By David Penn
I could almost hear the anti-UKIP media cheering wildly as I watched our leader announce the policy of banning the burka. They had been struggling to know where to hit us and then suddenly, boom, here was our opening salvo providing them with the very tagline that had eluded them. Now, while other parties would be reported talking about wages, the NHS, education and matters that really worry the electorate, UKIP could be portrayed in disparaging terms as the ‘anti-burka party’.
That’s not to say that the subject isn’t one that gets many people very heated up, but let’s face it, it’s not going to be the major topic that decides which box most people will put their ‘X’ in on June 8th.
Worse, at hustings events and radio interviews up and down the country, our brave Parliamentary Candidates are not going to be necessarily quizzed on the National Debt, Foreign Aid or even Brexit. Nope, you can bet that top of the agenda for the grilling will inevitably be the burka debate.
You can understand why. At first glance, it does seem to be a strange policy for a basically libertarian party to be pushing. After all, shouldn’t a person be allowed to wear what they choose? Isn’t it just an anti-Muslim attack and therefore racist? You don’t need to be a genius to see that it is a dangerous subject that could so easily throw any unprepared Ukipper towards their own Diane Abbot moment.
Now that this topic has gone mainstream, it is vital that our officers and troops can debate UKIP’s position properly, yet my concern over years and many debates on this subject is that the anti-burka position is so often poorly handled. Although ‘security issues’ is a decent defence, it always fails to hold up when asked why a burka clad woman shouldn’t be able to enjoy a simple stroll through the local park.
Nobody wants to be standing on the doorsteps or under the studio spotlight to find themselves suddenly being burka’d to death. So it’s important to be able to get people to understand that having a problem with people wearing the burka in public is neither anti-libertarian nor racist.
It’s useful to observe that, in point of fact, we already have laws that can be used to prevent people going out in public unsuitably attired. If I decided to take a stroll down to Tesco’s wearing my birthday suit, I bet I wouldn’t get too far before I found myself in the back of a police car and getting a lecture on ‘outraging public decency’. It’s not that the naked human body is wrong in any way, it’s just that in most cultures around the world, appearing nude in public is considered offensive because of the sexual undertones.
Libertarian we may be as a party, and many of us might not care one way or the other, but allowing people complete freedom amounts to anarchy. It is important that there are respected rules to take account of cultural sensitivities and accordingly, individual countries will pass laws to uphold them. Fortunately in Britain, common sense prevails and people so inclined to removing their clothes generally do so with sensitivity to others feelings. Similarly, we take note of naturists’ wishes and provide them with reserved areas that they can enjoy their freedom suitably segregated from the general public.
Now it seems to me that the burka debate is no different in principle to nudism.
There is nothing wrong with the burka as an item of clothing, but many find it offensive because it covers the face, thus preventing both recognition and communicative expressions from being seen and judged.
In many cultures, wearing any sort of mask is considered very rude as it instinctively makes other people feel nervous. The human face is the most important aspect of deciding the mood and threat level of another human being, particularly a stranger. Everyone will have had that disturbing feeling of passing someone in a dark-visored motorcycle helmet. The discomfort is instinctive. You do not know who’s under there, you can’t tell if they are staring at you or what they’re thinking and more importantly, you have no idea whether the person inside is happily relaxed or in a rage and ready to do you harm. Burka wearers may be harmless, but regardless, in many it generates the instinctive unease that hidden faces create.
So the simplest argument against the burka is that it is actually very bad manners to go out in public with your face obscured without a very good reason. In terms of upsetting people it is little different to going out naked in public. Both will offend a significant number of people, so out of good manners and sensitivity to others, nobody should go out either naked or clad in a burka – or even a Darth Vader costume for that matter.
In summary, for cultural reasons, deeply based on human instincts, both nudism and the burka in public are offensive to many. The question is why should one get you stopped by the police whilst the other is tolerated?
I honestly wish that UKIP had not put this policy on the table. Personally, I don’t care whether people want to go around naked or burka clad. But having put the policy up to be shot at, we had better all know how to defend the position because it is going to crop up. A lot.