Italy is the latest country to move towards banning public face covering by women.
An Italian parliamentary commission has approved a draft law banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public.
The draft passed by the constitutional affairs commission Tuesday would prohibit women from wearing a burqa, niqab or any other garb that covers the face in public.
The news agency ANSA said third parties who force women to cover their faces in public would be fined €30,000 and face up to 12 months in jail.
As I blogged about before, this is a difficult issue. In a free society, we demand equality for all, and the burqa, niqāb and ḥijāb. are outward symbols of the oppression of women. However, banning them is taking away religious freedom. The question then becomes one of competing rights.
Already we have proscriptions against actions based upon religious beliefs that are anathema to a free and just society. Examples include child marriages, beating children, denying medical care, and polygamy. Many other human rights have been gained at the expense of religious arguments: the abolition of slavery, female suffrage, and rights denied based upon race and sexual identity.
When the ban came into effect in France, several women were charged under their law. The Italian ban goes one step further and makes coercing women into wearing veils illegal as well. This takes some of the onus off the women. If it is indeed a sign of oppression, it seems unethical to punish the oppressed. Will this take the the Italian government into the Mosques where such fundamentalist ideas are promulgated? If so, would the government be equally empowered to enter churches where anti-gay hatred is preached?
On the other side of the issue, it is clearly a sign of Islamophobia; something that has been growing in the west since the attacks in the US in 2001, although it certainly predates that at least to the days of the Crusades and El Cid, the hero of christian Spain.
This is a delicate issue, but one that is increasingly difficult to ignore.
Will they take the next step and ban men who wear robes and silly hats?