THE BLOG

The Burka Paradox

23/09/2013 11:22 BST | Updated 22/11/2013 10:12 GMT

The status of the Burka's legality has evolved into one of those controversial issues which galvanises the public into the sort of hysterical mob mentality normally reserved for paedophiles and rapists. A recent Yougov poll states that 61% of the British public would agree with the decision to ban the Burka in public spaces. If the public truly wish to see the Burka banned and Parliament are happy to follow through then at the very least it needs to be done so for the right reasons; as a message that women have the right to the same freedom of expression as men and not as a middle finger to a culture that is often portrayed as at odds with British society.

As the contentious argument rears it's ugly head yet again the anti-Burka contingent are keen to voice their opinions louder than ever, typically articulating concerns around it's intimidating, anti-social and oppressive traits. These sentiments are flawed and alone they are not enough to justify prohibiting them. Intimidation is a matter of opinion and unquantifiable, what intimidates some people may not necessarily intimidate others and the reality is that the Burka harms no one. It is not unheard of to ban apparel for being too intimidating; Hoodies in shops and Police wearing Aviators have been banned for possessing such qualities, though the restrictions were limited to location and work place respectively, rather than a blanket ban across the nation.

While the underlying axiom of the Burka, that women need to demonstrate modesty in public, is chauvinistic and redundant (by Western standards at least) this doesn't necessarily make it oppressive or degrading; only the women that wear the Burka can determine that. No doubt there are cases where women are pressured by those closest to them into wearing the Burka but this touches upon a whole other social issue. Banning the Burka deals with the symptoms, not the cause. If the Burka really is the weapon of oppression that we believe it to be then more needs to be done to deal with the plight of the women who are forced to wear them, but let's not use the Burka as an excuse to alienate entire groups of people in a twisted assault on a culture that we are consistently being told to fear. The Burka is completely out of sync with British social values, but we also have to accept that one of the cornerstones of our society is freedom of expression and for many Muslim women the Burka is an integral, undeniable part of their culture.

It often seems though that anger towards the Burka is displaced and that the real enemy is the overly diligent PC brigade. It's no secret that there is a concern towards the over eagerness with which words, phrases and actions are deemed offensive and inappropriate for public use. The public are not quick to forget the multiple instances where Christians were prohibited from wearing symbols of religious significance in the work place. Perhaps the disdain towards the Burka may be a reaction towards a perceived infringement on British culture and freedom of expression - it is not a civil rights movement seeking to liberate women from oppressive, alien customs, but a witch hunt led by right wing sentimentalists who want to exact revenge for the broken British culture.

This would certainly go some way to explaining why right wing political party UKIP have taken a step back from their "ban the burka" policy, despite such a policy being favourable amongst the public. The move is not only a demonstration of Nigel Farage's attempts to rebrand UKIP as a moderate, credible political party ahead of the next general election, but also a reflection of how banning the Burka outright is still viewed as an intolerant policy within mainstream politics, that a degree of leniency has to be adopted. Farage could capitalise on the situation by joining the mob, he could probably even become the figurehead of the movement if he so wished, but it would do nothing but cement UKIP's reputation as a right wing bigots and hinder their long term ambitions. Despite the apparent pragmatism that would come from banning an antiquated tradition used to subjugate women and regardless of the heavy support for the campaign against it the stigma of bigotry associated with such a policy banning the Burka in it's entirety is just too much, even for UKIP.

Despite the clear public favouritism towards banning the Burka the government has opted to tolerate it, though they are calling for a degree of flexibility in situations where ascertaining identity is crucial, such as in court rooms. The promotion of British values, our holier-than-thou democracy and blessed freedom of expression, has often provoked conflict, both domestic and global and therein lays the crux of the paradoxical existence of the Burka in British society; banning the Burka contradicts freedom of expression but to tolerate it is to oppose equality and heed to the kind of archaic, chauvinistic principles that we consistently strive to eradicate.