Scottish Tory Leader Ruth Davidson is of the view that a Muslim wearing a burqa is no different from a Christian who wears a crucifix. She said: “If you use the analogy of Christianity, would you ever write in the Telegraph that you should have a debate about banning Christians from wearing crucifixes? It’s the same argument but it’s in a different faith so why are the parameters different for one faith and not the other?” She added: “I think it’s also not been shown through history that when men make sweeping statements about what women should or shouldn’t wear that it goes well for them.”
It has also been shown throughout history that when politicians make sweeping statements about religion that it doesn’t go well for them, either.
A burqa is worn by Muslim women, not men, because throughout the patriarchal Islamic world women are invariably viewed and treated as inferior to men. A crucifix is worn by both Christian women and men, because in Christ there is neither male nor female. The burqa is a symbol of oppression and misogyny; the crucifix a symbol of liberty and equality. The burqa dehumanises, covers the face and conceals identity; the crucifix personalises, looks at God face-to-face and reveals true identity. The burqa has no quranic legitimacy; the crucifix is the nexus of biblical authority. The burqa symbolises Islamic extremism, militancy and divine separation from society; the crucifix symbolises passion, devotion and God’s participation in humanity. The burqa divides Muslims because it segregates and aggravates; the crucifix unites Christians because it saves and sanctifies.
The burqa draws a veil around wives and daughters, for their beauty may only be seen by husbands and fathers, or sons and brothers. The crucifix tears the veil in two, for all may enter into God’s presence to know and be fully known. The burqa is darkness, secrecy and mystery; the crucifix is light, sensibility and revelation.
The burqa is a world away from a crucifix because one is human subjection and the other eternal salvation. The cross of Christ dispels the fear of death, because everyone who believes in the forgiveness of sins has no need to fear damnation. The burqa is a constant reminder of mortality, because it burdens the body with legal function and punishment. The burqa is a cultural cloak of domination; the crucifix a divine destiny of cosmic deliverance. For many women who wear the burqa, it is a blanket of despair. For all those who wear a crucifix, it is a shield of hope and perfect peace. The burqa alienates and isolates; the crucifix relates and reconciles. The burqa leads to obscurity and apartheid; the crucifix points to resurrection and renewal. The burqa is self-serving; the crucifix self-giving. Ten thousand hymns have been written about the sacrificial suffering and obedience of Christ on the Cross; not one ditty has been coined about the ten thousand women who rejoice in wearing a burqa.
If Jesus had not hung on a cross and died there would be no way, no truth and no life. Christians ought to be free to wear a crucifix or cross because it is a constant reminder of our sin and redemption; a subtle witness to the end of the law and the assurance of eternal salvation. If there were no burqas there would be more radiance, more joy and more justice: they are a perpetual reminder of the burden of sharia law and the servile shades of unsettling conversation. The crucifix is the actuality of atonement: it speaks of God’s action in and towards His world. The burqa is the actualisation of dissatisfaction: it speaks of Allah’s demand for submission and his metaphoric forces to combat human fallenness.
Ruth Davidson means well in her equality-exalting passion for Muslim women’s liberation, but the parameters are manifestly different from one faith to another when you are dealing with unlike religious concepts, disparate cultures and theological chalk and cheese. Her simplistic reasoning would lead, for example, to equating Jewish or Islamic circumcision with the practice of female circumcision, for who is she to defend the morality of male circumcision but condemn the other as female genital mutilation? As she says, “It’s the same argument but it’s in a different faith so why are the parameters different for one faith and not the other?”
It is, of course, palpably different. And so is the burqa and the crucifix.
We do, quite naturally, tend toward a prejudice in favour of articulating our own cultural apprehension of morality and goodness, but politicians need to be careful when talking religion because not all expressions of every faith are predisposed to the progress of mankind or to the building of a peaceful world. Some strands are malignant, regressive and culturally offensive. Some are schismatic, oppressive, and confer meanings or impose obligations upon adherents which may be unknown and unknowable to those outside. Certainly, most Muslim women in the UK may choose freely to wear a burqa or niqab, but doubtless quite a few do so under duress, even on pain of being beaten or otherwise abused by their husbands. Ruth Davidson cannot know which women are free and which are coerced, and so her exhortation becomes a trite imitation of justice and religious equality to convey moral assurance and political authority. And by doing so, she reveals the spiritual inarticulacy and religious illiteracy which is common to so many politicians.
And the silence of our bishops and archbishops in the face of her crass assertion reinforces their theological weakness and inadequacy. Are they too timid to challenge the new regime of truth that the parameters for one faith should be no different from those of another? Why have so many bishops jumped on the anti-Boris burqa bandwagon, but not one has challenged Ruth Davidson’s assertion that wearing a crucifix is fundamentally no different from wearing a burqa. Are they ashamed to preach the Cross; the power of God unto salvation?