I don’t like what you wear but I defend your right to wear it – part 2

If Boris Johnson hadn’t generated a media tornado this week with his burkas resemble letterboxes comment I would not have known that Denmark recently banned people from wearing face veils in public. I find it odd that everyone is focussing on the letterbox comment, which I found funny, rather than the more concerning issue which is the violation of a person’s right to wear what they want. In this regard I agree with Boris: women should be free to wear what they want, no matter how ridiculous we think they look.

A history lesson might be useful here. In 1746 Scottish boys and men were banned from wearing tartan or a kilt. The punishment for the first offence was 6 months in prison and for subsequent offences, seven years in an overseas colony. Six months in jail just for wearing a kilt!

That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-six, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending … For the first offence, shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.

It’s wrong to ban people from wearing a garment when it causes no harm to anyone else and the burka harms no-one. It’s also wrong to censor free speech for reasons of offence. We live in a society with freedom of religious expression but we’re also free to criticise those religions and we shouldn’t be afraid to do so, even when it might cause offence to others. Offence is not a sufficient reason for censorship.

13 thoughts on “I don’t like what you wear but I defend your right to wear it – part 2”

  1. I agree. I felt terrible but had to change my opticians purely because after a change of staff both opticians there wore full veils and I need to lipread because my hearing is not great. Not because I had an issue with what they wore but simply because my eye tests became very very difficult.

  2. I agree that sometimes it might be a security issue not seeing who people are, similar to wearing a motorcycle helmet. However I’ve seen some awful attitudes in my Facebook feed where people attempt to justify their own fear and hate using that argument, far in excess of what they would with a person in a helmet. I do find it difficult that people would choose to wear such a garment, because of what it symbolises, but an outright ban is no way to go – as you say wearing one harms no-one and banning things is so often counterproductive that it should be a last resort.

    1. The security issue is probably, to my mind, the only reason to prevent someone from wearing a face veil. But this would only apply to those businesses and it should apply equally to everyone. If a business has a requirement to view the full face for security purposes then I don’t think it’s unethical for them ban anyone with a face covering from entering the premises provided they apply the rule equally to all. What Denmark has done is legislate for it at the government level and it applies to all public spaces which is not necessary.

  3. Sadly I feel Boris has caused a lot of confusion, and polarising debate. I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that free speech should be censored. I think the objections here are that Boris is in a position of significant influence, and his comments will definitely legitimise the views of entrenched racists who’ll feel emboldened in attacking “the Muslims”.

    I don’t think he’s simply expressing his opinions. I think he’s strategically casting a shadow an an oppressed minority in society for anticipated political gain.

    If you worked with someone who wears a burqa, and you said you thought they looked like a bank robber or a letterbox, you’d probably get sacked. No-one’s saying we can’t say what we like, but that doesn’t mean that we can expect no consequences to what we say.

    Boris Johnson is in an extremely privileged position, is an elected servant of the people and has held one of the highest offices of state. I think he should be sacked from the Conservative Party and deselected as an MP, that doesn’t mean he can’t keep saying (and writing) whatever shit comes into his head. 🙂

    1. I’ll agree that his joke is somewhat inflammatory but I laughed. I’m not going to deny that. However the subsequent discussion is worrying to me because it has become focussed on whether what someone said is offensive rather than the much more serious issue of banning women from wearing the burka. Boris Johnson was defending their right to wear it and for that I 100% agree with him. That he also made a joke that some find offensive in the same breath to me is irrelevant and has become more of an issue that it ought to be.

      Do you remember the Charlie Hebdo attacks, presumably in response to two offensive cartoons they published? We must defend our right to make fun of religion. All religions, not just Islam. Religion is ridiculous. Just because someone is offended is not a reason to stop causing offence. I’m not sure whether you read this article I linked (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/apr/15/religion-islam-atheism-defamation) but Peta (People for the ethical treatment of animals) was also banned in Germany from likening factory farming to the holocaust because people were offended. Germany is wrong in this case and so is Denmark on the issue of the Burka.

    2. I also just want to add that having been vegan for more than 15 years I’ve been on the receiving end of offensive jokes for more than a decade. Mostly I just don’t them funny. It doesn’t mean I would tell people they have no right to make them.

  4. Wearing a Burka seems to be much more than just a choice of clothing like whether to wear jeans or a suit. In islamic countries it represents oppression of women. In the West, if done voluntarily, it more of a political statement, more like “eff-you and your society, I want nothing of it”. It certainly shouldn’t be normalized even if we don’t go so far as to ban it.

  5. “Religion is ridiculous.”

    I believe everyone has religion. In my case or yours it simply means to identify that thing you believe and which orients your moral compass. For you, being a vegan *is* part of your religion; a thing you take seriously while others ridicule. That’s a good test of any religion; if a thing is held serious (sacred) by one but ridiculed by another, its probably a religion (in a broad sense of the word).

    As to freedom of speech; the western world has decided (more or less) that you are not permitted to offend others. Not only can you be prohibited from speech and acts; but compelled to speech and acts.

    On the other hand, I’ll admit to not seeing much utility in swinging a smoking ball and chain or “censer” I think it is called, while wearing robes and (possibly) a pointy hat. I *do* see utility in having social rituals.

    1. I believe everyone has religion.

      I disagree. Religion is belief in the supernatural. It’s like saying you believe in magic. I do not believe in magic or the supernatural. I believe in science and the physical world.

      Veganism is just a diet. Some people might say they are vegan because of their religion (buddhists maybe?) but I am not. I am vegan for ethical reasons which is very different.

  6. “Religion is belief in the supernatural. It’s like saying you believe in magic. I do not believe in magic or the supernatural. I believe in science and the physical world.”

    What does it mean to “believe in science”? Do you believe String Theory or Standard Model? You cannot believe both, they are rival and each is “scientific” and the arguments for either strongly held and ridicule extended for believing the wrong way. The fellow that declared continental drift was ridiculed for most of his life; now of course almost any high school science student knows about it.

    You say being vegan is not religion; it’s ethics. In my opinion, religion and ethics are mostly interchangeable. A difference is that *organized* religion has its code of ethics spelled out so that everyone has the same ethics.

    When I was driving along a highway in Hawaii, something like a voice said, “change lanes now”. So I did, and a moment later a drunken driver came very fast the wrong way in the lane I had just vacated. I called the police on my amateur radio (days before cellphones) and reported the driver. They caught him a few miles westward. That call is on the police record, the reason for my being alive to make the report is not part of the record.

    This is not magic, it is not supernatural, it is real and it happened. It isn’t even religion, strictly speaking, not even in the broad definition I usually apply. It simply means there’s more to reality than meets the eye, a thing that someone believing in science ought to easily accept.

    There is a difference: Science is that which can be studied and experimented on; and thus is a subset of reality. Religion is that which probably cannot be studied nor experimented upon. It’s a lot more like sociology where experiments presume upon the honesty and willingness of human participants.

    1. What does it mean to “believe in science”?

      I think Tim Minchin sums it up rather well:

      Science adjusts is views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.

      1. “Science adjusts is views based on what’s observed.”

        Then my religion is scientific, for I adjust my views based on what I observe. In fact, I was raised atheist and my observations compel a certain degree of religion. I also frequently challenge my beliefs to try to separate cultural artifacts from things I know for sure.

        “Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.”

        At risk of belaboring a point I have already made, this is not any religion’s defintion of faith so far as I know. Science studies that which can be studied; that is all. That’s why sociology is sometimes not considered a science; since studying people is vulnerable to mischief and irreproducibility. For a few billion Euros you too can search for a Higgs Boson; but no amount of money will find God or a lost child.

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