‘Arguments against the burka are deeply suspicious’

July 6, 2014 7:25 pm 7 comments Views: 2774

Europe’s most senior rabbi says a court ruling upholding France’s ban on the burka amounts to the traditional concept of religious freedom “unravelling before our eyes”

The French ban on wearing a burka has been upheld by the ECHR in the last few days Photo: GETTY

The American comedian and social commentator George Carlin once said that “Religion is like a pair of shoes…..Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your yours.”

This is the popular philosophy among western democracies – the idea that expressions of personal faith cannot and must not ever unreasonably impact upon another person who is not of that religious persuasion.

It’s a philosophy which has worked reasonably well until recently – and now, with the European Court of Human Rights ruling that a ban on the burka should be upheld, it is all unravelling before our eyes.


Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt says the ban has crossed a red line (GETTY)

It is unravelling because whereas the burden of proof used to lie with those who were seeking to deny religious freedoms, (sometimes with good intentions) it is now for faith communities to make the case for their rights to be upheld.

It used to be very straightforward. If an individual (or even a community) argued that in order to live by their religious principles they needed to beat a demon or an evil spirit out of a defenceless child, the authorities would intervene.

If however they needed to offer up a quiet prayer in the privacy of their home or a communal place of worship then they would be treated with respect for doing so. The line was very clear – as long as I don’t have to ‘wear your shoes’ – religious practice gets a pass.

Then it all got a little bit more complicated.

Faith communities were forced to defend fundamental religious practices such as circumcision and religious slaughter. Are animal rights as important as religious rights? What about the possibility (however small) that a child could claim they never wanted to be circumcised as an infant?

For the purposes of these ongoing debates, champions of human rights, normally conclude that in general, these practices should not be challenged.

Yet the bans on the building of minarets in Switzerland in 2009 and on wearing a burka, upheld by the ECHR in the last few days, have crossed a red line.

My personal view is that to suggest that the particular appearance of a place of worship (of which there were only four across the entire country at the time of the Swiss referendum) could somehow negatively impact on a person in any meaningful way is ludicrous in the extreme.

I am also deeply suspicious of claims that a ban on the burka is designed to promote intercommunal relations.

The question is, how badly would your life be affected if you had to walk past a minaret on the way to work every day? How intimidated would you really be if a lady with her face covered walked past you?

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are somewhat intimidated by the fact that you can’t see what is behind that lady’s burka.

Would you be less intimidated by a large man, wearing torn clothing, tattooed from head to toe, who you happen to know always keeps a baseball bat stowed in his motorcycle? Is anyone calling for a ban on tattoos and concealed sports equipment?

Of course many people make a judgement about a woman wearing a burka and that appraisal might not be conducive to social harmony but that is no different to the judgement you make when you walk past a group of thugs on a street corner.

If you’ll forgive me for stating something so obvious – people should be judged on their behaviour not on the sort of clothes they might wear.

Who knows – if you went to have a conversation with that lady who dresses differently to you, you might find them to be quite friendly and open-minded. You might find that they are not looking to force you to do anything that you don’t want to do.

So how did we get to a situation where the Muslim community has to prove that “respect for the conditions of ‘living together’” as the ECHR puts it, has everything to do with the way that people behave and nothing at all do with what they wear?

I don’t know the answer to that question but I do know that faith communities around Europe are feeling more and more disaffected and marginalised, not less.

Those people that think banning the burka somehow strikes a blow against extremism are woefully naïve – if anything they have created a distraction from the attempts to tackle terrorism and radicalisation and they have made the problem worse.

I will be the first to object, the moment any person of any faith tries to impose their way of life on anybody else but the same rule must apply to those people of no faith. I wonder if we can we come to an agreement? I won’t ask anyone to wear my shoes, if they don’t ask me to wear theirs.

Pinchas Goldschmidt is Chief Rabbi of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbi

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  • Lisa

    The problem with the Burka is that the female gender is forced to wear it. Young girls do not choose to wear a Burka while boys can dress as they choose. The Burka should be banned!

    • Erika

      Ignorant. Read up on the practice or talk to girls who do wear it..they’ll tell you different

  • Adelson Corigliano

    The problem with the burka is who is inside it. It (the user) represents islan, which must be eliminated and forgot for eternity, because it is a deviation from logic and rationality, and, as a “religion” does not have rules to preserve the life of the followers, so, no religion after all, just a brainwash to half zumbis became total zumbis and explode themselfs. Their target is infiltrate in mundial economics and controls the world.slaving us all. Termo nuclear reaction over all mid east is recommended before its too late. Think! Who will miss them?

  • NOOR

    What you think guys. A naked or half clothing can makes a women decent. Never.
    You can calculate the rape cases in Islamic countries and in non Islamic states.
    Islam defines the rights of every species in this universe. It is the right of a Muslim lady to keep herself precious by wearing Burka to look different from other ladies.
    There is complete clothing in every religion not only in Islam. First read books of your own religion about women’s right. No religion gives complete rights as Islam to women.
    Please be aware of your religion first and then criticize on this matter.

  • Michael O’Brien

    Picture is NOT showing a burqa. but a Niqab. How about knowing what the difference is if you are going to write a blogpost on the topic. Women are not allowed to show their eyes either with a burqa. That is what the veil is for, to completely hide the personhood of the woman wearing it.
    I consider that such apparel should be judged the same as a motorcycle helmet or a ski-mask with goggles or wearing a darth vader costume in public interactions. If rules apply to one, they apply to all.

  • huluvaguy

    No one would care what the women wore if their Islamist followers weren’t committing mass murders at an ever increasing rate world wide. Until the insanity is spoken out against within their own Muslim faith and abolished the kuffar and Infidel will continue to be on edge and suspicious whenever in close proximity to them.

  • Alks Mici

    The most prominent and notorious wise man of Islam 1000 years ago disapproved such manifestation and considered not necessary and a exagereation as well it was the proletcultism in the time pf Stalin.
    All this semiticis are insane !