The Corner

No Burqas, Please. We’re Belgian.

Maybe it’s an April Fool’s joke, but the Belgians are bravely going where the French fear to tread and banning unapproved clothing on the streets of Brussels, according to the BBC this morning. This makes Belgium safer for those offended by certain trends in exotic fashion. (Lady Gaga’s still good to go for Ghent, though, I’m sure.)

Yesterday, Andrew suggested that calling these bans “sanctimonious” was an error on my part. I think he’s right, but for reasons that may differ from his. He cited a Telegraph piece that correctly reported the French Council of State’s finding that it may be possible to ban facial coverings at certain places, such as jewelry stores, banks, polling places and sporting events. He also noted that many societies have dress codes and invited me to “try walking down an American street without any clothes on” to prove it, which is polemical overkill, and that’s not just my opinion.

I’m no Erykah Badu, but in Belgium under the new law, wearing a burqa will allow the state to imprison you – at gunpoint – and fine you. I agree with Andrew that there are commonsense limits to this kind of thing, but banning burqas doesn’t always seem to fit the bill. For example, facial coverings at American sporting events have reached the level of low art – as these Devils fans demonstrate – and in Delaware, if you want to give Joe Biden an extra vote, just hand polling officials a faceless light bill and they’ll hand you a ballot. (The same’s true for many other states, according to this data from the National Association of State Legislatures.) Every one of Robin Carnahan’s supporters can show up at the polls in a burqa, if this Missouri state government page is correct.

I think a revealed face and a photo ID for voters makes perfect sense, just as I think people who walk around naked should be arrested; Times Square’s Naked Cowboy always puts me off my Nathan’s. But, as Andrew seems to agree,  there’s a difference between enforcing laws that assure safety and common decency and laws telling people what not to wear. Clinton Kelly’s not a cop. I think burqas look as dumb as a Darth Vader outfit, dumber really, and I’m by no means a missionary for Mohammed. However using the apparatus of government to regulate the clothing humans have elected to wear just makes no sense to me. What do burqas have to do with governments? Why not just pass a law saying masked people may not enter banks? I mean, the EU’s not short on regulations, that’s for sure. But arresting people for dressing according to their religious convictions seems like policing on a slippery slope.

So yes, “sanctimonious” was the wrong word to describe these burqa-banning laws. “Foolish” works better.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...

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