Burka Ban: Not Just Black and White

Jill Singer offers a defence of Sarkozy’s proposed “burka ban” in the Herald Sun today, arguing that it should be illegal to wear it because she thinks it is ugly and may be uncomfortable on hot days.  She writes:

No matter what your personal views about the burka — a symbol of oppression or expression of religious identity — it is an undeniably ugly item of clothing.

Burkas also make life hard for the women who wear them, being stiflingly hot in summer, and extremely restricting vision.

Only a masochist would opt to wear one, designed as they are by sadists.

It is no coincidence that Muslim men in Saudi Arabia, for example, drape themselves in cooling white while insisting their women bake in black.

It’s doubtful that Singer has spent much time in a niqab or “burka”, much less worn it in the desert climes of Saudi Arabia; rather, she is simply fantasising about what it must be like to wear it.   The fact that many bedouin and desert-dwelling tribes, such as the Tuareg, also wear black robes  is seemingly lost on the former Today Tonight presenter.  Unless these men are genetically or culturally inclined towards acts of sadism, it is reasonable to assume that things are not quite as black and white as Singer is arguing.

As this article in Nature magazine explained:

Survival in hot deserts has always posed a problem for man; Moses had to solve it in order to lead the children of Israel through the wilderness of the Sinai—a formidable hot desert. It seems likely that the present inhabitants of the Sinai, the Bedouins, would have optimised their solutions for desert survival during their long tenure in this desert Yet, one may have doubts on first encountering Bedouins wearing black robes and herding black goats. We have therefore investigated whether black robes help the Bedouins to minimise solar heat loads in a hot desert. This seemed possible because experiments have shown that white hair on cattle1,2 and white feathers on pigeons3 permit greater penetration of short-wave radiation to the skin than black. In fact, more heat flowed inward through white pigeon plumage than through black when both were exposed to simulated solar radiation at wind speeds greater than 3 m s-1 (ref. 3). We report here that the amount of heat gained by a Bedouin exposed to the hot desert is the same whether he wears a black or a white robe. The additional heat absorbed by the black robe was lost before it reached the skin.

Richard Peppiatt, a journalist for the Daily Star, decided to take a different approach to test whether the niqab was “stifingly hot”.  He writes:

My first impression as I stepped out in the blistering sun was how cool these veils are in the heat.

I wasn’t sweltering in the enclosed warmth, stifled by the closeness and lack of mobility.

The burka was flexible, breathable and relatively comfy.

However, regardless of that, he stills wants it banned because people were unable to see his face when he wore it.