An Argument for a Burqa Ban

The Islamic practice of women’s veiling, extending to the absurd and offensive burqa, presents difficult questions for the West. Who are we, we wonder, to trample other cultures voluntarily perpetuated? Worse yet is the question of whether a society can stop intolerance once it has granted itself permission to discriminate against that which it finds offensive.
Yet, journalist Claire Berlinski argues that veiling itself tends to be a metastasizing intolerance:

… the burqa must be banned. All forms of veiling must be, if not banned, strongly discouraged and stigmatized. The arguments against a ban are coherent and principled. They are also shallow and insufficient. They fail to take something crucial into account, and that thing is this: If Europe does not stand up now against veiling — and the conception of women and their place in society that it represents — within a generation there will be many cities in Europe where no unveiled woman will walk comfortably or safely. …
The debate in Europe now concerns primarily the burqa, not less restrictive forms of veiling, such as the headscarf. The sheer outrageousness of the burqa makes it an easy target, as does the political viability of justifying such a ban on security grounds, particularly in the era of suicide bombings, even if such a justification does not entirely stand up to scrutiny. But the burqa is simply the extreme point on the continuum of veiling, and all forced veiling is not only an abomination, but contagious: Unless it is stopped, the natural tendency of this practice is to spread, for veiling is a political symbol as well as a religious one, and that symbol is of a dynamic, totalitarian ideology that has set its sights on Europe and will not be content until every woman on the planet is humbled, submissive, silent, and enslaved.

To be sure, the United States is nowhere near such a point, but even here, the intellectual dynamic exposed by the questions has relevance. Neither the Constitution nor the principle of tolerance should be a suicide pact, and sometimes it may be the case that one side in a cultural battle will inevitably prevail and wipe out the very rules of competition that enables such thorough pluralism. There may be no rational reason for veiling to win over liberty, from an enlightened standpoint, but it is utterly predictable of human beings to behave irrationally and to rationalize.
Berlinski hits the core of the matter when she asserts that there is no such “thing as a neighborhood where the veil is the cultural norm and yet no judgment is passed upon women who do not wear it.” In agreement with her subsequent assertion that “our culture’s position on these questions is morally superior,” one is inclined to suggest that we let those neighborhoods pass judgment, and dismiss them when they do so. Provided no violence transpires and the law does not ultimately flip from allowing the practice to imposing it, we can expect no legal shield against interpersonal judgment. And if the particular neighborhood in which the shifting attitudes is a concern, then we must individually fight the cultural fight.
The concern, ultimately, is that the West lacks the confidence to pass its own judgment when the rule isn’t written into the law. There’s a tendency — emanating from our “nation of laws” mentality — to feel as if anything not codified into law is too ambiguous to form so strong a personal or group opinion about that we impose compliance as a condition of our personal good will. The foundation of that self-doubting ideology is clear: it gains the upper hand in the intrawestern culture war if the law demarks legitimate judgment and values are banned from the “whereas” clauses of legislation.
The fatal flaw, however — the dangerous risk — is that the shallowness of a libertine society won’t form the basis of adequate cultural confidence to defend against foreign principles that don’t begin with the assumption of tolerance.

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joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

If someone wants to walk around wrapped up,who cares?
The exception is for official business-the idea of a veiled photo on a driver’s license is absurd.Same for ID purposes when cashing a check,boarding an airplane,etc.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

There is a scene in Lawrence of Arabia wherein Lawrence puts a pistol shot in the head of one of his wounded companions so as to save him from the suffering and torture that would follow were he to be left behind and captured – and it haunts Lawrence. He is uncomfortable with it. Finally Lawrence comes to grip with his discomfort by realizing that what had been bothering him was not that he had killed a man, but worse yet, that he had actually enjoyed the killing. So, I see it with Justin’s comments here; his argument may have its merits, but the veins running through it carry poison which contaminates the subject.
OldTimeLefty

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

OTL-is it ok for me to demand wearing a mask on my driver’s license?
Or must I be a Muslim woman?
I’m not sure where you were going,but I’d like to hear your answer.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

joe,
In simple terms, no, it’s not okay to wear a mask on your driver’s licence photo. That was not the point of what I wrote. I was inferring that it would be much easier to accept Justin’s particular criticism of the burqua issue if at some time in the past he had found space, time and heart to say a few kind words about Islam.
Okay now?
OTL

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

I sure can’t say kind words about any religion.
I mean,why do I need another limited human like me to explain the limitless,unknowable Creator?They can’t understand it any better than I can.
Their holy texts are so much literature,except I have a strange fascination with Revelation.
I just accept that an omnipotent force runs the engine of the Universes and we’re included.
The Taoists probably come closest,but they also fall prey to ritual.
Prayer and ritual are not of a kind to me.Prayer emanates from the individual and ritual is imposed.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Joe, I am a fan of Revelations, too.
My favortie “Smoke shall rise forever and ever from the torment of those who worship the beast, or bear his mark, or his number”. Don’t know, it must be the poetry of it.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

joe,
You just defined a big difference between you and Justin. You can’t say “kind words about any religion”, and as far as I can see, you stay consistent with your beliefs, not offering one over another.
There are others who will tell you that their religion is rightly guided and another is a devilish invention, speking well of their own while denigrating others.
Yeshua was a wise man. This is what he had to say on the subject:
Matthew 7:3-5 (King James Version)

And why behold the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how will thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.)

OldTimeLefty

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Joe,
In a healthy religious organization, rituals aren’t imposed; they’re followed. That’s not a fine distinction. It ties directly to your misconstruing religion as “another limited human like me to explain the limitless,unknowable Creator.”
First of all, it’s an untenable tenant to declare that the Creator is unknowable. After all, we have that which He created to inform us. Second of all, clergy and other religious are not merely “limited humans like me”; they’re limited humans like you who’ve devoted a greater proportion of their limited attention to religious thought; of course it’s possible for them to understand it better than you do. Third of all, it’s actually the aggregated understanding honed through religious tradition that’s explaining God; that’s why it’s possible to judge a particular teacher’s lessons against the weight of previous discernment.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

And yet, OTL does exactly as he accuses me of doing, only more judgmentally, more personally, and with more insinuated denigration. It appears sufficient for him merely to quote a passage decrying judgment without explaining how my heavily qualified thoughts on a particular matter apply. Of course, as he began by saying: he just senses that I love to kill. He just knows it. Because, presumably, he’s judged my differing judgment to be a beam while he has only a splinter.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

Justin,
If you are speaking to me at least have the temerity to address me directly. That’s how dialogs proceed. If you have had “heavily qualified thoughts” they have evinced themselves to me as heavily prejudiced and lightly dusted over – a case of the mountains going in labor and a mouse coming forth.
Looking forward to actually directly engaging you in our first discourse. Your pal,
OldTimeLefty

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