In what some observers considered to be a surprising move, the lower house of French parliament “overwhelmingly approved a ban on wearing burqa-style Islamic veils” according to several news sources. France, as anyone who has read Mark Steyn’s America Alone knows, has the largest Muslim population in Europe, numbering close to five million—although sources indicate that a mere fraction of Muslim women—not even two thousand—actually wear the full burqa, which only allows the eyes to show. For someone who has had grave concerns over the Islamization of Europe for some time—and heartily welcomed Switzerland’s recent ban on minarets—I find myself torn over the passage of this ban.
On one hand, it is encouraging to see European nations finally realizing that they have large populations of immigrants who refuse to assimilate to Western culture—and by that I’m referring to democratic values and personal freedom ,as opposed to the public debauchery secular laws in places such as the Netherlands have incurred. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim from Somalia who became infamous in fundamentalist Muslim circles for her collaboration with now-murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on the short film Submission, which depicted Muslim abuse of women, has detailed in her autobiographical work Infidel horrific anecdotes of immigrants from certain Islamist countries circumcising their young daughters on kitchen tables in order to keep with traditions from their homelands . Riots caused by Muslim youths and murders of Western artists and politicians who dare to criticize Islam have increased drastically in many European countries as secular (and selfish) Europeans continue to produce less and less children and instead replace their populations with immigrants from other nations, many of them Islamic, who have a very high rate of childbirth. Consequently, Europe finds itself caught in a perpetual culture clash among its citizens, and are finally attempting to reassert their dominance with knee-jerk laws such as the burqa ban, which Spain, Belgium, and certain parts of Italy are also considering.
However, it needs to be asked: what does a ban on the burqa actually accomplish? Far from an assertion that freedom for women is mandatory, this ban seems to be more of an impotent piece of legislation loaded with more symbolism than effectiveness—forcing 1,900 women out of five million Muslims to stop wearing a piece of clothing scarcely seems to address the problems fundamentalist immigrants incur within the culture. Additionally, one wonders if this is a dangerous progression of France’s policy of complete secularization—France has already banned all religious symbols in its schools, including the Catholic crucifix and Huguenot cross. While one would obviously be denied a government job or various other vocations while wearing a burqa, to some it may seem that France’s new burqa ban is more than simply a symbolic warning to immigrants who prefer to ghettoize than assimilate; it is possibly an extension of France’s policy of forced secularization from the public sphere into the private. Quite frankly, I wonder if it is any of the government’s business what private citizens choose to wear, as long as those citizens realize that wearing something like the burqa is an obvious social disadvantage in certain situations, and that in certain situations it is clearly mandatory to show your face—if you are applying for any kind of identification, or voting. These laws already exist.
The burqa situation is, unfortunately, even more complicated when viewed from the libertarian perspective. Proponents of banning the burqa stipulate that they are protecting the rights of their female citizens, and that the burqa is a tool of oppression used by patriarchal and misogynist Muslim males. Novels such as The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns have described the enforced burqa laws under the Taliban in Afghanistan and cemented its depiction as oppressive in cultural consciousness. And indeed, anyone with an even quasi-Western mindset would be fully supportive of harsh penalties incurred against those who force women to wear the burqa—fines of up to forty thousand euros for men who are caught forcing the burqa on females are part of the French ban that nearly no one disagrees with. The only problem is that there is often no way we can possibly know whether or not the burqa is a matter of choice or coercion. As previously mentioned, many Muslim communities in Europe have chosen to ghettoize rather than assimilate, and many Muslim women consequently fear their male counterparts more than government authorities (Hirsi Ali’s work The Caged Virgin gives a very impressive synopsis of this trend.) Even the Muslim community is offering different responses. Many fundamentalist Muslim groups in Europe are condemning this ban as a xenophobic infringement on religious freedom. Muslim women have been quoted saying that they wore the burqa by choice and that it violated their religious ideals to stop wearing it. However, Muslim women have also been quoted stating angrily that they had moved to a Western country to escape Sharia law, and had no desire to have it follow them to Europe or North America. In fact, even the Muslim Congress of Canada supports a ban on the burqa and the niqab (which also sports mesh over the eyes).
It is hard to draw a conclusion on such a complex issue. I am completely supportive of large fines being imposed on any males who attempt to coerce their wives or offspring to wear the burqa. However, I am also uncomfortable with forcing women who actually see this article of clothing as a necessary part of their faith to part with it—I think it sets a dangerous precedent that could allow the government to feel free to ban an increasing array of religious traditions and perhaps even beliefs. I don’t need to tell you that there are many Christian beliefs that are at odds with a completely secular government. The reaction of the conservative movement and right-wing pundits to these bans seems to be a knee-jerk “we’re sticking it to the Muslims!” reaction that does not take into account the possible ramifications that these types of legislation have on overall religious freedom. While this issue is extremely complex and it is hard to draw a completely definitive conclusion, I believe that the conservative movement does itself a disservice by not examining this issue in a more nuanced and pragmatic fashion.