Mar 9, 2010

The Burqa - Sanity is alive and well in Europe

Hammarberg said it was not clear women under undue pressure to don the burqa would welcome a ban [AFP]

Rights chief challenges veil ban

A leading European human rights official has said banning the full Islamic veil would not liberate oppressed women and could backfire.

Thomsas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, said on Sunday that banning the burqa and niqab would be "an ill-advised invasion of individual privacy".

"Prohibition of the burqa and the niqab would not liberate oppressed women, but might instead lead to their further alienation in European societies," Hammarberg said ahead of International Women's Day.

He also said supporters of a ban have not shown that women who wear the veil are more oppressed than others, nor that the veil undermines democracy, or public morals.

The message comes as debate is under way in a number of European countries, most notably France, on whether to ban the Muslim form of dress for women.

The council, which is not related to the European Union, was founded in 1949 to protect human rights and democracy in Europe. It has 47 members, all of whom have signed the European Convention on Human Rights.

Under the convention, limitations on human rights can only usually be justified on the grounds of public health, safety, or morals.

Hammarberg added that depending on its terms, a ban might also breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

Unconvincing reasons

In January, a French parliamentary report called for a ban on the niqab, saying Muslim women who fully cover their heads and faces posed an "unacceptable" challenge to French values.

Hammarberg said that the small number of women who wear the veil - around 1,900 in France, which is home to Europe's largest Muslim community - made the idea that it undermines democracy, public safety, or morals unconvincing.

Women interviewed in the media about why they wore the veil gave a range of reasons, he said.

"There may of course be cases where they are under undue pressure - but it is not shown that a ban would be welcomed by these women," Hammarberg said.

"Rightly, we react strongly against any regime ruling that women must wear these garments. This is absolutely repressive and should not be accepted."

But banning the same clothing in other countries did not remedy this situation, he said, and governments should avoid passing laws on how people dress themselves.

Banning the Muslim veil would be as bad as criminalising the cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that caused outrage in some Muslim-majority countries when they were published in a Danish newspaper in 2005, Hammarberg added.


“...I've always thought the west was utterly wrong about the women in the Middle East. Those women from the Palestinian camps moved like queens; in no way were they subordinated to anything. Old women were far more terrifying than any kind of man. I completely understand the final sanction against the (male) rulers of Northern Nigerian Muslim states when they got beyond a joke - the palace was approached by a procession of naked grandmothers and the ruler vanished through the back door never to be seen again. That's the account according to Chinua Achebe.” Isobel Clark, UK


Sheikh Tantawi - who headed al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning - died on Wednesday. He was known for his controversial ban of the niqab, which he said had no basis in Islam.

It is the Commissioner's low key "governments should avoid passing laws on how people dress themselves" that prompted the sanity label.

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