Unveiling a Full Ban on Full Veils

The New York Times reports on French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to introduce

a bill in May to ban the wearing of the full veil in public places in France


from streets, markets and shops, according to his spokesman, Luc Chatel.

Sarkozy intends the bill, a follow up to the 2004 ban on conspicuous signs of religious affiliation in public schools, to supersede

An earlier proposal from a panel of the National Assembly [that] suggested a bill banning the full veil in public places belonging to the state, like schools and public buildings, and in areas where facial recognition is vital for security reasons: airports, banks and even public transport.

As I have suggested, here, here and here, I think the National Assembly has offered a reasoned, sensible approach. Sarkozy overreaches, beyond what can be justified in a liberal society, and the error could have long-term negative consequences. Sarkozy has already been warned by France’s Council of State, the chief administrative authority in France, that such a total ban would have no legal basis.

The Times also reports that Belgium too is planning to vote on a bill that mandates a fine and brief jail term for anyone wearing the full veil without police permission.

The danger is this. Many European nations are facing the threat of a significant and growing immigrant population not only resistant to assimilation, but hostile to the values of the cultures they have entered. On one hand are politically correct, even sometimes themselves illiberal social elements ideologically committed to denying the nature of the problem. On the other are predictable xenophobic and racialist forces driven to excessive reaction. The best and surest way to meet the challenge is by upholding liberal values, clearly understood, that in themselves properly contain the illiberal values and practices of unsympathetic immigrant Muslim populations. The National Assembly’s proposal does this. If Sarkozy’s overreach is struck down by French courts, the product of his effort, rather than a discrete effective measure in a broader, successful policy, may be the impression of France’s own illiberalism and an intellectually floundering response.

In opposing illiberalism, liberalism needs to perceive clearly what it, itself, is.


8 thoughts on “Unveiling a Full Ban on Full Veils

  1. Your clarification makes sense to me as a matter of legal reasoning.

    Though I expect that if someone were to walk around “streets, markets and shops” wearing a ski mask or hockey mask, the police would be called, they would be questioned and just about compelled to remove the mask.

    If there is not a law forbidding that practice, I can sure imagine such a law to be reasonable.

    You are also challenging the legal reasoning of hate crimes legislation. In hate crime legislation the fact that violence is animated by beliefs about classes of people is seen to be particularly menacing to society. If you do violence because of your hatred of gays or blacks, then you terrorize a whole class of people and the harm done to society is compounded.

    It may be possible to apply the same sort of logic here.

  2. “As soon as Suhov passed “a hostel” door, shouts were distributed and pillows have departed to it. Abdulla’s wives everything as one, have lifted up hems of dresses and were closed them by the persons. Suhov, having stared, was stunned looked at the bared stomachs of women and on their long, to ankles, translucent wide trousers.
    The first has looked out from under a hem of Gjulchataj.- Be not afraid, he is our mister! – she has shouted and women the persons have immediately opened.
    They were different, but all looked at Suhov faithfully and invocatory. Three of them were very good. Suhov has screwed up for an instant of an eye.
    – The mister, – Gjulchataj has told, – nobody should see our persons. Only you! You after all our new husband. Tell to your man Petrukha that he did not enter here.
    Suhov has swallowed a saliva and, without looking at a harem, resembled a little on a room.
    – Women Comrades! – it suddenly has with inspiration shouted. – Revolution has released you. You should forget for ever the damned past – as in home life, and in work. You do not have now owner. Also name me simply Comrad Suhov. You will freely work, and at everyone will be own spouse. ”
    “The white sun of desert”

  3. I’m not quite persuaded by your presentation, Jay.

    For me, of course, I know little about the situation in France and Belgium. So, I’m no expert.

    But one counterexample to your argument is the nineteenth century prohibition against bigamy. The prohibition was a rejection of a religious practice of a religious minority. And rather than deepening the isolation of the Mormons, it provoked them to abandon their radical practices and integrate with broader American culture. [Er, small victories, brother, small victories.]

    Certainly too, we would not tolerate female genital mutilation as a legitimate religious custom. It’s a crime. Making it criminal facilitates the abandonment of that practice in the United States.

    It would be a misuse of liberalism to accept those practices.

    I am very religiously tolerant. I can respect the genuine faith in Islam, but more, I can respect and participate in the genuine faith of the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas, the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    In fact it is because I respect faith that I have some confidence in my conviction that the rationale for the Chador is not religious faith, but hatred of women.

    Just as I have confidence that religious restrictions on homosexuality do not express genuine faith. They are simple bigotry and liberalism does not require us to afford that bigotry any particular protection.

    I can imagine that the Belgian plan would require Muslim women to come down to the police office and ask for permission to wear the veil. At least then, you have some small reassurance that the practice is an expression of a womans voice rather than a silencing of it.

    1. Copithorne, I certainly share your overall sentiments about every form of the veil, and the impulse to completely reject it. I’ll just make two points. About the Mormons, for all the separation from the general society that their faith caused – unlike the general Muslim population in Western nations, they were culturally indigenous to the society in which Mormonism sprang up, and even so, there remain radicalized offshoots of mainstream Mormonism that continue to practice bigamy.

      More to the point, though, I am arguing, in agreement with you, that liberal societies should not tolerate religious practice that is illiberal. However, I have also been arguing that what I have referred to as “masking” and hiding are behaviors that can be engaged in independently of any oppressive belief system, and are in themselves behaviors that liberal societies must tolerate and should not ban. Even if the motivating belief seems apparent from the particular garment, I don’t believe we wish to begin policing people’s thoughts and belief systems to determine why they are hiding, or covering, themselves. I think it philosophically coherent to prohibit masking of any nature in the kinds of public and security spaces the French General Assembly designated, and to leave the reformation of oppressive beliefs to the contention of ideas, rather than to seek illiberally to police them.

  4. Maureen — That’s because no one really cares about what happens to women and girls in this situation. Does that really surprise you?

    It’s not as if governments around the world are interested in doing anything about sex trafficking of minors, white slavery, female mutilation, etc.

    I don’t think anything will be done anywhere to help women and girls until we women who are more fortunate band together and take action.

  5. Sarkozy is going too far. The Belgium plan is outrageous. Getting permission? Just who gets to decide?

    I could imagine enforcement a nightmare, with women and girls being hounded either way, by authorities for not complying and by Muslim males for doing so.

    Who loses here the most? In my view, women and girls. And I hear no one speaking out for them.

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