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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Ban the Burqa


Belgium has banned the burqa, the head-to-toe veil worn in parts of the Muslim world. French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants his country to follow suit. What's an open-minded person to think? The answer is, you have every right to regulate your world.

Burqa-wearing is often forced upon women by men. By covering the face, it negates the woman's existence, and it hides her identity, thus becoming a security threat.

Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman defends the burqa with his usual wit, but his libertarian arguments fall short of making a sale. He writes that forbidding the burqa in public "trades one form of compulsion (you must wear this) for another (you may not wear this)."

Not quite. "You may not wear this" leaves considerably more latitude for personal expression than "you must wear this." The Parisian options include everything from a tiny tube covering just the essentials to a long granny dress and turban.

In this country, Chapman says, modestly dressed Amish women and miniskirted, cleavage-flaunting babes who do not approve of each other's attire can avert their gaze. But how can you discern an extreme mode of dressing without giving it a good look? No matter. Either the babe or Amish woman might evoke curiosity on the Champs Elysees but not the discomfort brought about by the complete anonymity of the burqa wearer.

Chapman makes his best case in questioning whether the veil is really a symbol of oppression by men. "The same thing could be said about surgically enhanced breasts in Europe and the United States," he says. To which I would add 4-inch spike heels.

His worst argument is the security one. Chapman holds that sunglasses and ski masks are also put to sinister uses by "camera-shy bank robbers." Why doesn't he try to enter a bank wearing a ski mask? I'll hold the video camera.

His second-to-worst argument is that, heck, very few Muslim women in the West wear the burqa, anyway.

In France, it's less than 2,000 out of 5 million Muslims.

That's like saying that if only 12 out of 8 million New Yorkers want to stroll through Manhattan stark raving naked, no problem. Tell that to the cop trying to maintain order.

There are norms for the nude beach and norms for the streets, even in the world's liberal cities. Note that Amish women don't cover their faces, and babes don't go topless (not legally) on San Francisco's sidewalks.

I'll buy the libertarian pitch on such personal choices as smoking, drinking and drug use. But when it comes to communal settings, some freedoms must be curbed to keep things functioning and pleasant. I like zoning laws that stop builders from putting skyscrapers in old Victorian neighborhoods. And I like a few rules on dress.

Otherwise, our world turns into a libertarian mush. Cultures disappear, and every place looks the same. Classrooms resemble Halloween parties. (As it is, they've gotten close.)

Heaven knows, there's not much "compulsion" in the West on what one may not wear. I wish more people would voluntarily curtail their sartorial exhibitionism, but that's another column.

Every society gets to make its own rules for conduct, which includes dress. Some cultures require covered heads. Some require uncovered faces. We don't have to approve, but we have to respect. Granted, these arguments get dicey when they touch on civil rights. But the French should have the same option to ban burqas on the street — or green socks, if they choose — as Saudi Arabia has to proscribe miniskirts.

Libertarians will counter, "We think Saudis should allow miniskirts." To that I respond, "Update us on your progress."

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
"To fix immigration, look north" - Froma Harrop 5-27-10 has some good points, but before granting general amnesty to illegal aliens, I suggest all those in favor join the Army and go serve in Iraq. Maybe as bullets whiz by your head you will have an epiphany and ask yourself why you are risking life and limb so illegal aliens can enjoy the safety, security, resources, and benefits of America for free; perhaps even taking your job while you are on the battlefield. And after giving amnesty and citizenship to the prior wave of lawbreakers, how will you stop the next wave of Mexicans from crossing the border and demanding citizenship. The United States of America is a sovereign country and should act like one.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Byron Gilbert
Sun May 30, 2010 2:45 PM
Honestly, I don't agree with anything in the article. I have lived 14 years in the Middle East and I know about the customs of the people here. For one thing, the word "burqa" can mean many different things, in the Gulf it's merely a face covering however in Afghanistan or Pakistan it's a whole body covering. Also, why ban the burqa? Shouldn't our society celebrate different cultures? By banning something you're forcing your beliefs on them, your making them conform to what you want them to be. One other point, how is a face covering a security risk? Can you not set aside your racism and see that an Arab woman is no more a threat than an American woman, regardless of what they're wearing.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Martin Stevenson
Mon May 31, 2010 11:50 PM
just dont call that a burqa , but a potatoes bag.
like they call occident girls in miniskirts or anything fashioned that girls loves to wear ,"bitches".
they will respect us(but will still disapprove silently) as far as they are a minority, a very small one.
but when they will be at last as much as the population they disapprove, u can be sure troubles will start.
with muslims it always start by ostentatory , to finish by harrasement.
harrase , or be harrased in your own country by me they arnt like mexican .
the advantage of mexicans is that they are christians.muslims are way too differents.
if they wear the potatoes bag ,u can be sure they dislike occident.its as simple as that.
a french from Lyon
Comment: #3
Posted by: fred
Tue Jun 1, 2010 9:41 PM
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Froma Harrop
Froma HarropUpdated 9 Feb 2016
Newspaper ContributorsUpdated 8 Feb 2016
Marc Dion
Marc DionUpdated 8 Feb 2016

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