Philip Hollobone and the (il)logic of the burka debate

I’m yet to be convinced that the burka is anything other than a symbol of deep rooted oppression, and even if worn by a free woman in a free country, is still an expression of a patriarchal notion that frankly ought to have stayed in the dark ages where it belongs.

However, a Tory MP has represented to me the reason why appeals to banning it is cowardice and reactionary in many cases.

As the BBC described it:

Philip Hollobone has put forward parliamentary legislation to regulate the use of “certain facial coverings” in public.


“We are never going to get along with having a fully integrated society if a substantial minority insist on concealing their identity from everyone else.”

Mr Hollobone has previously described the burka, which covers the entire head, as “offensive” and “against the British way of life”, saying that wearing one was the religious equivalent of “going round with a paper bag over your head”.

I find Mr Hollobone’s final comments more moronic than offensive, but to suggest that blame lies in the woman wearing the burka herself for a disintegrated society shows a level ignorance that makes me extremely cross.

A better example for the debate can be found in France.

Last year France denied a Moroccan woman citizenship for her incompatibility to French values, particularly equality of the sexes. Further details saw that the woman, known as Faiza M., had lived in France since 2000 with her husband and three children all of whom were born in France, though social services reported that she lived in “total submission” to her husband.

Reports of her incompatible radical politics were subsequently quashed. So what made her incompatible? At first it would seem too extraordinary that the reason she was incompatible to French values was because she was the human embodiment of inequality. But wouldn’t this show cowardice on the part of the French government for not vilifying the oppressor? Of course it would, and it is this precise reason that the French government has chosen to pick on the oppressed and not the oppressor, cowardice.

French philosopher Alain Badiou said of burqa banning in 2004.

Grandiose causes need new-style arguments. For example: hijab must be banned; it is a sign of male power (the father or eldest brother) over young girls or women. So, we’ll banish the women who obstinately wear it. Basically put: these girls or women are oppressed. Hence, they shall be punished. It’s a little like saying: “This woman has been raped: throw her in jail.”

Most would recognise that the burka is a symbol of oppression but if this is so, then why are coward governments attacking the symbol, and not the oppression itself. It is this logic that Mr Hollobone and others can’t get round, and it damages the whole debate.