A general ban on the veil in public is not defensible in a liberal, democratic society, so I think the recently passed French ban is a mistake. I defend a general right to wear the veil not on grounds of religious freedom, but on general liberty and privacy rights, in general public settings, to obscure oneself from the view of others. There is, generally speaking, no right any of us has to look on the faces of others if they choose not be viewed.
The already existing French ban against the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in institutionally public settings, e.g. government buildings and schools, as reflecting a separation between the secular state and religious profession, is a reasonable alternative to the principle of unqualified liberty in religious display under all circumstances.
Where security and public safety are concerned, restrictions on wearing the veil or any face covering (I make no distinction in these arguments) are both defensible and obligatory.
Individuals, if they assert it, have a right of personal integrity to look upon the faces of people who wish to communicate with them. They have this right – with some possible, unique exceptions – even when performing in a public role, for instance, that of teacher.
Or elected representative.
British MP Philip Hollobone has sought to introduce in England a like bill to that of the law passed in France. I hope the legislation fails. At the same, in the midst of debate on the subject of the veil, Hollobone called it, “the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes.” In response, the Northamptonshire Race Equality Council reported Hollobone to the police.
Hollobone said the tax-funded group wanted to see him prosecuted for inciting religious hatred but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to take action.
The MP for Kettering said: “I refused to be silenced by threats of prosecution and I am going to speak out on what is a perfectly legitimate topic for debate.
“There will be those who agree and those who disagree, and that is fine. What we cannot have in this country are MPs being threatened when they speak out on contentious issues.
In the meantime, Hollobone declared his intention to refuse to meet with constituents who refused to remove their veil for the meeting.
Mr. Hollobone sparked a row earlier this month when he argued that he needed to be face-to-face with voters who wanted his help.
He said he would “invite” anyone who did not wish to remove their veil to communicate with him in a “different way”, such as by letter.
UK’s Equality Act and the European convention on human rights (ECHR) oblige him to avoid discrimination.
I am not familiar with either document, but it would be both surprising and dismaying if they contained provisions that might be interpreted as compelling an individual into communications he might reasonably find objectionable.
Mr. Hollobone said he would think about checking into the legal situation Liberty made reference to, though he said he “strongly suspected” the organisation was incorrect.
He also reported that
he had written back to Liberty and asked what would they do if he refused to speak to a white male wearing a balaclava [ski mask] who came to him, and they said they would not be interested in that. [Emphasis added]
It seems clear that increasing numbers of people are both confused and misguided in how they consider this issue. I continue to maintain that the best basis of consideration is not religious, which makes the lack of interest by Lawyers for Liberty in alternative cases pointedly wrongheaded.
As an interesting sidelight, in doing research for this post I came across a public letter to Hollobone challenging him to a debate on the topic of his proposed ban of the burqa. The letter is by Dr Nazreen Nawaz, who is the Women’s Media Representative of the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. Nawaz’s letter is a remarkably succinct intellectualization of the Muslim indictment of decadent Western society, nimbly incorporating into the religious position the critique that it is “Western capitalist liberal values that are a major cause of the oppression of women globally.”
In contrast to this, Islam views the woman’s dignity as sacrosanct and has prohibited exploitation of her looks and her objectification within society. The Islamic dress code is one means by which to ensure that society values women according to their thinking, abilities, and behaviour rather than their physical appearance.
Nawaz further states,
This call for a niqaab ban exposes the intolerance in Western secular societies, leaving talk of freedom, tolerance and pluralism with the appearance of being little more than a smokescreen behind which lie racism, intolerance and bigotry.
This summation, one should recognize, is made by the representative of an apparently anti-Semitic worldwide organization the goal of which is the institution of a caliphate in all Muslim lands. Established in 1953, it claims to seek its goals nonviolently and through reasoned argument, as Nawan asserts at the end of her letter. It also claims not to seek to extend the caliphate into non-Muslim lands, though these commitments and claims have been questioned. One recent study of the organization is Monitoring Islamic Militancy: Hizb-ut-Tahrir: “The Party of Liberation.” In 2005, Foreign Affairs published Zeyno Baran’s “Fighting the War of Ideas,” which is summarized:
While radical Islamist terrorist groups such as al Qaeda grab the headlines, their nonviolent ideological cousins remain little known. But groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir play a crucial role in indoctrinating Muslims with radical ideology. Because they occupy a gray zone of militancy, regulating them is a diffcult challenge for liberal democracies — but ignoring them is no longer an option.
Baran further tells us,
HT is not itself a terrorist organization, but it can usefully be thought of as a conveyor belt for terrorists. It indoctrinates individuals with radical ideology, priming them for recruitment by more extreme organizations where they can take part in actual operations. By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology, HT has made itself into a very real and potent threat that is extremely difficult for liberal societies to counter.
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