Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Should New Zealand ban the 'burqa' in public places?

The 'burqa' is a style of dress that covers the wearer head to toe, completely obscuring them from sight.

While this particular dress is unique to countries with large Muslim populations, many would claim that its origins are to be found in Arabian culture, as opposed to the tenets of the Islamic religion.

Several European nations have taken stands against the dress, which is controversial, given that women are often said to be coerced to wear it upon threat of violence. Jack Straw, a prominent Government Minister in the UK, declared he would only allow constituents into his electorate office if their face was uncovered. France banned all signs of religious affiliation, which included the burqa.

In western nations, covering the entire face has long been an unacceptable practice in the public sphere. One cannot walk into a bank with a motorcylce helmet on, for example. Not only is this offending the mores of society, it poses a danger - it is much easier to get away with robbing a bank if your face cannot be seen by security cameras.

So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that if you allow a certain section of society the special privilige to ignore this rule, that someone would try to exploit it. And in France, two bank robbers have done exactly that.

I don't believe the people acting through the state has the right to enforce a ban on what you wear in private situations. But the people do have a right to manage their safety in public spaces - one cannot walk down main street with a loaded gun for example. And the problem with the burqa is that it destroys the safety of public space - without the ability to identify the person under the burqa, it creates an opening that can be exploited.

New Zealand should take steps against just such an event, by banning the full concealment of the face in public areas (banks, Government offices etc) by any type of clothing.

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