Steve Zara has posted a thought-provoking article, entitled Why Burqa bans are wrong, discussing bans recently introduced by the French government and some other parts of Europe. I confess to being not completely convinced of the ban's rightness or wrongness, although I lean towards it being right. Many good points are made by him and other anti-banners, citing civil liberties, impracticality, discrimination and silliness. I agree with them!
But that's not to say that these points make a ban wrong, just that any ban must be justified. Societies do ban things, so a knee-jerk libertarian response is not appropriate, though there are civil liberty concerns to weigh. Steve also notes that the real problem of wearing the burqa is that it is '...ill-mannered and disrespectful to others in society'. This is a good observation, but not the *most* problematic thing about it, in my opinion, when it is a cultural *imposition*. So I thought I would compare burqa wearing with public sex, after spotting this story about a cargo cult in Papua New Guinea, who decided that sex would deliver more bananas (I don't scour the web for stories about sex cults, and anyone who says I do is a liar!). A few quotes:
The Banana Cult is headed by a man from Yamine village.
The man and his followers have been engaged in illicit public sex for the past four months and have forced other villagers under threat of violence to participate.
According to Mr Namusa (village elder), the villagers resorted to cult activities, claiming the government had forgotten them. Mr Namusa said the cultists believed that their banana fruit would multiply 10-fold every time they had sex in public.
Mr Namusa confirmed the cult movement and said young men and women including married couples were walking around naked and having sex in public places
without being ashamed of themselves.
So to paraphrase Steve's first paragraphs:
Doesn't seeing people having sex in public make you feel uneasy? It makes me feel uneasy. It makes very many people feel uneasy, so uneasy that in several places in Europe there are laws against public sex either on the books or being planned. Such laws are dangerous, and unnecessary.
What is the problem with such sex?
I'm sure the analogy doesn't work completely, but, remember; no doubt some of the people indulging in public sex were freely indulging - it's their lifestyle choice. Should we restrict their freedom? On the other hand, many members of the community were cowed by the group dynamic, and some were too young to know any different. Should they be protected?
Don't be silly, one might say, public sex is much more harmful than a mere fashion choice. Perhaps, perhaps not; I just don't know the damage that burqa wearing *actually* causes (nor indeed public sex).
Banning burqa-wearing in public may have the effect of imprisoning women in those cultures. But, likewise, a banana cultist would feel obliged to spend a lot more time shut up inside having sex to ensure their banana deliveries.
There's only a few women who wear the burqa, so it's hardly a widespread problem. But would one allow just a few tens of people having public sex to ensure their banana delivery? I can't see it.
The point is that legislation against practices, such as public sex and public burqa wearing, are not bad per se, and have to be considered on the merits of each case. If the effects of burqa wearing are sufficiently abusive one would *have* to consider introducing such legislation against that abuse.
Now I don't *think* that burqa wearing is as unwelcome as public sex, although I'm not too sure what harm to society *either* brings! As I say, *I just don't know*. But there is, at the very least, a clear case of potential abuse with 'extreme' clothing that should be assessed, to avoid harbouring a community of abused women. And I don't see that a ban, any ban, can be dismissed out of hand, if it could help to lift the abuse.
Mind you, it would be a good test for Harris's science of morality. If all studies showed communities and women *flourishing* wherever the burqa is worn (I doubt very much that would be the case), what should be the scientific response? Perhaps there might be a need to resort to some Rawlsian primary social goods; or acceptance that we shouldn't be so prescriptive about what is good for people.