When new United States member of the House of Representatives Ilhan Omar came into Congress, she was afforded the opportunity to wear her religious head covering, a hijab, onto the House floor as a result of a recent change in House rules. Since 1837, a rule had been in place that prohibited the wearing of any hats in the chamber, but the House opted to make accommodations for people who wore head coverings for religious reasons.
There was a time when wearing hats indoors was considered uncouth and disrespectful of the institutions. Many places still ask people to remove their hats during the recitation of the national anthem or upon entering a church. These are customs that come from Christian Europe that do not necessarily square with everyone’s thoughts on what does and does not show proper respect.
Many Muslim women wear a variety of head coverings depending on religious practice and custom. Some, like Omar, wear the hijab which covers their hair. Others put on a full veil covering the entire face and body, called a burqa. In their culture, these are signs of religious modesty.
Rep. Ilhan Omar in a hijab
There are other people in the world who find the hijab and burqa problematic and a sign of the repression of women.
In France, a devoutly secular society, there is a ban on wearing anything outwardly religious in universities. The country even went so far as to ban the wearing of modest swimsuits, “burkinis,” on the beach, all in the name of “secularism.”
Denmark recently joined other European countries in banning the full face covering of the burqa for the professed reason of public safety. The rationale seemed to pass the smell test of rationality for many, even though the law specifically carved out the wearing of facial covering for the purpose of combating cold weather. I guess public safety takes a hiatus in the winter.
The smug Europeans covered themselves in a porous fig leaf which any Adam could clearly see through: the governments were passing laws to bar Muslims from openly practicing their religion in a manner they saw fit. The Europeans passed laws which did not impact their own Christian sensibilities and way of life, while curbing religious freedoms of non-Christians, as way of keeping the alt-right and alt-left from protesting the new laws.
While the Christian alt-right was happy to stem the flow of Muslims into their countries, the secular alt-left and liberals favored the bans arguing that hijabs and burqas were based on discriminatory practices against women, the same way that female genital mutilation is a religious practice fomented by men against women. As such, they rationalized their bigotry that banning the head covering is actually freeing women from oppression.
The western mind is seemingly incapable of imagining that a woman would want to choose to cover her hair and live a religious life under her own terms.
The same is true for prostitution.
The oldest profession has progressed very little.
It is perhaps not surprising that very religious and conservative countries like Sudan do not only prohibit prostitution and homosexuality, but they also sentence the offenders to a gruesome public death. However, it is remarkable that so few western countries have taken the liberating approach to legalize prostitution. Among the handful which have legalized the profession are New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Brazil and Colombia.
By legalizing prostitution (and outlawing “pimping” where a third party controls how and where one works) prostitutes are able to avail themselves of the protection of law enforcement. The benefits are multiple: human trafficking drops; protection for women (who dominate the industry) increases; and tax revenue for the state is created.
Yet there remains a bias in many western minds – including very liberal ones – that there is no way that a woman would consider having sex for money freely. The industry was born at a time when women were viewed as chattel and as second class members of society. Somehow pornography and massages pass muster, but sex-for-money passes a bright line.
For many westerners, prostitution is like a hijab: an insulting practice that denigrates women. They adamantly refuse to consider or acknowledge that many women freely CHOOSE to live in a manner which doesn’t fit into their own conception of a proper society.
Governments should be very cautious in dictating societal norms and accepted behavior, and instead focus on ensuring a world in which people have the liberty of living a life of their own choosing in safety. If a woman wants to wear a hijab – I say, go on sister. If a woman wants to be a prostitute – laws should enable it to be done safely.
Let’s not assume we know what’s best for women by outlawing liberal sex-for-money or conservative religious head-covering. Women should be afforded the freedom to pursue happiness in a manner of their choosing.
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