Saturday 22 September 2018

'It's the same as someone walking down the street with a balaclava or a motorcycle helmet' - Burqa ban debate gets heated on Cutting Edge

Brenda Power on RTE One's Cutting Edge
Brenda Power on RTE One's Cutting Edge
Baz Ashmawy on RTE One's Cutting Edge

Sasha Brady

A debate on the 'burqa ban' got heated on last night's Cutting Edge.

Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge returned for its second series and kicked off with a heated debate as panelists Baz Azhmaway, Jennifer O'Connor and Brenda Power discussed the new Austrian burqa ban.

The so-called 'burqa ban' prohibits facial coverings including niqabs and burqas in Austria and came into effect today. Baz, who practised Islam as a child, admitted that while he's not a fan of the burqa or the niqab, he doesn't believe women should be banned from wearing them in public.

"There's a fear that comes from it," he acknowledged. "I had a babysitter who wore a burqa and it was like being babysat by Darth Vader.

"I'm not a fan of the burqa or the niqab. I just think you're entitled to wear what you want to a certain extent. My sister wears it as an armour, she wears it as empowerment. She's a strong kick-ass woman. There's no man telling her to wear it. She wears it because that's her right and that's what she choses to do."

However, RTE broadcaster Brenda Power, didn't agree and said that she believes the Austrian government were right to introduce the anti-burqa law.

Baz Ashmawy on RTE One's Cutting Edge
Baz Ashmawy on RTE One's Cutting Edge

"I do not see that as an exercise of choice," she argued. "If it was accepted part of the wardrobe of the wider female population then I would say 'yes, it is about choice' but it's not. It derives from a particular, religious mindset.

"It's about choice in the same way that women in Saudi Arabia can't drive."

Baz argued that "everyone always mentions Saudi Arabia when they talk about Islam" and pointed out that there are other Muslim-majority countries who don't require women to wear a veil.

"You're putting your version of what you think a woman is," he said.

But Brenda said she believes burqas and niqabs are "sexist".

"I've a huge problem with any mindset whether it's political or religious that treats women differently because of their gender and says that modest, devout women have got to cover their faces and does not say the same to men. That to me is the very definition of sexism," she said.

"I do not believe when I see them in town and it dismays me really to see women in a modern civilised democracy looking out of the world through a blanket. I do not believe that they want to do that. I do not believe that."

Baz said that he believes the burqa ban puts out a "subliminal message to society that there's 'something wrong with these people'".

Irish Times journalist Jennifer O'Connor said that "as a feminist" she supports women's choice to wear a ban. She admitted that while she "feels uncomfortable" by the veils, she respects the choice.

However, Brenda said her "suspicion is it's not about purity and it's not about modesty, it's about invisibility.

"Their individuality has been stripped away It's the same as someone walking down the street with a balaclava or a motorcycle, it's the same because it's preventing integration," she said.

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