Is it really a productive use of police manpower to go around arresting women who choose to wear the full face veil or Burka? I for one would rather the police concentrated on preventing crime against person and property than in persecuting people who dress in a manner not approved of by the state/society.
Ultimately if one defends the right of a lady to wear a revealing dress (which I most emphatically do) then one must, in all logic defend with equal vigour the right of ladies to cover their faces and other parts of their bodies (unless they are security reasons or another good cause for them to show their face, for example at an airport security desk).