Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


In defense of French Muslim burqas

posted by Rod Dreher

I don’t like the burqa. In fact, I think it’s appalling. I don’t like what it says about the place of women in the societies where it’s common. I like that the imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris says that the burqa (niqab, etc.) has no place in Islam — meaning, that it’s a cultural practice that has been theologized within Islam, not mandated by the religion itself.
But I also agree with the imam that the French state is not justified in compelling the relatively small number of Muslim women who wear the burqa to give it up. What are they hurting? I think their freedom of religion is more important, and it should be respected. Christian nuns in the pre-Sister Stretchpants era used to dress much the same way (minus the face veil), and traditional Catholic and Orthodox nuns still do. I understand the anxiety about radical Islam finding a foothold in France, and share that anxiety to a certain extent. But banning the burqa strikes me as unjust. Seventy percent of the French disagree, though, and support the new proposed law, which passed France’s lower house of parliament today with only a single dissenting vote.



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AC

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:57 am


This law is tailor-made for non-violent resistance. I’d like to see hundreds of women (and even men, perhaps), Muslims and non-Muslims alike, gathering in public in Paris and all wearing the burqa. Then see what the police do.



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Peter

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm


It’s a testament to the U.S. that this kind of proposal would be rejected here, even by the most outspoken critics of Muslims. I live near a large mosque (okay, it’s the infamous Northern Virginia “terrorist” mosque) and I sometimes see women wearing a niqqaab or an abaya, which covers some of the face. Yet, I can’t imagine anywhere in the U.S. actually suggesting a ban.
I was recently in Belgium and France–and staying near Muslim neighborhoods–and saw few women in Burqas. There was a story yesterday about Spanish towns with no Muslims banning the burga. It’s very reactionary and threat to religious rights.



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Eric

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm


Rod, I’m curious, why did you support the Swiss minaret ban, but not the burqa ban?



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Dave Moran

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm


The French ban only relates to face coverings, so the bit about “Christian nuns in the pre-Sister Stretchpants era used to dress much the same way (minus the face veil)” is an irrelevance. No one is trying to prevent muslims, nuns, monks or darth vadar from wearing a full robe and hood if the so choose, it’s just hiding the face (and identity) that’s at issue.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm


Good question, Eric. To erect a minaret in a Swiss village would be to permanently change the skyline of a traditional village (N.B., I would also be opposed to commercial construction that changed village skylines too much). If the people living there don’t like the way a proposed mosque, or commercial building, will change the public space, then I defend their right to put their veto into law. I don’t believe — though I could be wrong — that minarets on mosques are necessary to worship. For a similar reason, I would be sympathetic to a ban on tall church steeples in Islamic towns. If they were talking about banning mosques themselves, I would oppose it.
Women wearing burqas in public do not effect a permanent change on the built environment the same way architecture does.
Let me say too that if a Swiss Christian congregation wanted to erect an ultra-modernist church in one of those villages, I would oppose that, and encourage zoning ordinances forbidding such things as a violation of the traditional aesthetic character of the town. But I wouldn’t give a fig if the women of the town wanted to walk down the street in dresses made of tinfoil.



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Eric

posted July 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm


“To erect a minaret in a Swiss village would be to permanently change the skyline of a traditional village (N.B., I would also be opposed to commercial construction that changed village skylines too much).”
I have two objections to this argument, Rod (if I’m wrong factually on the nature of the ban, please correct me):
1) The ban singled out minarets and only minarets. If the Swiss were really interested in keeping their towns traditionally picturesque, they could do that with building codes that would apply generally and fairly without singling out a particular minority.
2) The ban applies everywhere in Switzerland, including large modern metropolises like Zurich and Geneva where concerns about preserving traditional architecture are much less signficiant.
I don’t think the Swiss were trying to protect the traditional appearance of their towns. I think the minaret ban was a cowardly, passive-aggressive means of bullying an unpopular minority population.
But let’s assume I’m wrong and that the minaret ban was only intended as an aesthetic, architectural measure and that the French burqa ban is only intended as a means of protecting and empowering women (more likely, in my opinion). You have two measures that restrict freedom of religious expression (even if building minarets is not necessary to Islamic worship, it’s still a form of religious expression), one of which is intended to protect and empower women, and the other of which is intended as a city beautification measure. Which cause merits restricting religious expression more – women’s rights or architectural preservation?



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Mark

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:08 pm


Hmm, I think this is less about any principled objection to burqas on the part of the French than it is about their general fear, distrust, and dislike for Muslims. I think they see their ethnic landscape transforming before their eyes and don’t like it and, in the coming years, will be undertaking even more drastic reactionary measures to discourage further immigration and marginalize the Muslim community.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:09 pm


If I understand correctly, the law would ban any face covering.
Farewell costume ball masks!



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Hector

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:16 pm


Count me as an enthusiastic supporter of this burqa ban. Societies need to have norms, and shared values, and boundaries, and one of the shared values in a place like France is that women are equal beings deserving of human dignity. I don’t think we should be tolerant of people who want women to wrap themselves up so that not even their faces are visible. Part of the benefit of this ban is that it’s a rebuke not only to Salafist and Wahabi Muslims, but also to cultural-relativist liberals who think that individuals should be able to do whatever they please without having any shared community norms at all.
And I agree with Eric, clearly maintaining the human dignity of women is more important then city beautification.



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stari_momak

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:19 pm


Eric and AC obviously would deny white, Western, Christians any means of protecting their traditional societies.
Let’s be clear about this…this is about expansion of non-Western, non-Christian peoples into the West’s homelands. Those to object to such minor measures as burqua bans are typically those who object to major measures, such as immigration restriction and encouraging immigrants and their children to go home. These same people are not out campaigning for the rights of Filipinos in the Gulf to practice their Xianity. Its beyond a double standard, it is hate.



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kenneth

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm


Allowing burqas alters something much more profound than the “built” environment. It changes the social environment. We have problems with burqas because hiding one’s face is not, outside of certain festival occaisions, considered civilized behavior in the West. It is not something done by people of goodwill.
Moreover, we’re not really talking about a woman’s “right to choose” a burqa. Ultimately, we’re talking about a move that would allow fundamentalist Islam to re-program the social environment so that burqas are the norm. Some will wear them out of preference, the rest to avoid getting beat down by sticks in some alley by unofficial enforcers of piety. I’m all about religious freedom (it’s the only reason I haven’t been burnt at the stake), but some of what traditionalist Islam is demanding crosses a basic line by demanding what is effectively a separate legal system for itself.
Emigration to another country and culture requires some level of accomodation for the rules and sensibilities of the host culture. That doesn’t mean the “melting pot” ideal of old where you had to shed all traces of your ethnicity and custom, but it does mean that France or London or Detroit is not just a branch office of tribal Pakistan with higher wages. To help Muslims grasp the concept, I tell them that we’ll accept the burqa in our streets when they allow Western women to walk around Riyadh in bikinis.



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Mere Catholic

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:25 pm


“Christian nuns in the pre-Sister Stretchpants era used to dress much the same way (minus the face veil)”
I cannot decide which- burqas or stretchpants- are more of an affront to the dignity of women.



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Rick

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:26 pm


Rod, in the same vein as Eric’s question about your support for the minaret ban, what about your support of state intervention in Aborginal communities where there are harmful cultural traditions of alcoholism, neglect, and abuse?
How harmful is the burqua to French Muslim women who grow up in families or communities where wearing it is expected — and enforced?
What message does the burqua convey to young girls in these communities, as yet unveiled, about their status vis a vis men…their vocational opportunities…their freedom to marry or refuse marriage to whom they chose…their civil rights?
How many women who wear burquas are actually doing so freely and intentionally?
How many are simply following expectations and adopting a harmful cultural tradition?
How many are coerced?



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Roland de Chanson

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:33 pm


Mark: I think this is less about any principled objection to burqas on the part of the French than it is about their general fear, distrust, and dislike for Muslims. I think they see their ethnic landscape transforming before their eyes and don’t like it and, in the coming years, will be undertaking even more drastic reactionary measures to discourage further immigration and marginalize the Muslim community.
There may be some truth in this.
On the other hand, the refined aesthetic sensibilities of the French naturally chafe at arbitrary artificial restrictions on the exposition of feminine pulchritude. Beauty and its cult are the natural religion of the French. Marseille was originally a Greek town that worshiped Aphrodite among its gods and goddesses. Mais aujourd’hui? Hélas!
Yes, I’m sure it’s the latter.



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Hector

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:38 pm


Rick,
Great point. The burqa, and all it represents, are a toxic virus that poisons every community in which they are present. To tolerate it would be a suicidal act on the part of any Western society. If France allows the burqa they will all be worse off for it, most especially the women.
We don’t allow people to ‘choose’ to use cocaine or heroin, so I fail to see why we should allow them to choose to wear the burqa. Just as cocaine is a physical poison, the kind of oppression of women represented by the burqa is an equally great spiritual poison. A healthy and decent society cannot be indifferent to the choices people make, and sometimes it needs to intervene to save people from themselves, as it does in the case of recreational drug use.
No tolerance for barbarism.



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stari_momak

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm


Mark and Kenneth are absolutely right… but Mark is wrong in his wording and tone.
Wanting to preserve the buildings while acquiescing to total demographic makeover shows some seriously messed up priorities.



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Rick

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm


Hector and kenneth,
Excellent posts.
One additional point: Theodore Dalrymple has written often and movingly about the plight of young Muslim women in the UK whose families withhold them from school and later force them into unwanted marriages. He writes of girls who have committed suicide at the prospect of an unwanted marriage, others who have been severely beaten for resisting, and others who comply and slip into a life of despondency and despair.
From Dalrymple’s reporting I believe coerced marriages and removal of girls from school is prevalent in the British Muslim community — far more so than the burqua.
It’s not hard for me to imagine the same obtains in France.
What responsibilities does the state have to these Muslim women to enforce their right to an education and their freedom to marry or refuse marriage, in the face of strong family opposition?
Will banning the burqua help the state protect the civil rights of these women, to choose their marriage partners and pursue an education?
If a burqua ban is unjust, what other measures do you suggest by which the authorities can safeguard Muslim women’s civil rights?



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MB

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:51 pm


I am completely in support of banning the burka. Acquiescing in having “just a few” completely cover gives a societal ok. (I would not ok having someone completely uncover, either – society can say no to that as well). It is not a neutral – it is a test. I am sure France would not allow men to wear balaclavas in public. England sure doesn’t. I think Western countries in which Muslim immigrants are claiming that they must preserve women’s modesty with burkas (niqabs etc) should suggest that men whose eyes are so rapacious should wear blindfolds. It would be a lot cheaper, and much more comfortable for the women (or of course they could ask the men to wear totally enveloping garments around the head, which would obscure if not completely blindfold them)



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Peter

posted July 13, 2010 at 1:53 pm


Once you start going down the road of state intervention on “religion that violates the rights of women,” you quickly find yourself smack up against ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Amish, and even the Vatican. Be very careful about how far you take that argument.



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Marian

posted July 13, 2010 at 2:08 pm


“No one is trying to prevent muslims, nuns, monks or darth vadar from wearing a full robe and hood if the so choose”
Well, actually, religious habits used to be banned in both France and Mexico (the latter as recently as the 1950s.) No time to look this up, but there are probably still jurisdictions that ban them.
Captcha: disunity to



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Marian

posted July 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm


“I think Western countries in which Muslim immigrants are claiming that they must preserve women’s modesty with burkas (niqabs etc) should suggest that men whose eyes are so rapacious should wear blindfolds. It would be a lot cheaper, and much more comfortable for the women (or of course they could ask the men to wear totally enveloping garments around the head, which would obscure if not completely blindfold them)”
I have long believed that most modesty regulations are conspiracies of the textile industry.



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Eric

posted July 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm


I think some posters have completely misunderstood the point I made to Rod. I am not defending or attacking the French burqa ban. While I disapprove of the Swiss minaret ban, attacking that is not my main point either.
We all, I think, would prefer that the state not intrude upon forms of religious expression as a default position. If we are going to assent to intrusions on religious expression, we need to have clear ideas of what priorities justify doing so. Is architectural preservation enough? Additionally, it’s worth thinking about the fact that in the cases of the minaret and burqa bans, the targeted religion happens to be an unpopular minority. I think it’s worth reflecting on the relative ease of inflicting these sorts of burdens when you know they won’t fall on you.



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Alicia

posted July 13, 2010 at 2:29 pm


The other side of this argument is that I’ve read a number of articles saying that Muslim women in France face intense pressure to wear the Burqa from Islamists, or else. In some cases, women who don’t wear the “appropriate” dress are threatened with rape, or discouraged from going to school. Some may not be fighting for their rights to wear the Burqa but rather giving in to pressure so that they can have some kind of normal life, with education and career opportunities. The Burqa ban may not be about suppressing freedom of religion, but about ending a noxious cultural practice such as foot-binding or widow-burning.
On the other hand, I believe that any Muslim woman who wants to wear the head scarf and modest clothing should have every right to do so. As long as women are granted the same rights and opportunities as men, it is immaterial to me whether they want to wear jeans and a tee-shirt, or a head scarf and long skirt. I’ve heard a lot that Muslim women in traditional dress feel it “frees them” but I get the sense that part of what it frees them from is the pressure to dress traditionally.



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Allen

posted July 13, 2010 at 2:51 pm


The burqa is a vile affront to the dignity of women, and claiming that such a morbid contrivance serves the virtue of modesty is insanity. By all means, ban the dehumanizing shroud, but let France (and the US as well, for that matter) first and foremost deal with the epidemic of violence against women in Muslim immigrant communities, remove the threat so many of these women live under, and then perhaps the ban can be revisited.
For that matter — institute the ban, but open up emigration services to assist anyone who values the subjugation of women more than Western material comforts in moving back to the Third World. They are free to treat their wives and daughters however they like back home, after all.



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Al-Dhariyat

posted July 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm


I’m good with this law being enacted in France. I buy the argument that it is part of French culture to show one’s face and obviously the burqa runs smack into that aesthetic. Some things need not be universal.
I’m not so sure that I would support a burqa ban in the USA though. If ours is an immigrant nation, then there has to be a national conversation about what constitutes a greater Amrikan culture. And while I do loathe the burqa especially if interpreted as part of Islam, I’m not sure it’s always my right to tell another American what sort of America she lives in.
I realize there are slippery slopes in my stances but I’m ok with that too. Conversation takes place on the slopes.
slightly disturbing captcha: Madonna bonar



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Alicia

posted July 13, 2010 at 3:47 pm


Al-Dhariyat, you raise an interesting point about the U.S., and I tend to agree with you.
However, I believe that the U.S. has more of a tradition of defending freedom of expression and freedom of speech and religion than France (however important the contribution of the French Enlightenment to these concepts) and I believe the U.S. has also been more successful in assimilating immigrant communities, and the U.S. has more of an “anything goes” free-for-all tradition concerning dress and so forth. I think these qualities of American culture make it less likely that the Burqa would become an issue in the U.S.
This is anything but a simple issue, but I don’t agree with Rod that it boils down to a question of religious freedom. I think there is much more to it than that.



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My Name

posted July 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm


I lived in student family housing in Calgary for a few years, where a lot of international students and their families lived, with a substantial contingent of Middle Eastern Muslims. There were a good number of women who wore the niqab (kinda like a loose ninja mask with eyes showing) and a smaller number who wore the burqa (full covering, including screens over the eyes). Along with many parents, they used to congregate at the playground. The burqa and niqab crowd always had a hard time dealing with me, presumably because I’m a man. Trivial things like returning a dropped item or handing over a bumped-and-bruised crying child were completely awkward, since they had to avoid touching me with their gloved hands.
I’ve also been told directly by some of the husbands that they need the burqa/niqab because if their wives didn’t have it, they would not be allowed out of the house at all. I recall several people commenting on how nice the husbands were for doing the laundry (in the communal laundry room) and going grocery shopping until I reminded them that it was to prevent their wives from leaving the apartment alone.
I give these stories to show how these garments prevent normal interaction in the first place, and allow what little interaction does happen in the second.



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Judith

posted July 13, 2010 at 4:15 pm


Rod, your comment, “But banning the burqa strikes me as unjust”
Maybe so, in the abstract. But even back in the early 70′s, before the Islamic revival, women in London regularly used the full body veil to steal stuff from stores, and it was a huge problem for retailers.
If women want to be fully veiled, well, there are always societies that keep women out of sight. But being fully veiled, and taking the advantages of a free society is impossible.
And if you were a small store owner, or a large bank manager, would you want a variety of populations of people walking in with their faces covered?
I support the French legal initiative against the veil. Still won’t make up for WWII though.
captcha says “damsels of” and all I can add to make it perfect is “hypocrisy”



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CAP

posted July 13, 2010 at 4:38 pm


would face-covering be okay, so long as you identified yourself as not being muslim?
http://blog.norway.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/dscf1081.jpg



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Lisa

posted July 13, 2010 at 4:40 pm


To cover one’s face is sinister and threatening here. Women have no more right to wear the burqa or the niqab here than I have to wear a bikini in Saudi Arabia.
Remember your post about believing in one’s own culture and people?



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Alicia

posted July 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm


I don’t know, Lisa. This, to me, is a very complex issue.
It is certainly not illegal in the U.S. for people to wear ski masks in winter, and I’ve seen people wearing them on the metro (not on the platform but inside the warm train) which struck me as more than a bit strange. We do have a natural association between people covering their faces and crime and threat, yet it is not illegal for people to cover their faces in the U.S.
I’ve seen women wearing the veil (not burqas) on the metro also, and it struck me that at least some of them were doing it more to get attention than out of modesty. (And some are merely following their interpretation of Islam.) But, in a country where covering the face isn’t illegal, shouldn’t these women have the right to wear the veil, even if it makes some people uncomfortable and strikes others as strange or sinister?



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John P. Pavelec

posted July 13, 2010 at 5:02 pm


I don’t particularly care for the burqa or any other religious tradition but this law clearly violates the conservative and conforming Muslim woman’s right to free exercise. This practice might, to some of us, be considered demeaning or beneath their dignity but the same can be said about a Southern Baptist woman’s obligation to “be submissive toward their husbands” or to the Catholic woman who accepts her Church’s position on priest ordination.
Decisions about religious conformance should be made at the individual level, whether we find the practice to be particularly misguided, stupid and/or abhorrent or not. Enlightenment comes from within.
The parade of horrors which prior commentators have listed can be countered without imposing this nationwide ban on conservative Muslim women and the ban would not, in either case, protect the women from that parade of horrors. The ban would merely force the Islamists underground. It will not prevent Islamic men from denying their women the right to work or shop or any other activity we would normally take for granted.
The French, I am sure, have a pretty sophisticated public education system which can be used to promote religious freedom and gender equality. They are under no obligation to recognize Sharia law or apply it when dealing with the Muslims in civil or tort law. They can use religious coercion as grounds for a divorce and grant the aggrieved or wounded party in such a marriage favorable treatment whenever there is a dispute concerning child custody or property division. And law enforcement will of course have to protect those who face “honor killing” threats.



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pam munro

posted July 13, 2010 at 5:57 pm


As a longtime feminist, I have to chime in AGAINST burkas as being oppressive! Women allowed their feet to be bound, too – but it was misogynist, unjust & ultimately BANNED! The French have a right to say “This is FRANCE – & this is the way we do things HERE or otherwise we won’t be FRENCH.”



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Hector

posted July 13, 2010 at 6:30 pm


Re: The burqa is a vile affront to the dignity of women, and claiming that such a morbid contrivance serves the virtue of modesty is insanity
Amen, amen.
Allowing the burka in the name of religious tolerance is just an example of political correctness and suicidal cultural relativism run amock, and I’m surprised that Rod supports it. The creeps who want women to wear burkas are the same creeps that tried to get him fired from his job for referring to a murderous Pakistani mob as ‘savages’.



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Peter

posted July 13, 2010 at 6:47 pm


Don’t kid yourself. A county that will ban burgas will have no problem tossing homeschooling Christian parents in prison, banning yamikas, and trying to shut down the Catholic cathedral because it is oppressing women. Any reigious person who lives outside the culture is next.



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stefanie

posted July 13, 2010 at 7:20 pm


Outside of Halloween or Mardi Gras (for instance), or ski masks in extreme climates, it’s not tenable in a modern society under the threat of terrorism to allow the face to be covered in public. If that interferes with “religious freedom,” so be it. The common good of people keeping their faces *visible* outweighs the perceived need of *some* Muslim women to completely cover their faces. Many Muslim women cover their hair and the rest of their bodies; they’re still identifiable when out in public.



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caroline

posted July 13, 2010 at 7:36 pm


Is there such a thing as a burqua pattern? What kind of cloth are they made of? Do women make them for themselves? Can I buy one in a store or mail order it from somewhere?



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public_defender

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:00 pm


I can’t believe this is a debatable question. Of course, if a person’s faith requires more conservative dress than the rest of society, that should be just fine with very, very few exceptions (jobs that require uniforms, true safety concerns, identification when needed, etc.).
As to the “when in Rome” argument, look, if an Amish woman goes to LA or Miami, she should be able to dress as her faith dictates. And as Dreher pointed out, burqas aren’t that much more conservative than what many nuns traditionally wear.
I can see that some women might feel coerced by their families to wear burqas, but there are some battles that Western Christians cannot fight for Muslim women, and this is one of them. This change must come from within, or it will not come.
Finally, look at traditional male clothing in Saudi Arabia. It isn’t much different than a burqa.



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Jillian

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:08 pm


Europe has no deserts and therefore no native hot desert peoples. (Though in recent centuries the Spanish have so deforested and desertified portions of Spain that this could be changing.) There is historically no cultural understanding of hot desert life among premodern Europeans. And consequently they have throughout their history comprehensively rejected any and all hot desert peoples’ traditional cultures, conventions, and religions as unwarranted, irrational, immoral, and barbaric. This is the root of historical European/Christian anti-Semitism and presently an ethnically broader anti-Muslimism (which can be wonderfully harmonized and rationalized by being pro-Israel, which European Neonazi groups are). It’s a notoriously ugly side of pre-Christian and Christian European tradition and, er, civilization.
As always, I recommend Boman’s post-Holocaust “Hebrew Thought Compared to Greek” and the largely pre-Holocaust “On Judaism” compilation of Martin Buber essays/lectures for more on the stakes and reasons of European/Near Eastern cultural conflict. (Despite the title, Boman is mostly interested in the so-called German-Jewish symbiosis. I think he gets it right.)
I’d be fine with banning burqas, Hector, if we’re consistent and at the same time ban culturally anachronistic qua reactionary body-worn propaganda such as chastity rings, crucifix pendants, cowboy hats and boots, etc.
Rod’s running wishful concept of the individual Believer being conceded a mobile invisible church wall around her within which all rights are absolutized in her favor is also intriguing. This invisible wall can apparently be placed at national borders, at village borders, at the house door, or around the individual (at perhaps arms’ length) as the need arises. I have to admit it seems like a recipe for contradictions and chaos and confusions if actually implemented. But it would definitely liven things up. Complicated religious protections tend to lead to a great deal of creativity dodging them, tendentious argument, rewriting of dictionaries, throwing of stones, undergrounds for vice, and a generally interesting civil life as any Israeli or Saudi Arab would be able to tell you.



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Jon

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:17 pm


Re: Though in recent centuries the Spanish have so deforested and desertified portions of Spain that this could be changing
Nothing recent about it: Iberia, Italy and the Balkans were denuded of their native forests millennia ago when people first started farming in Europe. And their climate and fecundity have been altered permanently by that fact.



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Lisa

posted July 13, 2010 at 8:19 pm


Some of you are thinking perhaps of the abaya which isn’t so different from what nuns traditionally wore. The burqa covers the body entirely and there is a mesh over the eyes to allow the wearer to see in a limited fashion without being seen at all. Cover the face and you take covering to a different level which is an offense in our culture.
From the oppressing women side of the coin, the burqa puts women at risk for injury because they can’t see, because the fabric catches on something, or catches fire. It allows men to dehumanize women – when people take hostages they intend to kill, they very often hood them so they can’t see their faces.
Words worth looking up, in order of coverage: hijab, chador, abaya, niqab, burqa. We can put up with the first three, the last two, we shouldn’t.
I have enough cultural confidence to say, as the French do, hell no, it doesn’t belong here. Hell yes, it is an existential threat.



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public_defender

posted July 13, 2010 at 9:14 pm


Lisa,
You present a strong case that it is immoral to force a woman to wear a burqa. You present no case that it is wrong for the government to force her not to wear one against her will.
Women have the right to “subjugate” themselves. Many liberals disapprove of the Southern Baptist concept of women being submissive to their husbands, but we don’t call for the Government to ban Southern Baptist marriage. Many feminists disapprove of women taking years or decades off of the career ladder to take care of families while their husbands have jobs outside the home. We don’t ban stay-at-home moms. We also let women take their clothes off on camera. Is that more or less demeaning that allowing them to chose to wear a burqa?
If government can use its power to bar behavior that 51% believe “subjugates” women, you might be very unhappy with how that power is used if you are part of the 49%.
So if you don’t want women to wear a burqa, you are perfectly free to try to persuade them not to. But they can choose not to listen to you.
Bottom line: Using the power of government to force women not to wear a burqa is as religiously intolerant and bigoted as using the power of government to force women to wear a burqa.



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Lisa

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm


You misunderstand me, PD. I am saying that we of the West have the right to ban what is grossly offensive to us and to our civilization, whether that is nude bathing at the community pool (offensive here, not in parts of Europe,) or concealing the face in public. It is our homelands in question, our culture and our civilization, and we have the right to define and defend them.
I am not arguing against the burqa or the niqab because they oppress women – that is a side issue. If Muslim women want to keep entirely covered to forbidden men or to non-Muslim women – that is their right, and they can stay in their home countries or stay in their homes in purdah, if they happen to be here.
And nudists can enjoy themselves out of public view, and so can Wiccans go sky-clad, if you want the religious angle.



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hlvanburen

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:10 pm


It never ceases to amaze me how so many critics of Christopher Hitchens, when given an opportunity, will begin repeating almost verbatim some of his harshest statements.



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Hector

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:10 pm


Its depressing, but altogether too typical of the cultural relativist liberals, that Public Defender thinks that people should be ‘free’ to wear the burqa. Same way as we should be ‘free’ to ruin our lives with coke or meth, I suppose. Oh wait, we have laws against that.
As a society, we hold that the use of hard drugs is such a serious physical, medical, psychological, and spiritual threat to the human person that we make it illegal for people to use them, even if they choose to do so. That is ample precedent for forbidding women to wear the burqa, even if we choose to do so. If we believe that the dignity and integrity of the human person are truly inviolable, then that means that it is wrong for a person themselves to violate them, even by their own choice. A civilised society must hold that some things are more important then individual choice, and that there are certain kinds of assaults upon human dignity that people are forbidden to do to themselves. Using drugs is one of these. COvering oneself up as though one is the property of one’s husband, is another.
Public Defender, I’d be happy to make it illegal for a woman to take off her clothes on camera. I suspect most social moderates and social conservatives would feel the same way. You might be surprised by this fact, but not all of us have gleefully embraced the culture of pornography. The only reason we don’t push for such laws is because the ship of fools that calls itself the United States Supreme Court has ruled that it’s unconstitutional.



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Hector

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:11 pm


Lisa,
Amen, amen!
The burqa is indeed an existential threat to our civilisation, and it cannot and must not be tolerated.



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Renée

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:30 pm


I don’t know if it has been mentioned as I have not read all the comments (and I do apologize if it has), but banning the burqa and niqab because they subjugate women is rather counterproductive. For women who do wear them because of familial pressure rather than personal desire, the burqa and niqab allow them to leave their homes under the “appropriate” wraps their cultural modesty requires. Now, those women will merely be forced to remain indoors as they will have no “appropriate” covering. It seems to me that this step will actually do more harm to women whose coverings are signs of oppression than it can possibly do to help them.



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Peter

posted July 13, 2010 at 10:39 pm


It is our homelands in question, our culture and our civilization, and we have the right to define and defend them.
In our culture and civilization, people get schooling in actual schools and aren’t forced to stay locked in the houses being homeschooled. Are you with me, Lisa, in banning homeschooling because we have the right to define and defend our culture?
What other religious liberties are you prepared to toss out the window in order to protect our culture and civilization, Lisa and Hector?



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Alicia

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:24 pm


I don’t think the French ban on the Burqa is a blow against religious freedom at all. As many have pointed out, the point of the Burqa is not modesty. There are plenty of less radical options for modest dress if a Muslim women so chooses. But, burqas quite literally do hobble women, in much the same way as foot-binding once did.
There is always a tension between the freedom of the individual or groups (including religious freedom) and the requirements of a particular society or culture, and setting boundaries and limits on both religion and the larger society does not lead to a slippery slope in which all religious freedoms are threatened. As Lisa said above (I’m going to quote you here, Lisa) the options for covering a Muslim woman, from least coverage to greatest are: “hijab, chador, abaya, niqab, burqa.” It is conceivable that a free society may permit some of those options while banning others without a significant loss to anyone’s freedom of religion.



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Alicia

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm


To add a more personal comment to what I said above, I’ve attended a number of discussions with Muslim women, and have also participated meetings where the veil was discussed. From my experience, many Muslim women claim that wearing the veil (in whatever form) “frees them” and that they wear it by choice and preference. The thing is, I’m not sure I believe them.
During the women’s suffrage movement, there were plenty of women who said they didn’t want the vote because they preferred to stay up on the pedestal upon which their husbands had placed them and not dirty their hands with politics. Not sure these women were telling the truth, either, but they probably believed they were telling the truth. As someone once said, good salesmen (and women) come to believe their own B.S.



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Coleman Glenn

posted July 13, 2010 at 11:38 pm


There was a fascinating quote from Philippe Portier in yesterday’s Globe and Mail explaining why freedom of religion is less of a concern in France than it is in Canada (and presumably America):
“G&M: We’ve had some of this debate in Canada. Has France had less success in integrating Islam?
PP: You don’t have the same political philosophy. The republican philosophy is very French and we think the freedom of the subject as an autonomous person is more important than freedom of religion. [Canada has] a liberal philosophy, which thinks that individuals must choose their own way of life and in that way of life the freedom of religion is quite important.”
I’m not sure exactly what he means by “the freedom of the subject as an autonomous person,” and how that’s different from freedom of religion, but it sounds a little scary to me – like an enforced freedom. If the French government decides that all religion puts shackles on people’s spirits, will they outlaw religion altogether? It won’t get to that point, of course, but the idea of a government restricting individual liberty in the name of “freedom as an autonomous person” makes my skin crawl a little.



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Cecelia

posted July 14, 2010 at 12:41 am


Since the chief French Iman (is this the correct term? If not I apologize for my ignorance and will be happy to be better informed) has said that there is no religious obligation for women to wear the burqua then I fail to see how this is a freedom of religion issue – others have also pronounced that there is no theological requirement for the bur qua and it is a custom which comes from specific areas of the middle east. I think we go off on the wrong tangent if we persist in seeing this as “freedom of religion”. I’d note too that female genital mutilation is also a ostensible religious requirement – yet we have no problem with it being outlawed here in the US as well as in Europe.
My understanding of why the burqua is that 1) woman incite lust in men 2) this affects the males ability to think and act rationally 3)woman must therefore cover their lust inciting bodies head to toe. Now perhaps I am not correct in my understanding but to me woman are being made responsible for male feelings as well as the assumption here being that men are incapable of handling these feelings of lust. I would suggest men are responsible as well as the source of their own feelings and instead of shrouding women teach men discipline. Why make the female pay for what is apparently a male problem?
Finally – the whole thing looks like a fear of the female to me – and that there are so many people in this planet who fear the female and hence think they must engage in all sorts of oppression of the female (female castration being another example)is frankly a bit frightening.
So I do find the general approach which claims females need to be controlled be it their dress or their right to have intact genitalia to be very disturbing.
As for the French – I think the best way to protect one’s society is to live the values you claim that society is based on. It seems clear to me an American ban on the burqua would not be consistent with our values and traditions – but France is another place – so it may be appropriate for them.
In general though I look forward to the elimination of all practices which are about controlling the female and then trying to pass it off as “religion”.



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public_defender

posted July 14, 2010 at 6:03 am


Cecelia writes:
Since the chief French Ima[m] . . . has said that there is no religious obligation for women to wear the burqua then I fail to see how this is a freedom of religion issue -
The imam is right–Islam only requires modesty in dress, but that modesty is culturally determined. But some Muslims believe (rightly or wrongly) that Islam requires a burqa, and it’s not the job of the State to determine whether you are correctly interpreting your faith. I hope it would be easy to see the danger in any other path.
Lisa writes:
It is our homelands in question, our culture and our civilization, and we have the right to define and defend them.
A burqa is not a threat to our culture or civilization, but your view of religious freedom is. Choosing what clothing to wear based on your faith is as close to the core of religious freedom as you can get. Your attitude about going back to their “home countries” if they don’t want to conform their dress to popular standards is, well, a very Saudi point of view.
Lisa also writes:
I am not arguing against the burqa or the niqab because they oppress women – that is a side issue. . . .
Then that really leaves you with no reason to ban them. One of the great things about the US is that we generally let people practice their faiths as long as that practice doesn’t hurt others. The burqa may hurt the person who wears it, but it her choice in the US. WIth a few exceptions,you have the right to do things that your faith requires even if I think they are unwise or weird.
True, people of faith generally have to follow the general laws, but a law banning burqa would be a law that singled out a particular faith, and the First Amendment does not allow that. See this case.
There is no Islam exception to the First Amendment. The real threat to American culture and civilization comes from those who would create one. If we ever create an Islam exception to the First Amendment, no one is safe.



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AC

posted July 14, 2010 at 7:29 am


Way to take down a straw man, Stari. My position is purely a libertarian/free speech position: if I (or anyone else) wants to wear a burqa (or a full length hooded and veiled bathrobe, for that matter) and go to the movies, or buy groceries, or whatever, I should be free to do so. If they ask for ID for a movie or to buy alcohol, I should have to show my ID (which is required for safety reasons to show my face).
That’s it. I can wear what I want- provided it is not considered “indecent”. If a restaurant or private business has a dress code, they can bar me (or anyone) from entering if we are not wearing their approved outfit.
It has nothing to do with immigration, or even culture, except that in my culture (American culture), people can wear and display what they wish, within the guidelines of safety and decency.



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Hector

posted July 14, 2010 at 8:35 am


Public Defender,
Give me a break. We aren’t talking about the U.S., we are talking about France. I see no reason why France is bound by the U.S. constitution. I’m extremely annoyed by this tendency to impose U.S. values on other countries. In any case, I’m not sure that U.S. law does protect the burqa. We don’t allow people to practice female genital mutilation in the name of Islam, after all.
What’s ironic is that you babble a lot about freedom, but you want to strip the French of one of the most important freedoms, the freedom to shape their society according to their code of values. Our values are not merely something we practice in our individual lives, they are something that we live out in our societies and communities. The freedom to pass judgment is an important freedom, but you want to strip France of that freedom. You demonstrate quite well what the current pope calls the dictatorship of relativism, in which people and societies are forbidden from passing judgment by the idea that all cultures and all lifestyles are equal. Which is as severe a constraint as any other.
France, unlike (arguably) America, is under no requirement to tolerate this bit of Wahabi barbarism, and it’s a very good thing that she isn’t going to.
Re: This practice might, to some of us, be considered demeaning or beneath their dignity but the same can be said about a Southern Baptist woman’s obligation to “be submissive toward their husbands” or to the Catholic woman who accepts her Church’s position on priest ordination.
Ah, the dumb moral equivalency brigade is out in full force, I see. As is the person who compared cross pendants (I wear one of those, fwiw) to burqas. Give me a break. If you think a cross pendant is the moral equivalency of a burqa, then you’re a moral idiot.



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Hector

posted July 14, 2010 at 8:53 am


In a little more detail, I thoroughly disagree with and disapprove of the Southern Baptist position that women ought to be ‘submissive’ to their husband. But a general requirement to be ‘submissive’ is rather different from a very specific and very onerous requirement that women live out that submission in a particular way. The law can’t prohibit believing a particular idea (though I think we should encourage people to believe in equality in marriage and relationships) but it can ban certain practices. We don’t allow people to drop acid and then claim that it helps them get in touch with the divine, after all.
As for priestly ordination, while I disagree with the position that only men can be ordained, I think it’s merely a mistaken position, not a horribly misogynistic one. It has some compelling logic behind it, after all. Catholics do not (unlike Wahabis) hold that women can’t be political leaders, doctors, teachers, lectors, lay eucharistic ministers, theologicans, mystics, saints, or other important positions of authority. They hold that there’s one very specific role (administering the sacraments) that women can’t do. The analogy is with motherhood. Priests are called to perfect self-giving sacrifice, in the same way that Christ was an example of perfect sacrifice. The argument is that women already have a vocation which calls them to perfect self-giving sacrifice, and which is (biologically) not open to men: motherhood. Women lacking the right to be a priest is no more an oppression then men lacking the right to be a mother.
Now, I disagree with that argument, but I recognize there are many people who feel otherwise (including many of my fellow Anglicans) and I believe that position at least has some compelling logic behind it. It’s hardl oppressive in the same way as the burqa. Do you really think lacking the freedom to walk around outside one’s house with one’s face exposed is morally equivalent to lacking the freedom to be a priest?



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Peter

posted July 14, 2010 at 9:04 am


Do you really think lacking the freedom to walk around outside one’s house with one’s face exposed is morally equivalent to lacking the freedom to be a priest?
To some Muslims, possibly yes.



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Rick

posted July 14, 2010 at 9:20 am


Are you with me, Lisa, in banning homeschooling because we have the right to define and defend our culture?
Speaking for myself, I am absolutely for strict regulation of homeschooling — meaning that parents who homeschool must satisfy public authorities that their children are being cared for and given an education of, at minimum, similar quality to that found in public schools.
Homeschooling should be allowed, provided independent authorities certify periodically that the children are well and meeting core standards.
Children have a right to an education that prepares them for an independent, productive adulthood — and a parent’s appeal to religious freedom is no excuse for failing to provide or ensure that education.
I know several Christian families who do an outstanding job homeschooling. Their children are as educated and accomplished as any I know.
But I also know of homeschooling families who may be well-intentioned but were poorly equipped or motivated to teach — and thus severely disadvantaged their kids, perhaps for life.
Less common but still real are the ignorant or even mentally ill parents, “full of passionate intensity,” at war with modern society in its entirety, who quarantine their children utterly and so render them virtually incapable of becoming independent, self-supporting adults.



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Peter

posted July 14, 2010 at 9:30 am


But Rick, you miss the point. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or noble homeschooling is. In Lisa and Hector’s world, the society’s mores and culture is more important than religious belief and therefore anything considered dangerous to the culture should be banned. Homeschooling is clearly dangerous so it needs to be banned if Lisa and Hector are in charge.



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Jon

posted July 14, 2010 at 9:55 am


Re: During the women’s suffrage movement, there were plenty of women who said they didn’t want the vote because they preferred to stay up on the pedestal upon which their husbands had placed them and not dirty their hands with politics.
And the reply should have been that they would be perfectly free not to vote, or pay one scintilla of attention to politics.



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Alicia

posted July 14, 2010 at 10:05 am


Hi, Peter. So, would banning widow-burning be an infringement on freedom of religion that might endanger your right to homeschool your children, in your opinion?
As Hector points out there is a difference between noxious beliefs (or beliefs that you or I but not a third party might find noxious) and noxious actions. Widow-burning may have been an accepted Hindu-practice, and the British imperialists who put a stop to it may have been evil imperialists, but ending widow-burning, as I am sure you would agree, was a net gain for humanity.



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Gerard

posted July 14, 2010 at 10:49 am


The burqa is a modern invention (last 20 years or so) and is not a ostentatious sign of religious zealotry. It is a cultural practice, which remains confined to a very small percentage of the population. As such, the author of this article makes an erroneous point when stating I think their freedom of religion is more important, and it should be respected’. Freedom of religion is respected in France. The burqa has nothing to do with Islam, and as such does not convey any religious connotation.
Wearing the burqa is sometimes an issue in the public realm, as exemplified by a few stories published in recent newspapers: women refusing to take it off, even in the confinement of a private room, in order to get an IV (and asking the nurse to put the IV through the burqa), or refusing to take it off when going for a surgery. Driving with a burqa, which significantly impacts how you see (width and quality of vision) can also be an issue. Let’s not even mention automatic radars and police controls…
Everyone talks about France and the burqa, but France is not the only one that bans it. So do Netherlands, Luxemburg and Belgium.



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Peter

posted July 14, 2010 at 11:05 am


So do Netherlands, Luxemburg and Belgium.
There are only about 50 women in all of Belgium who wear a Burqa. It was clearly an anti-Muslim decision. Same with the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
a difference between noxious beliefs (or beliefs that you or I but not a third party might find noxious) and noxious actions.
Women covering the heads and faces is not a noxious action no matter the security risk argument you can invent. If women voluntarily wear a burqa, would you consider that a noxious act?



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Gerard

posted July 14, 2010 at 11:19 am


Peter, we’re talking about principles, ideas, and cultural differences while trying to be open-minded, fair and non-opinionated. We do not need your made-up statistics or preconceived ideas. Thank you.



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Gerard

posted July 14, 2010 at 11:21 am


And yes, wearing a burqa can be a noxious act, to the self, when it hinders providing treatment or medical attention.



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Peter

posted July 14, 2010 at 11:31 am


We do not need your made-up statistics or preconceived ideas.
You’re right. Der Spiegel said the number of women who wear the Burqa in Belgium could be less than 30. My mistake.
http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,702668,00.html
we’re talking about principles, ideas, and cultural differences while trying to be open-minded, fair and non-opinionated.
I am too. Religious liberty, the right of self-determination, the right of personal autonomy are all important ideas that shouldn’t be violated based on “cultural differences” that are largely seeded in anti-Muslim beliefs.



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stefanie

posted July 14, 2010 at 11:49 am


Again, the French bill is NOT about religion. It is about *covering the face in public.* The bill was carefully crafted to avoid religious overtones (Neither Islam nor burqas are even mentioned.) With some exceptions for holidays, and for certain occupations (like medical personnel or welders), the bill bans the PUBLIC covering of the face so that identity is obscured.
And no, the burqa is not recent. Wealthy pre-Islamic women in both Central Asia and Byzantium wore burqas on occasion (poorer women had to work in the fields.) The custom persisted with Islam. That’s why you have so many different “covering” standards for women in Islamic countries round the globe; oftentimes the *pre*-Islamic convention was carried over.



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Peter

posted July 14, 2010 at 11:58 am


The bill was carefully crafted to avoid religious overtones
But that’s a rouse. A ban on homeschooling, for instance, is largely an attack on conservative Christians if they are 95% of homeschoolers. If you pass a law banning headcoverings in restaurants, for instance, it is a defacto attack on Jewish and Sikh men even if religion isn’t mentioned.



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Gerard

posted July 14, 2010 at 11:59 am


I think anyone would hard-pressed to find the exact number. 30 might refer to the number of fines given in Brussels alone last year for wearing the burqa (29 exactly).
http://mondeactu.com/a-la-une/belgique-la-burqa-hors-la-loi-4276.html
Cultural differences exist everywhere and do not need to always be amalgamated with religion, which is usually the conclusion too often jumped to by many – and in this case not even on valid grounds. I agree with you about the importance of self-determination and personal autonomy, however, and that is where drawing the line is touchy.



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Gerard

posted July 14, 2010 at 12:17 pm


Stephanie,
I was talking about wearing the burqa in France. Obviously the tradition of the burqa goes a lot further, and a lot farther (with the Pashtous for instance). Thanks for the extra info though.



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Alicia

posted July 14, 2010 at 1:54 pm


Hi, Peter. I agree. Women choosing to “cover” may not be a noxious act, but, as I said above, there are many options of coverage that protect modesty without necessitating the hobbling of women.
Freedom of religion is not an absolute any more than any other freedom. Unless you can get ascertain in every case that burqa-clad women are doing so out of choice, I think it is also tough to argue that a burqa ban would be impeding freedom of choice or freedom of religion, as there is evidence in many cases that women are coerced or pressured to wear the burqa.



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Thom

posted July 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm


I fought this battle too when I lived in Germany (shortly after they outlawed Scientology), but you’re basically trying to impose American values on French society. As an American with what I like to think are American values, I agree with you wholeheartedly on defending freedom of religion. But they just don’t see it that way over ‘cross the pond.



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The Anti-Gnostic

posted July 14, 2010 at 8:13 pm


Hey Rod. What do you think Constantine XI Paleologos would think of all this?



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The Anti-Gnostic

posted July 14, 2010 at 9:28 pm


“If ours is an immigrant nation, then there has to be a national conversation about what constitutes a greater Amrikan culture.”
The thinking of its founders seems to be that it was a nation of English revolutionaries, both ethnically and ideologically.
If it’s an “immigrant nation,” then it’s really just a zip code.
Why fight and die for a zip code? Just move to another one.



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