The French ban on the burqa reminds us of another Western law barring face coverings: the ban of the KKK face mask during the reconstruction of the American South.
Here’s how the two laws are similar: the ban on KKK hoods was to protect the rights of African-Americans. The ban on burqas protects the rights of Muslim women. It’s about both freedom and security.
The courts ruled in favor of equality over free expression because of security. Men and women had as equal a right to see a face as did the man or woman who desired to cover it. State laws banned full facial concealment in an effort to stop the violence. (These laws eventually helped collapse the Klan because KKK membership winnowed in their new era of transparency.)
The takeaway is that if security is a consideration, no matter the sex, religion, ideology, or orientation, we are all equal in our right to view facial expression. Women wearing burqas are likely not hiding a bomb, but the garment is used too often to conceal terror to be ignored.
Such forced equality because of a security threat should extend to other rights for Muslim women. After all, women in the West wearing burqas certainly cannot be compared to Klansmen, perhaps notably because KKK members chose to don the mask.
It is unlikely that women in France or the U.S. wearing burqas exercise free will in an effort to segregate themselves. France is not Afghanistan, where many women are forced to wear the burqa for their safety because of constant threats of violence. Women are hidden, oppressed, and valued as less than a man in a culture where honor crimes and killings, acid thrown in one’s face for attending school, and forced immolation for perceived crimes threaten women.
That the United States has witnessed a spate of crimes against girls and women in recent years—honor killings in Arizona, Texas, and a beheading in Michigan—reminds us why it is so important that all women of all cultures deserve the same freedoms, and that American law should set an example for protecting women.
Immigrants who move to the West have chosen to adopt the principle of human equality above all others, including religious freedom. The bitter irony is that when it comes to the emancipation of women from political Islam, we allow religious freedom to become distorted and elevated above protecting women—women in the West who are free and equal under the democratic law of their new homelands.
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