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Two women wearing burqas in Hyde Park, London
Two women wearing burqas in Hyde Park, London
Joao Pereira Coutinho

-OpEd-

As I walk through central London, I see many women wearing burqas passing me by. And as I've always felt in that sort of situation, I was uncomfortable. Physically and morally uncomfortable.

They say you're not supposed to feel such things. Nor to write about them. What right, indeed, do I have to impose a dress code on someone else?

None, I admit. But when I see a woman transformed into a mummy, it's not myself I think about. I think about her. Is that a personal choice, I ask myself, or it is — like in the overwhelming majority of cases — a form of submission to male power?

These women walk in the street entirely covered. And the husbands walk not with them but in front of them, in a public and very visible demonstration of the place women occupy in the hierarchy of sexes.

Have a smoke

This is why I support the ban on the burqa, or full veil, in European public spaces. Such legislation already exists in France and is currently being debated in Germany. For starters, not hiding your face is simply a form of respect towards others. Living in Western society also means sharing some of its values and behaviors.

Just like I don't roam the streets naked (despite my pantheist side), I appreciate it when others don't hide their entire bodies from head to feet.

The burqa ban is also a form of respect towards these women. I'm staunchly opposed to the state sticking its nose in other people's business except in extreme cases. If a woman wishes to have her head and body entirely covered at home, that's her problem. But it's a different thing when we're talking about the world outside of those four walls.

Can the rule of law really permit the public exhibition of a woman kept in a prison of cloth? Or should it declare, loud and clear, that there shall be no tolerance whatsoever for these demonstrations of male brutality?

Of course, some will claim just the opposite — that the brutality would a burqa ban's lack of respect for "different cultures." It's an interesting argument. I didn't think that violence against women was a "culture" worth respecting among civilized people.

And, while we're at it, multiculturalists should remember that Western culture is also a "different culture." On what grounds does the "tolerance" always apply to other people but never to us?

In any case, I can only recommend that people read the Daily Telegraph"s story on the liberation of the Syrian city of Manjib from ISIS. For two years, these people lived under the clutches of the so-called "Islamic State." The liberation came with U.S.-backed troops. And when the women saw the soldiers entering the town, what did they do? They ripped off their black burqas and smoked cigarettes in celebration.

I can understand that these two actions — ripping off burqas and smoking cigarettes — might offend multiculturalists and health nuts in equal measure. But when I see a woman in a burqa on the streets of London, that's also my wish: to invite her to come out of her dungeon and share a cigarette with her to celebrate her freedom.

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