This was on Question Time last night and comes up because the French recently banned it in public. I hadn't made up my mind fully on it before last night but have since. It looks like I'll be running against the common consensus on this after YouGov found 67% of people support a ban, (Unsurprisingly it was the young who were least in favour of a ban) as I've decided I'm against banning it in public.
I had been deciding based on the arguments that it causing security issues, created inequality in rules, was oppressing many women and caused division. But I now think these are all actually pretty weak arguments under scrutiny.
As for security issues its actually a non-starter, all the key places where a burkha might be a security risk because of concealing the face, i.e. at an airport, already require you to take it off. So we do have a ban where its required. If that ban needs extending to other areas such as whilst driving then that can be looked at, but lets not jump to a full ban. The inequality in rules comes from the same kind of area, as in people not being allowed to cover their face but burkhas being allowed. Again, you could look at these areas individually without looking for a full ban.
The oppression of women argument seemed strong before but I now actually think oppression is one of the arguments against the ban. I don't particularly like the fact that some women are required to cover up their faces (in fact I dislike almost all religions approach to women, opposition to women bishops is another example of sexism in religion) but just because I don't like doesn't mean that it would be better to dictate that they can't wear it.
What kind of authoritarian state would we be if we started dictating what people can and can't wear whilst walking down the street. It's wrong to force women to wear a burkha, its equally wrong to forbid them from wearing it. It's hardly empowering these women if we criminalise them is it?
And as for the final argument, that it causes communities to be fragmented, I think a ban could be a sure fire way of splintering communities right down the middle. It might be better for cohesion if people didn't cover their face, but its even worse for cohesion for one part of that community to have a dress code set out for them. It would surely make that part of the community feel under fire and as if they have to conform to the norm, and that won't help building relationships.
Britain has typically been quite (I insist on using quite) a tolerant country when it comes to letting live their lives as they see fit. The burkha issue has been seized on some (not the majority perhaps) as a race issue, and that argument has to be quashed immediately. If we think women are being oppressed the way to deal with it is to educate as to why we think its oppressive and tell them that its acceptable not to cover up. The wrong way to do it is to needlessly ban it and cause further friction.
Live and let live.