Should we call for a ban of the burka?

France is calling for a ban of the burka and I was asked to sign a petition to support it. It took me some time to decide whether I would support it or not, but  on balance I concluded that a ban on wearing the burka would be reasonable  for the reasons I will  present bellow.

Most of the reasons for or against have been based on cultural and sociological grounds, but my reasons are based on evolutionary and biological grounds.

  1. Like it or not we humans are primates. Whether you’re a Muslim , a Christian or an atheist, you are still a large naked, wrinkled primate. Primates are animals that rely very much on facial expressions for communication. Any postio0n of your eyebrows, , the wrinkles and crinkles  of your forehead  and around your mouth all have a job. Communicate states of mind.
  2. We, as other primates have also evolved subconscious mechanisms to detect cheats.The evolution of the complexity of language provide a backcloth to be creative liars, but the traces of our faces are a give away.  Unless you are a pathological psychopath, when you lie you are aware that you are not saying the truth, and the discrepancy between your awareness of non-truth telling and whet you know, is expressed in tiny  signals through your face. Signs that you cannot control, unless you are a pathological liar or very well trained as a politician. Politicians that  believe their own lies  are very convincing. In order to lie well, one must first  undergoing self-deception.
  3. Now, the burka covers this facial features, making it unfair for the recipient of the message. The person under the burka can be lying through her teeth, and we will never know, because we have no means of reading her miniscule facial cues. It is a disrespect towards the interlocutor, which through  showing his/her face is giving an advantage in this communication game to the wearer of the burka.
  4. The injustice is not towards those who choose to wear the burka, but against those who have no choice as to read the facial signals of the one that wears the burka
  5. It is therefore my right  to refuse to communicate with a person covering her face as I am not getting all the necessary signals during humans communication and I am in disadvantage.
  6. On this premises, and purely on biological grounds I argue to support the banning of the burka.
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About Anuska

I like to think about the facts of life and question them

Posted on 09/14/2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. A difficult question.

    Along the same lines:

    (a) Would you ban topless bathing, on the basis that some of us naked apes might get unfairly aroused?

    (b) Would you ban people dressing like punks or skinheads, on the basis that some of us naked ups might feel unfairly aggressed?

    • I thought about that, however my argument is purely biological focusing exclusively on the role of facial cues in primate communication.
      a) Topless bathing is banned in the UK . Why ? I don’t know. I would not ban it on the grounds you refer to. I can choose not to look to an aroused male, but I cannot choose if I am talking to a person with a covered face.
      b) I would not ban dressing up as punks or whatever one feels like because I continue to have access to facial cues.
      Please note that I did not make any reference to the hijab. Although in my cultural perspective it represents a symbol of something that I do not accept, I still confer those women the freedom of choice. But a woman wearing the burka removes my freedom of choice.

  2. “my argument is purely biological focusing exclusively on the role of facial cues in primate communication”

    But what’s the rationale behind such a narrow focus? Laws need to make sense on principle, not just case by case. The question is, if one can legislate a restriction of human rights on the basis that other people are biologically impacted, where does it stop? Why not ban young men from traveling in large groups at night, because these are biologically associated with aggression or hunting? Why not ban nude bathing, because nudity stimulates biological urges?

    By your argument, if a person on a nude or topless beach can just “look away”, well no one is forcing you to interact with burka-wearing women. Nor with men wearing motorcycle helmets. Nor with paraplegics. Nor with people who have had burns to their face, or recent face transplants. Nor with people on email, or people on the telephone, or people on IM, or in chatrooms: all forms of human interaction in which one cannot read the body language.

    There is no human right to see someone else’s body language, or to see someone’s face. In the entire history of human rights, this has never been proposed, or considered. And if such a right did exist, we would have shut down the Internet as a basic violation of rights, and tell paraplegics to stay at home. We would probably have to ban books: how do you know if the author is lying or not? You can’t see their face, or their body language.

    There is a human right to follow one’s own religion, and this is enshrined in universal declarations subscribed to by most countries. This must therefore take precedence.

  3. “my argument is purely biological focusing exclusively on the role of facial cues in primate communication”

    But what’s the rationale behind such a narrow focus?

    My focus is not narrow. I was simply adding another new argument to the many that I already have, but because they are all from a social and humanities perspective, I chose not to discuss them. They have been discussed in great detail already by humanists and other animal rights organisations. These are arguments that refer to repression of the freedom of choice of the women that are forced to wear such garments.
    Note that the word “forced” here includes not only physical repression, but also mental brain washing with religious beliefs since an earlier age.
    Such brain washing is similar to what biologists call imprinting and removes any “free will” that some philosophers assume we have.

    “ no one is forcing you to interact with burka-wearing women”

    In the UK they do. If a person works for the public, they are “forced” to dialogue with burka wearing women. For example, Citizens Advice Bureau, politicians in their practice (local MPs), male doctors. If these people refuse to engage in dialogue with someone who cover themselves for religious reasons, then they can be punished by law, but if I decided to go to my local MP wearing a baklava because it is the new fashion, he has the right to refuse talking to me. Why should religious belief have more rights than my own sense of fashion. Aren’t religious garments nothing but religion fashion, based on the need to create a badge that identifies followers with a particular religion? Not different from wearing gowns at formal dinners in Cambridge.

    “There is no human right to see someone else’s body language, or to see someone’s face”.

    In that case, I should have the right to wear a baklava when going to my bank and if they refuse to serve me could I use the same argument?

    What are human rights but conventions between humans? Why should I give moral legitimacy to a convention signed by a group of people who wanted to avoid the terrors of war when some religions don’t? Isn’t it all arbitrary? Are there particles of human rights bestow upon us by some divine entity that binds us to follow accept them?

    “In the entire history of human rights, this has never been proposed, or considered”.

    Precisely because evolutionary psychologists were not involved in formulating such bills of right. And this is fallacious logic. Just because one thing has been a tradition it doesn’t make the argument morally right. Likewise, just because something never happened before it doesn’t make my argument less valuable.

    “And if such a right did exist, we would have shut down the Internet as a basic violation of rights, and tell paraplegics to stay at home. We would probably have to ban books: how do you know if the author is lying or not? You can’t see their face, or their body language.

    Here you are again falling in a the slippery slope which is another well known fallacy, plus you are comparing two situations that are NOT analogous.

    “There is a human right to follow one’s own religion, and this is enshrined in universal declarations subscribed to by most countries. This must therefore take precedence.”

    Why should it? Why should a belief in illogicality and unfounded myths take precedence? If I believe in mutilating children to my god, should it take precedence?

    Religious belief based on myths and oppression should never take precedence over logical reasoning and scientific truths.

    Should hallal and kosher slaughter take precedence over the EU directives on slaughter and welfare? Never…

  4. http://articles.latimes.com/1991-09-05/news/mn-2322_1_gory-films – humans are not very good at detecting liars at all, with or without burkhas. Those wearing baklavas – a Turkish pastry made with nuts and honey – on their heads will have a hard time convincing anyone: I had heard that balaclavas had been put under suspicion by the police in the UK, but find this far more repugnant. I wouldn’t vote for a burkha ban without finding out from a very large representative section of the wearers what meaning they attached to the practice: indeed, I wish they’d make them a fashion statement so that we could all just hurl on a burkha in the morning and forget about image (I don’t need to to – I’ve got grey hair which makes one completely invisible in Western culture).

    • I personally find it difficult to communicate with someone who doesn’t show their face. Words alone can be misleading. We need to accentuate with our facial expression the meaning of these words.
      Some cultures, as in Southern Europe for example, may use “name-calling” as a term of endearment. For example ” How are you today my fat blob?” said without a smile may sound as aggression or abuse, but in some groups it may be perceived as an expression of friendship when a particular facial expression is associated with the words. However without the facial expression, we wouldn’t be able to tell. We are primates as as such bound to communicate with facial expressions. Covering up my face provides me with an advantage that is unfair to the interlocutor.

      Going around with a baklava on your head may induce others to desire to lick your head 🙂 Your grey hair also makes you a respectable lady and protects you from having to listen to all those dirty comments and whistles usually performed by the Southern European macho-culture that I had to endure between 18-30 years of age. In those days I would have worn a burka just to escape such abuse and references to the size of my boobs. Perhaps wearing the burka isays more about the males of a particular culture than about religion.

      • “Perhaps wearing the burka says more about the males of a particular culture than about religion”. Too true! – I remember that Soutern European culture only too well – being invisible is great! I can empathise with those chimpanzees in the zoos who hate being looked at but who have no refuge – who may look at whom is a hot topic in western culture, bringing in power issues on both sides. Lately I have thought I’d rather like to don a burkha and spend a few days getting reactions…….

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