Burkas, Belgium and ‘Religious rights’

Belgium and France signalled in the press this week (22 Apr 2010) that they would ban the Islamic veil known as the Burka (total body coverage with mesh ‘window’ for seeing), and also the Niqab (open slit for seeing). Before legislation is even passed in either country, arguments and insults are flying back and forth. In France, the State Council warns that such bans may violate the French constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights [RFI 30 Mar 2010].

Woman wearing a burka

I find the appeal to ‘religious rights and freedoms’ here very interesting, not to say disingenuous. Moral ‘rights’ based on religion have been invoked in countless abhorrent events in human history, from the Crusades (a mostly wrong-headed series of adventuring under Christian flags featuring long periods of boredom punctuated by short episodes of massacre and mayhem) [Amin Maalouf’s ‘The Crusades through Arab Eyes‘ is a wonderful read by the way] to the hideous practices related to ‘honour’ maimings and killings common (but not limited to) in the Islamic world. In the modern world, religion is never far from bombs and violence – Northern Ireland, Palestine, Nigeria and Iraq being just a few examples. These extreme situations are all easy enough for peace-loving individuals and governments alike to condemn.

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