15 July 2010

The clothing issue - bikini or burka?

With the French National Assembly voting 335 to 1 to deny people the right to cover their faces in public, and rumours of something similar in Quebec, the issue of appropriate dress for public appearance arises.

Personally, I don't really care what anyone wears - or doesn't wear. If someone wants to walk naked down the high street, I have no objection. The law does, however. Section 174 (1) (a) of the Criminal Code reads, "Every one who, without lawful excuse, is nude in a public place ... is guilty of an offence." Apparently the courts are tolerant in interpreting this section, however, excluding for example sunbathing at nude beaches.

One might reasonably say that Canada is quite tolerant at this end, the naked end, of the spectrum. You can't wear nothing at all, but you can wear very little. At the other end, we are even more tolerant. You can cover everything up. So is it reasonable to forbid covering everything up? Once again, I don't much care. If someone wants to walk down the high street covered in a black tent on a sweltering hot day, that's her (I must assume it's a her) burden, not mine. I just hope for her sake she's taking vitamin D supplements.

However, I don't think it's unreasonable to ban the burka. After all, if it were disallowed in Canada, we would still have an impressive range of tolerance, from almost everything uncovered to almost everything covered.

The argument of course gets all philosophical, one side saying veiled faces may be a religious imperative, the other side saying they are a symbol of the oppression of women. The latter is a strong argument, the former not so much - I suspect that, like female genital mutilation, wearing the veil is more tribal than religious. But so few women wear it that, as long as it is genuinely their choice, then what the hell, live and let live. Making a law to target a few harmless women seems like bullying to me. So although banning the burka isn't entirely unreasonable, I say let the ladies in black do their thing. And if somebody wants to stroll naked down the high street ... well, them too.

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