A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Jean-Francois Copé, France's UMP leader, when he visited London. Before meeting Sarcozy's successor, I knew very little about the man. Firstly, I knew that he was French. Secondly I knew that he was in a position of power... and that was about the extent of my knowledge. I had, however, recognised his name from the infamous 'burqa ban' debate which dominated the French media for very many months. The debate, which became a fierce battle between those defending religious freedoms, others fighting for feminist ideals and the odd racist fruitcake, is largely associated with Copé himself.
Despite insisting that he was calling for a ban based on genuine liberal sentiments and that his decision aimed to free women from the oppressive, misogynistic chains of a particular Islamic tradition, many commentators accused the politician of using this argument as a façade to justify an underlying motive. This motive being one which would aim to win over voters from the overwhelmingly Islamophobic National Front and thereby reposition his centre-right party further right on the political spectrum.
At last, the debate has crossed the channel to Britain, with seemingly every political commentator in the UK writing about their opinion on a potential niqab ban. There have been those, such as Dan Hodges, who today accused Nigel Farage of adopting faux-Feminist stances to justify their often racist demands for the legislation. Sarah Wollaston MP also spoke out on the issue, calling upon feminists across the country, which may or may not include Farage, to speak out about it. Liberal Democrat minister, Jeremy Browne, offered little in the way of opinion but also highlighted that there was a clear need for a national discussion on the issue.
Amazed by the amount of blog posts about the potential ban on my Twitter feed today, I felt obliged to give into peer pressure and also write an opinion piece on it. However, I soon came to realise that many of these articles offered unsubstantiated points of view, had a predisposed bias for one side of the argument and failed to recognise the complexities and sensitivities surrounding the issue.
After all, whilst the initial debate seems highly contentious in its own right, it seems as though the actual underlying, philosophical debate presented is even more so. The essence of the debate involves a complicated paradox of ideas. It outlines the fear that women may not have the freedom to be free and therefore suggests that we introduce a law which bans the freedom to do the said thing which prevents women from supposedly being free. This confusing paradox ultimately revolves around the age old discussion of how to define 'freedom.'
This made me realise that some journalists will simply put to paper the first thing which comes to their mind. Adopting such a controversial view without having done the appropriate research is comparable to standing proudly on one side of a battleground, without one piece of armour. When discussing a topic both so sensitive and complex, it is simply irresponsible and foolish to risk offending so many people, with such dubious defence.
Therefore, before I tried, along with my opinionated friends, to define what 'freedom' is to me, in an hour long writing session, and ultimately do what Locke, Hume, Kant and Mill spent a lifetime doing, I came to the conclusion that it was probably best to leave it to the experts for now. This, folks, is why I will choose to remain silent on the issue.