There is a passage in Mein Kampf where Adolf Hitler describes how, walking through the streets of Vienna he sees a man with black hair locks. Is this a Jew? He asks himself at first before rephrasing the question to: is this a German? The debate about the wearing of the burqa though dressed up in the language of ‘identity’ politics is really just plain, old fashioned ‘ugly’ politics; it is the politics of the gutter. It is clearly as ludicrous for the state to force women to wear the burqa as it is to compel them not to.
Wearing the burqa does create some challenges in a free society. I am strongly of the view that women should be required to show their faces at all border stops and airports for example. It is also perfectly reasonable that any veiled woman pulled over for speeding would be required to raise her veil when presenting her pictured driver's licence. However the creation of a national dress code is wrong. Just because some people may take offence about the way some women dress should not mean we have to prohibit the way they dress. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, is absolutely right when she argues that “political and legislative culture that conflates irritation, offence, alarm and distress promotes a general fear of difference and dissent”.
I am not arguing that we should not question the use of the burqa, far from it. While the burqa has found fervent advocates amongst some of its users, there have been powerful arguments against its proliferation in a progressive, modern world which seeks gender equality. In an age when men and women are perceived as equal, what exactly is the role of the burqa which well and truly wraps the woman in a cloak of invisibility?