Veil of ignorance

by Henry on February 13, 2004

Begging to differ (politely) from a comment that Scott Marten makes on the French headscarf ban:

I just don’t understand how people who feel this law is justified because girls are being forced to wear headscarves can think that the solution is to force them to take it back off. If I hold a gun to your head and make you do something you don’t want to, is the correct police response to hold another gun to your head and tell you not to? What makes otherwise rational people think that the solution lies in that direction?

Well, perhaps because there are situations in which holding a gun to someone’s head is the right thing to do, and is indeed in the interests of the person at gunpoint. I don’t think that the headscarf ban is one of those situations, but …

Take two examples. Many countries impose jail sentences on people who pay kidnap ransoms. The reasoning is obvious – if nobody were willing to pay ransom (because they would face a hefty jail sentence) then nobody would have an incentive to kidnap; therefore everyone (except kidnappers) would be better off. Another example comes from legislation that imposes extraterritorial sanctions – country A seeks to impose penalties on executives from country B, who do business in country C (as when the US introduced legislation that would have sanctioned non-US nationals who did business with Cuba). Many countries have laws that forbid their citizens from complying with extraterritorial sanctions of this sort, thus protecting them to some extent from the application of the extraterritorial legislation (and perhaps encouraging the country that has tried to make a grab for extraterritorial power to rethink its demands). Again, these executives are better off because their government has effectively put a gun to their head, threatening to punish them if they comply with foreign laws that have extraterritorial reach.

This logic may apply to informal institutions too – the state may be quite justified in banning some opprobrious social practices that appear to be the result of individual choice, but that are in fact the result of pervasive social norms which drastically constrain the freedom of choice of the individuals involved. These individuals may actively ‘prefer’ to be forced to do something which they would otherwise find greatly difficult to do (people who break with informal norms may face exclusion from their community, violence, or death). The question then is whether or not the foulard is the result of constraint or the result of choice. If young women (1) really were being forced en masse to wear the veil by their parents and community leaders, (2) would strongly prefer to do otherwise, and (3) had few available choices if they broke with their community, then the French state would probably be justified in banning it. As matters stand, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that this is the case. Many young women from Islamic backgrounds seem to be adopting headscarfs as a matter of free choice rather than external compulsion. They’re not adapting the veil because they’re being forced to, or even because they’re ignorant – they’re adopting it as a form of self-expression. This suggests that France’s approach is unjustified – but other state rules banning informal social practices might not be.

{ 98 comments }

1

Scott Martens 02.14.04 at 12:36 am

Henry – the most frustrating thing about this whole debate is that I have heard at least three different reasons why girls might wear a veil. None of them seem to be addressed in any way by this ban. Girls who wear it freely are forced to choose betwen schools and a choice that really ought to be theirs alone. Girls with parents who force them to wear it have not been offered any real liberation and may instead be pulled out of the schools that might have freed them. Girls who are pressured to wear it out of peer pressure and fear of harassment are not going to be less pressured or afraid. I have yet to see anyone doing serious research on causes or reasons, just a lot of anecdotes and frankly xenophobic suspicion. The problem, one is constantly told, is some numerically small and ill-specified “them” who are extremists and who are making things difficult. The lack of critical thinking is amazing.

There was an especially big French jackass on BBC World just a few minutes ago, explaining how there was no problem for Sikhs in French schools because they had an agreement that they could wear a hair net. God, what is wrong with a country that thinks you negociate with a religion the way you negociate with a politcal party?

As for your more abstract point, these anti-extra-territorial laws are not enacted for the benefit of those they’re applied to and they often resent it a great deal. The American anti-Israeli embargo law, for instance, was a major barrier to American firms in the Middle East. Now, you can make a case that the American government’s measures to reinforce solidarity with Israel were good policy (I’m not making any sort of argument about the Middle East here) but there is no sense in which American companies that did business in the Middle East were happy about it.

Frankly, I don’t care about the rights of corporations. Corporations are the creation of society and are its servants. If they are made insecure by political games, better them than actual human beings. To put teenage girls in that situation with so little thought to the choices it forces on them is far less acceptable.

The anti-kidnapping argument is better, even though such laws are rarely enforced. (Now that I think about it, it’s also a good argument for gun control.) And I have seen a few people try to make a case that it applies here. But, I suspect the recipient of a ransom note for a kidnapped love one doesn’t think a lot about the legal consequences of paying it off. That is one of the reasons why those laws are so rarely enforced. They are like the laws forbidding suicide – they constitute an excuse for law enforcement to intervene, but virtually never lead to judicial sanction.

So I am inclined to see anti-ransom laws as a sort of legal loophole that allows police to step in without the consent of the victims, rather than as something comparable to my argument.

Lastly, the general argument for banning anti-social practices, even when they appear to be individual and voluntary. I agree that there are cases where such laws are justified, but again primarily to serve as a justification for police intervention, not as a cause for judicial sanction of the victims. An example is the Catch-22 that sex slaves face. Prostitution and illegal immigration are illegal, so girls who are enslaved and used for prostitution don’t talk to police even when they can do so, because the police who could free them will punish them for being the victims of a crime perpetrated against them. It would certainly be better for the victims if the laws on illegal immigration and prostitution weren’t in place or weren’t enforced.

That sort of Catch-22 is what is going to happen in France. The French state will punish the very people it claims to be so high-mindedly trying to save. It is the pitfall of this entire justification for public policies – it punishes victims.

Perhaps some larger social goal might be met by such a punishment. If I held a gun to someone’s head and forced them to kill a third person, the police might be justified in shooting my victim – the person I am forcing to kill – to save another person. But no comparable goal has been advanced here.

2

Randy McDonald 02.14.04 at 1:01 am

Scott:

God, what is wrong with a country that thinks you negociate with a religion the way you negociate with a politcal party?

Inasmuch as religion is concerned, the basic trend in most First and Second World societies has been for religions to retreat/be expelled from dominance in the public sphere, particularly insofar as personal morality is concerned.

Catholic canon law no longer limits the availability of divorce in southern Europe; Baptist theology on non-heterosexuality is no longer actively enforced in the United States; non-Lutherans in Germany no longer face disadvantages for their non-Prussian religion, and non-Anglicans in England likewise enjoy the same benefits. The net result for people has been sharply expanded freedoms, and a generally improved standard of living.

What goes for established religions should also go for newly-established religions. All people should enjoy the same rights; all people should be free from being attacked as heretics or traitors. Any liberal-democratic state worth its salt certainly should not condone the enforcement of religious dogmas on people who don’t want to be subjected to them. People should have the freedom to choose.

3

Henry 02.14.04 at 1:10 am

Scott – yeah, I can imagine how the public debate in France must be frustrating – but I still reckon that the problem isn’t so much that it’s always a bad thing to put a gun to someone’s head, as that the people who are making that case (a) are wrong in applying it here, and (b) are quite likely arguing in bad faith. Another example, which I was going to mention in my post (I didn’t in order to avoid being longwinded, and because there’s a lot of relevant historical/sociological literature that I’m only vaguely familiar with) is duelling. If you’re some gentleman in the relevant period, and you refuse a duel, your name is mud. Liable to be horsewhipped on the steps of your club, excluded from polite society, etc. Having a law against duelling gives you an out – you can make a choice that would otherwise result in social exclusion, without suffering the associated penalties, because you can reasonably claim _force majeure_ as an excuse. I’m reading an interesting book on the obligation to engage in bloodfeud in Anglo-Saxon Britain at the moment; I suspect that some of the same arguments apply.

4

Conrad barwa 02.14.04 at 1:20 am

I have yet to see anyone doing serious research on causes or reasons, just a lot of anecdotes and frankly xenophobic suspicion.

There was a very interesting paper entitled “Bavarian Crucifixes and French Headscarves: Religious Practices and the Postmodern European State” which is unfortunately no longer available online, though I believe it has been published in the journal ‘Cultural Dynamics’ (2000). I highly recommend it as a very thought-provoing essay, though it concentrates more on Germany in its empirical evidence.

This essay on the links between the articulation of Kabyle identity, the post-colonial issues still left over from the old relationship with Algeria and the politics of ethnic identity stuggles in modern France also puts a new angle on a recurring problem and might be of interest:

http://www.replika.c3.hu/english/02/02silver.htm

5

Luc 02.14.04 at 4:05 am


God, what is wrong with a country that thinks you negociate with a religion the way you negociate with a politcal party?

But you can ‘negotiate’ with religion.

See the history of the Catholic church. Or for example the discussion about homosexual priests. Religion is also a part of society. And it’s morals and influence will change along with society. It is utterly naive to say that religion is absolute and there is no way you can influence it.

In a comment by ginger on a previous post about this subject there was a story about a teacher in Afghanistan who succeeded to convince her class to uncover their faces.
These things are not carved in stone.

In case of the hijab, there are many muslims belonging to the same social group and going to the same mosque, yet adhere to different standards as to wearing a hijab.

And these people can be influenced.

It’s not about putting a gun to their heads. It is about accepting that secular schools in France are secular. And they do have an opt out choice, although unattractive.

Scott Martens said the following:

That sort of Catch-22 is what is going to happen in France. The French state will punish the very people it claims to be so high-mindedly trying to save. It is the pitfall of this entire justification for public policies – it punishes victims.

There’s a difference in opinion in what this law is about. It is not about saving those people, it is about asserting the secular aspect of the state and it’s public schools.
The argument that it benefits those that are forced to wear
hijabs is to support this law.

And that there is a difference of opinion about this is abundantly clear.

In my view the conclusion that this law punishes victims is based upon that opinion. And not on fact or statistical data.

I think Islam in France will adapt to the demands of the state and society. Just as the Catholics did.

But maybe I’m just arguing in bad faith.

6

stefan 02.14.04 at 5:17 am

I’m not sure that this discussion exactly hits the mark. It seems to be that this is being looked at from a very American perspective (freedom of expression, freedom of religion and all that).

Knowing a little of the French culture (I just came back from living over there) I think that at least part of the motivation behind this bill is a desire to limit or remove the acceptance of visible differences in French society. (As an aside, France is much better integrated than the United States. People of color, as long as they speak French, are much better accepted as equals).

The French value very highly “getting along” with each other. Fitting into a system and functioning within the system. There are ways around the rules but they are generally accepted ways.

The problem with the hijab is that it signals a special privilege to the everyday French person. While a religious nation, they are very tolerant of other religions as long as they don’t flaunt it. The hijab is, in some sense, a sign that the Islamic population is unwilling to assimilate, or get along.

I might also say that there is a body of women in the Muslim-French culture that sees the hijab as a tool to control women and they are a fair-sized group. Also note that the Koran does not require women to wear the hijab — this is just a creation of the mullahs.

7

Robert 02.14.04 at 9:34 am

As an aside, does anyone know why the French word for “headscarf” is translated as “veil”?

8

Doug 02.14.04 at 11:06 am

(As an aside, France is much better integrated than the United States. People of color, as long as they speak French, are much better accepted as equals).

Funny, I missed the French Foreign Minister withe African ancestry. And the national security adviser. And the supreme court justice. And the governor of a province. And, well maybe I shouldn’t go on displaying my ignorance of French citizens of African ancestry at the highest levels of the state…

9

ginger 02.14.04 at 11:22 am

Interestingly, like Ophelia Benson noted in the comments to the previous post, the opinions of French Muslim women who support this law are still being largely ignored.

You are also ignoring how social pressures and family upbringing works, especially in a traditional environment.

The pressures on girls to wear the headscarf _and_ behave accordingly – ie. according to a view of women that is objectively not compliant with the principle of equality – can come in a variety of ways within a family. From stricter to subtler pressures. From overt abuse to loving authoritarianism. Yes, there is such a thing.

Once these pressures are internalised, if there is no rebellion or conflict, they can be seen as something embraced freely, or accepted freely, or to be proud of, and thankful to one parents for. If your parents are strict traditionalist Catholic and bring you up teaching me that premarital sex is wrong, you may rebel, or you may even get to be proud of “having made that choice”, when in fact you haven’t. And you may not even realise that you haven’t, and that someone else chose for you.

This is more food for Freud than for the law really…

Of course there are also cases of conscious, fully aware adoption of strict Islamic rules about women. As a form of “identification”, perhaps, where my belonging to a group (or family) takes precedence over my being an individual.

Again, that choice of group identity over personal identity always implies some form of social pressure…

It’s not the first time this debate comes up. It happened within American feminism too, before.

What the French law can target here is not _all the different reasons and motives_ that those girls wear the hijab, whether out of free choice and group identity statement or paternal imposition from “gentler” authoritarianism to outright abuse, or internalisation, or a complex mix of all.

Also, keep in mind we’re also talking girls under the legal age to decide for themselves, so the line of “free choice” is even more blurred.

The state can not act directly on all the complex ways mentalities are internalised within a family or group. It can only act directly within its own state environment, to set rules on what principles must be respected first and foremost.

So, whether the hijab and all that’s associated with it is embraced freely or not in each case is not in itself a validation or condemnation of this law. It can’t be, because those are individual variations.

The premise the law legislates upon is not that the wearing of the scarf (_and the behaviour associated with it_) is always necessarily an abusive imposition in all cases. The premise is that, in a public setting, it always contradicts the state’s own principles. Of equality between sexes, and of laicite.

So the state is reasserting the prevalence of its own principles over religious and ideological principles, within a state environment. As is its right and duty.

It is making it absolutely clear that those views of women as something to be covered up, and of religion as something that sets people apart _in contradiction to basic principles of gender equality and laicite_ is no longer going to be tolerated in a state school setting.

Whether those religious views are embraced freely or not, is a secondary matter, and will depend on each individual case. What matters first of all to the state is that collectively, whatever individual reason behind embracing/submitting to them, the physical and behavioural display of those views disrupt the basic foundations and workings of state education as the French have envisioned it.

Individuals may choose or be led to choose whatever they like, but not if this contrasts with how the state wants to manage its own schooling, for all citizens.

It’s the same principle by which Turkey had decreed women working in state offices should not wear a headscarf (not sure if that has been reversed recently).

10

JL 02.14.04 at 1:05 pm

As an aside, does anyone know why the French word for “headscarf” is translated as “veil”?

It is “hijab” that is mistranslated in English as “headscarf” (sometimes “foulard” in French), as Rana, who wore one, pointed out in the earlier thread. Let me quote her:

BTW, “headscarf” is not a synonym for “hijab”. The latter, which derives from the Arabic word “hajaba”, meaning to hide from view or conceal, has evolved into a very peculiar item of clothing that covers a woman’s entire head (save the face) as well as the neck, and (generally) extends over her shoulders and chest. The “hijab” is not simply a head covering.

Quoting Rana again:

The purpose of hijab is to keep women hidden and subservient. (Yes, I know the “modesty” argument, I heard it all my life; in fact I was educated in religious schools until late high school; let me know when men begin wearing veils.) In which way is wearing a “kippah” (common only among the orthodox) the symbol of a boy’s second-class status in Judaism?

11

Raymond 02.14.04 at 2:17 pm

Interesting how many westerners are comfortable with little girls wearing the hijab and covering their mouths when smiling. The message of the hijab is pretty clear. I’m just not sure how any rational, thinking person can compare wearing a crucifix with the hijab. Many seem to think that a generation of sexually dysfunctional, angry, unemployed, unassimilated muslim males is a good thing.

Barring the hijab in this way is very appropriate. Muslim males can keep that lots-of-perfume-and-body-odor thing going, I don’t see anyone trying to bar that.

12

Mrs Tilton 02.14.04 at 4:29 pm

Raymond writes,

I’m just not sure how any rational, thinking person can compare wearing a crucifix with the hijab.

I don’t know whether one could view them ‘rational and thinking’, but the bigoted Roman Catholic reactionaries who run Bavaria think precisely along these lines. It’s different, you see, when the idol is one’s own.

But it’s not Bavarian backwoodsmen that you’d have trouble understanding, it seems. It’s the authors of the very French law you are praising here (authors who presumably take great pride in the rational thinking). Comparing the wearing of a (noticeable) crucifix and the wearing of a hijab is exactly what that law does. (Presuming, that is, that the French state enforces the law with scrupulous impartiality; and who am I to doubt the bona fides of the French state.)

Muslim males can keep that lots-of-perfume-and-body-odor thing going, I don’t see anyone trying to bar that.

You’re to be commended, in a way. Not many supporters of the French anti-hijab law are as candid about their motivations as you are.

13

Randy McDonald 02.14.04 at 6:22 pm

Mrs. Tilton:

You’re to be commended, in a way. Not many supporters of the French anti-hijab law are as candid about their motivations as you are.

Please. If you want to believe that everyone opposed to the foulard is a bigot, fine, whatever. Just don’t expect that belief to reflect reality. I could argue with just as much basis in reality as you that people who oppose the ban want French Muslims to exist forever apart from the rest of French society, as a permanently ghettoized minority to prove France’s ability to tolerate the other. That, however, would be a specious argument unworthy of me.

Me, I don’t believe women are inferior beings. All women–Christian or Muslim, white or non-white, religious or secular–deserve the right in any liberal society worth its salt to develop as human beings, within or without their communities of birth. I don’t believe that schools–especially not state schools, not public schools which serve as a haven for secularism and tolerance–should serve as a forum to keep girls and young women of any background quite and subordinate.

The law isn’t my favourite solution; but then, few solutions are perfect.

14

Randy McDonald 02.14.04 at 6:24 pm

For “quite” read “quiet.”

15

Tom T. 02.14.04 at 7:01 pm

Stefan, the problem that I see with your argument is that the law in question does not enforce a secular ideal. It permits Christians to wear small crosses or other symbols of their faith in school. Everyone involved in enacting this law is well aware that there is no equivalent “small symbol of one’s faith” in Judaism or Islam (a Star of David does not substitute for a yarmulke, and a crescent pin does not substitute for a hijab). Thus, it appears that the French authorities are using facially secular standards to justify a law that in fact singles out minority religions for special burdens.

16

Fred 02.14.04 at 10:13 pm

My very first car was a Renault Dauphine. Since then, I detest anything French. But in many schools in America, we have something called a dress code. You don’;t like the dress code, then you get home schooled or go to a school that has a different one, or to a private school. I say this without taking one side or the other on the head scarf ban. France is not my country. I have enough to worry about in my country.

17

Ophelia Benson 02.15.04 at 2:15 am

“Not many supporters of the French anti-hijab law are as candid about their motivations as you are.”

Oh, man. There it is again.

That takes some brass-plated nerve.

Are those Rana’s motivations too, “Mrs Tilton”? The motivations of Ni Putes Ni Soumises? And what would those motivations be, exactly? Want to spell it out? Or is snotty innuendo enough.

Blech.

18

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.15.04 at 3:46 am

As an aside, France is much better integrated than the United States. People of color, as long as they speak French, are much better accepted as equals.

Probably not true even on your own terms, but care to notice that many Muslims in France do not speak French?

19

Randy McDonald 02.15.04 at 5:21 am

Mr. Holsclaw:

According to INED’s article February 2002 article “La dynamique des langues en France au fil du XXe siècle” from the series Populations et Sociétés (available here, just under one million are Arabophone, under 200 thousand are Berberophone, and a bit over 100 thousand are Turcophone. Arabic is the mother tongue of 3% the French population. However, the rate of assimilation to French monolingualism is quite high.

20

anthony 02.15.04 at 6:06 am

I really wonder if the hijabbis are equally vociferous when women/girls are forced to wear the thing. Can you imagine them getting out in the streets and protesting that? Is there any consistency in their arguments or is this freedom stuff all on one side?

21

ginger 02.15.04 at 1:48 pm

I’ll repost here a question I’ve just asked in the comments to the previous post on this.

Compare the discussion on the French law with the discussion on the ban of the Islamic veil in Turkey.

Turkish women enjoy many rights not extended to women in other Muslim countries. Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern republic, allowed women to vote as early as 1934 and encouraged them to work and shed the Islamic-style veil.

Ataturk saw the veil as a symbol not only of sexual repression but also of Islamic militancy. Such thinking is shared today by Turkey’s powerful generals, who view themselves as the custodians of Ataturk’s secular legacy, a role enshrined in the current constitution, which they drew after their third and last direct intervention in 1980.

My question is: would the people who criticise this French law, seeing it as intolerant or short-sighted or “racist” or whatever, also criticise Ataturk’s and the Turkish secularists’ position establishing the very same principle in their laws and in the Turkish constitution?

22

ginger 02.15.04 at 2:03 pm

Also check out the discussion at the BBC website, lots of comments of any kind here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/3110368.stm

23

Luc 02.15.04 at 5:55 pm

To those that oppose the French ban, it may be a good idea to read the report on which the law is based:

http://www.publicsenat.fr/xox/data/special/rapport_laicite.pdf

The issue of schools handled in paragraph 4.2.2.1

I haven’t seen many handle the issues stated there.

My own understanding of French isn’t that good that I can provide a translation, And knowing the French they certainly wouldn’t have done it themselves. So you’ll have to read it in French.

24

Antoni Jaume 02.15.04 at 6:03 pm

“[…]but care to notice that many Muslims in France do not speak French? “

A France born Muslim that has lived there up to age majority and doesn’t speak French? Hard to believe, in fact a lot of Muslim immigrants know French before going to France, or to the rest of Europe at that.

DSW

25

ginger 02.15.04 at 9:24 pm

Luc, here is a quick and very dirty translation of that chapter on schools from the Commission report:

The question of laicité has come up in 1989 in the same place it first arose in the 19th century: the school. Its mission is essential in the Republic. It transmits knowledge, it furthers a critical approach, it assures autonomy, openness to the diversity of cultures, and the realisation of the person, it is targeted at the formation of citizens as much as at a professional career. The school thus prepares tomorrow’s citizens to live together in the Republic. Such a mission presupposes clearly fixed common rules. As a first place of socialization and sometimes only place for integration and social improvement, the school has a very deep influence on all types of individual and collective behaviour. State schools educate pupils to become enligthened citizens. The school is therefore a fundamental institution of the Republic, where minors are called to live together beyond their differences. It is a specific space, submitted to specific rules, established in order to assure the transmission of knowledge in a serene environment. The school should not be a refuge from the world, but it must protect its pupils from the “noise of the world” (“fureur du monde”): surely it is not a sanctuary, but it must favour a sort of distance from the real world in order to allow learning. Now, in too many schools, experience and testimonies have shown that the conflicts of identity can become a factor leading to violence, provoke threats to individual freedoms, and create problems for public order.

The public debate has been centered on the wearing of the Islamic veil by young girls and more generally on the wearing of religious and political symbols in the school. The commission has summed up the different positions expressed by those interviewed:

– For those wearing it, the veil can have different meanings. It can be a personal choice or on the contrary a constraint, which is particularly intolerable for the youngest. The wearing of the veil in school is a recent phenomenon. A trend that was established in the Muslim world in the 1970’s, with the emergence of radical political-religious movements, it hadn’t manifested itself in France until the end of the 1980’s.

– For those not wearing it, the meaning of the Islamic veil stigmatised “the young girl or the young woman as responsible for attracting male desire”, a vision which fundamentally contradicts the principle of equality between men and women.

– For the whole of the school community, the wearing of the veil is too often a source of conflicts, divisions and even suffering. The visible character of a religious sign is resented by many as contrary to the mission of the school which is that of being a place of neutrality and to nurture a critical awareness. It is also a threat to the principles and values that the school must teach, especially equality between men and women.

The commission has listened to the representatives of the main religions, as well as to leaders of organizations in defense of human rights who have expressed their objections on a law banning the wearing of religious symbols. The motives invoked by critics of this law are the following: stigmatisation of Muslims, exacerbation of anti-religious sentiment, promoting the image abroad of a “liberticide” France, encouragement to drop out of school and develop Muslim confessional schools. The possible difficulties of enforcing the law have been highlighted by its critics.

Others – nearly all school representatives, headmasters and professors – are convinced that a law must be passed. The commission has been particularly sensitive to their complaints. Insufficiently equipped, they feel alone in the face of the complexity of those situations and the pressure exercised by local balances of power. They disagree with official figures which minimise the difficulties encountered on the field. They have highlighted the tensions provoked by the revendication of religious and group identities, like the formation of clans, for instance. They express the need for a clear framework, for a rule formulated at national level, a decision taken by the political authorities and therefore preceded by a public nation-wide debate. They demand a law forbidding all visible signs, so that the headmaster should not be the only one left with the responsibility to decide if a sign worn by a pupil is offensive or not.

The commission has also had talks with political representatives as well as many representatives of local associations. Like teachers, they often told about the calls for help from many young girls and women, daughters of immigrants, living in the cities. Presented as the “silent majority”, victims of pressures within the family or neighbourhood, these girls need to be protected and to this end, they call on the political authorities to issue strong warnings to Islamist groups.

The commission, after having listened to all the different positions, has come to the conclusion that the question today is no longer one of freedom of conscience, but of public order. The context has changed in the space of a few years. The tensions and confrontatins happening within schools and revolving around religious and issues have become far too frequent. Pressures are exerted on underage girls to force them to wear a religious sign. The family and social environment sometimes forces the girls to submit to choices which aren’t their own. The Republic cannot remain deaf to the cries for help of these girls. The school space must remain for them a place of freedom and emancipation.

It is for that reason that the commission proposes the following declaration be inserted in the text of the law on laicité: “In the respect of freedom of choice and of the specific character of established private schools approved by the state, any display of signs and symbols of religious and political identity are forbidden in state schools and colleges. Sanctions should be proportionate and only taken after the pupil disrespecting this rule has been invited to comply with it”.

This disposition will be inseparable from the explanation of motives: “Forbidden religious symbols and clothing are only the conspicuous ones, such as large crosses, veils or kippas. Symbols allowed are discreet ones, such as medals, small crucifixes, stars of David, hands of Fatimah, or small Korans”.

This suggestion has been adopted by the commission with unanimous voting of those present, minus one abstained.

It must be understood as a chance given to integration. It is not about setting a ban but establishing a rule for life in common. This new rule will be explained clearly in schools. Sanctions must not be used except as a last resort. The current procedures and efforts to mediate and to promote exchanges with pupils and families must be maintained, and developed.

The judicial aspect of the incompatibility of this law with the European convention on fundamental human rights, which has been frequently raised [by critics], has been examined and discarded by the Commission. The European Court in Strasbourg protects laicité when it is a fundamental value of the State. It allows limits to the freedom of expression in public services, especially when it is a matter of protecting minors against external pressures. In regard to the French constitutional judge, he allows that the law establishes specific rules for minors in order to ensure their protection. The same judge considers the need to protect the public order and to safeguard the rights and principles of constitutional value as a goal with constitutional value itself. The law proposed by the commission in this respect complies exactly with this imperative.

The argument according to which the law could push towards private schooling is not decisive… (“dirimant”). Some Muslim parents already prefer Catholic schooling because their children are given religious values there. On the other hand, other parents who have taken their children out of state schools because they were submitted to group pressures will be able to send them back to those schools. Besides, it must be highlighted that private schools may adopt, if they so wish, rules that are equivalent to those in state schools.

On another level, the commission considers that it is not acceptable that pupils refuse to comply with the obligation to attend school, or refuse to attend certain classes, to study certain subjects or be examined by teachers of the opposite sex. Pupils cannot systematically be dispensed from attending school on a certain day. The commission has observed that, according to all those interviewed, the exemptions to avoid going to the swimming pool or the gym are accorded too often. To put an end to this complacency, medical exemptions shall be exclusively granted by school doctors, or by doctors recognised by the state.

Finally, the commission has expressed alarm at the trend to drop out of school. The law will have to reaffirm rules on the matter of obligation to attend school. The commission wishes national education to remind strongly that distance learning is not a right except in exceptional circumstances. Taking into account the fact some young girls drop out of school after their sixteenth year, the commission judges it appropriate that pupils aged at least 16 years be allowed to choose to continue going to school without the need for consent from their parents, the same way a 16 year old can choose to become French without the need for consent from their parents. In this respect, the commission proposes that schools distribute information about the possibility for those who have reached 16 years of age to acquire French citizenship.

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Luc 02.15.04 at 11:27 pm

Thanks for the translation. I think this text clearly shows the arguments for the new law.

I should have read it earlier, but I didn’t expect that a (French) commission would write such a concise an understandable text.

For me this clearly shows that the “veil of ignorance” is made of Crooked Timber.

But then I doubt that either Henry Farrel or Chris Bertram would change their minds about this subject.

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Ophelia Benson 02.15.04 at 11:44 pm

Well done, Ginger! That took a lot of work.

“The school should not be a refuge from the world, but it must protect its pupils from the “noise of the world” (“fureur du monde”): surely it is not a sanctuary, but it must favour a sort of distance from the real world in order to allow learning. Now, in too many schools, experience and testimonies have shown that the conflicts of identity can become a factor leading to violence, provoke threats to individual freedoms, and create problems for public order.”

“For those not wearing it, the meaning of the Islamic veil stigmatised “the young girl or the young woman as responsible for attracting male desire”, a vision which fundamentally contradicts the principle of equality between men and women.”

“- For the whole of the school community, the wearing of the veil is too often a source of conflicts, divisions and even suffering. The visible character of a religious sign is resented by many as contrary to the mission of the school which is that of being a place of neutrality and to nurture a critical awareness. It is also a threat to the principles and values that the school must teach, especially equality between men and women.”

“Others – nearly all school representatives, headmasters and professors – are convinced that a law must be passed. The commission has been particularly sensitive to their complaints. Insufficiently equipped, they feel alone in the face of the complexity of those situations and the pressure exercised by local balances of power. They disagree with official figures which minimise the difficulties encountered on the field. They have highlighted the tensions provoked by the revendication of religious and group identities, like the formation of clans, for instance.”

“The commission has also had talks with political representatives as well as many representatives of local associations. Like teachers, they often told about the calls for help from many young girls and women, daughters of immigrants, living in the cities. Presented as the “silent majority”, victims of pressures within the family or neighbourhood, these girls need to be protected and to this end, they call on the political authorities to issue strong warnings to Islamist groups.”

Again – I just don’t see how the opponents can dismiss all this.

And the more I think about it, the more I also can’t see how people of the left can manage to be so passionate in defense of the right of Islamists to impose inferiority, degradation and subordination on yet another generation of girls. What a weird thing to be passionate for!

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ginger 02.16.04 at 8:46 am

Ophelia, I so share that bewilderment…

I really don’t understand how the practical problems highligted in the Commission report (and by human rights organizations supporting this law, and by teachers, and by Muslim women and organizations defending their rights) can be ignored by those seeing this law as intolerant.

Here’s more food for discussion – some interesting pro and con comments from The Guardian letters http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,3604,1111545,00.html:

My selection:

—-
Madeleine Bunting’s article on French moves to ban headscarves (Secularism gone mad, December 18) made no reference to what is happening in the quartiers sensibles in urban France, where many Muslim girls are pressured into wearing Islamic headdress by their young brothers. Showing their hair or even wearing jeans are seen as signs of western depravity by their menfolk, who abuse and threaten them. Ms Bunting should be aware of the Ni Putes, Ni Soumises movement organised by Samira Bellil and her book about gang rapes of young female Muslims who dare to rebel.

As a French citizen, I believe, along with 69% of my fellow countrymen (and women), in the secularity and neutrality of French schools.

—-

It is through human compassion, tolerance and reason that we live in societies where freedom of, and indeed freedom from, religion is enshrined by law. Instead of attacking the force that protects them from persecution from other faiths and the state, the religious should count their blessings.

Secular states, not religious ones, most effectively protect the rights of minorities. (…) The headscarf move is a sensible school uniform measure designed to stop the French school system from becoming the Northern Irish nightmare I was taught in. Multiculturalism gets you Northern Ireland: integration gives you tolerance and the rule of law for everyone.


As an Iranian who experienced the Islamic revolution, I applaud a ban on headscarves especially in educational institutions. Which seven-year-old, without family pressure, would opt to wear a headscarf? The codes of “modesty” for women in Islam can be interpreted in many ways. The raw facts are that subjective and arbitrary interpretations in Islam have become the norm and women coerced into behaving according to them. Women are being used as tools, this time in a political movement which is making the question of Islamic headscarf a political issue.

Madeleine Bunting warns of “years of confrontation”. Let it come. We should welcome it.

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Mrs Tilton 02.16.04 at 9:08 am

Randy writes:

Please. If you want to believe that everyone opposed to the foulard is a bigot, fine, whatever. Just don’t expect that belief to reflect reality.

And Ophelia chimes in:

Oh, man. There it is again.

That takes some brass-plated nerve.

Are those Rana’s motivations too, “Mrs Tilton”? The motivations of Ni Putes Ni Soumises? And what would those motivations be, exactly? Want to spell it out? Or is snotty innuendo enough.

Randy, of course I don’t think everybody who favours this ban is a bigot. I don’t doubt, in fact, that most (including the commenter and the organisation that Ms Benson mentions) think they are acting in the best interests of Muslim girls who wear the hijab. (I also think they’re going about it the wrong way, as I suspect is by now clear.) But I don’t think everybody who favours the ban is so nobly motivated. Raymond has kindly assisted me here by providing an example.

Ophelia, I concede that I have shown the brass-plated nerve to read Raymond’s words and to presume that he wrote what he meant. I should have thought a bit of snotty innuendo sufficient to deal with people who think as he does, but apparently you need things spelt out more explicitly. I refer you, then, to his words once more:

Muslim males can keep that lots-of-perfume-and-body-odor thing going, I don’t see anyone trying to bar that.

This motivation, you see, is troglodytic bigotry. It’s easy to see how you might have missed this sort of thing, though, as you’ve been so busy reminding us all that lots of French Muslim women support the ban (which is true, and about as relevant as would be learning that lots of Jewish males support a ban of the kippa). Now that you’ve had a chance to see them a second time, though, you’re pefectly welcome to dissociate yourself from Raymond’s sentiments. If it’s not brass-plated nerve in me to suggest as much.

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Mrs Tilton 02.16.04 at 9:12 am

Oops… for clarity, I should point out that the two paragraphs in my post above beginning ‘That takes…’ and ending ‘…innuendo enough’ should be italicised to indicate they are quotations from Ophelia Benson.

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Andrew Boucher 02.16.04 at 10:23 am

Obviously that not what we’re passionate about. I would defend – passionately – the right of Nazis to walk through Skokie, obviously (?) not because I support Nazis, but because I think free expression also means the right of offensive speech. That’s an important principle to defend.

I don’t support the denigration of young girls. I do however think that there are limits to state authority and there is a principle at stake – namely the right of an individual to express her (or his) religious beliefs, and the right of parents to try to pass on religious (or cultural) beliefs or views to their children. That, or so I hold, is an important principle to defend. There are exceptions to the principle; e.g. to take an extreme (and easy) case, parents don’t have the right to withold medical care to their children because of religious beliefs. But there has to be a huge preponderance, which I don’t yet see applying in this case. The law, after all, is not specifically about the Muslim headscarf, it applies also to all conspicuous religious symbols, including (among others) large Catholic crosses. Does your reasoning apply equally in that case? Do we need to protect little girls and little boys from wearing large crosses?

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ginger 02.16.04 at 10:36 am

Since Mrs Tilton mentions Jewish males… actually, what’s interesting is there hasn’t been any significant opposition from French Jews to this law, has it?

Maybe, aside from the fact it’s a very different thing from wearing the veil, it’s because in French schools there’s been several prominent cases of gang violence targeting Jewish boys more than others, so, maybe most Jews feel that leaving statements of religious and/or political identity out of the school may be a step in the direction of avoiding such conflicts.

In other words, maybe they, like the Muslim women supporting this law, like SOS Racisme, like teachers, etc., have understood – on their own skin, and based on their own experiences – the spirit and intent behind it.

Just a thought.

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Andrew Boucher 02.16.04 at 10:41 am

“Since Mrs Tilton mentions Jewish males… actually, what’s interesting is there hasn’t been any significant opposition from French Jews to this law, has it?”

I think that’s because French Jews, for their own safety, have stopped wearing conspicuous symbols voluntarily. So it’s more sad than interesting.

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Mrs Tilton 02.16.04 at 11:49 am

Ginger,

the point is that a consensus among most Jewish males that the kippa should not be worn in a state school is precisely as relevant to a Jewish male who believes it his obligation to do so as is the support of 40% of French Muslim women for the hijab ban to a Muslim girl who believes her faith requires her to wear one.

As I am not a Muslim, my opinion on whether Muslim girls are required by their faith to wear the hijab is neither here nor there. I note though, that many Muslim women do not think so. And good for them; I should certainly oppose any attempt by the state to force them to do so. For exactly the same reason I oppose the action by the French state to force girls who do wear the hijab to choose between their religious belief and access to state schools.

I do agree with the argument Scott Martens has been making at A Fistful of Euros: even assuming that the goal of the French state is to facilitate the integration of Muslim citizens, this law is likely to have precisely the reverse effect, and precisely among those Muslims whom France should be taking the most trouble to integrate. But leaving this argument to one side, I have a more fundamental (as it were) objection.

I think the state should be absolutely secular, that is, that no religion of any sort should play any role in the life of the state. (And I imagine you agree with me this far at least.)

But it’s part of this secularism that the state should not impose any disability on the basis of religious belief. The state should not, for example, declare that children are eligible to receive a state education only if they eat roast beef on Fridays. This would force Roman Catholics to choose between state schools and their religion. (At least, it would do, if Roman Catholicism still taught that one must abstain from meat on Fridays; I don’t think this is the case.) Nor should it tell Muslim girls that they cannot enter the schoolroom with their heads covered. You should not take this as indicating that I see any particular value in the wearing of the hijab. Still less should you take it to mean that I approve of the misogynistic worldview that informs the practice. You should take it as an assertion that the state should not infringe on the individual’s liberty of conscience. (And that’s ‘individual’, mark you; no hijab-wearing Muslim girl should have the right to insist that her female co-religionists conform to her own practice.)

Now, maybe the wearing of the hijab will, in time, fall into desuetude, much as Friday abstention from meat seems to have done among Roman Catholics. And when that happy day arrives, the vexing question of the hijab in state schools need no longer trouble us. But if that happy day arrives, it should do so because Muslim girls have decided of their own volition to put off the hijab; not because the state bars them from the schools if they do not.

One of the most troubling things about all this, in my view, is that it is the French state that is doing it. France secularised its state early and commendably, stripping from power those who would force others to conform to their religious views. Yet now it is enforcing conformity on Muslim girls who believe they are obligated to wear the hijab. This sort of thing is still disagreeable when done by, say the government of Bavaria; but there it has at least a certain consistency. The Bavarians make no bones about the fact that they want to maintain a state with a distinctly Roman Catholic ethos (hence the crucifixes in schoolrooms). So it would not be surprising to see Bavaria forbid the schoolroom to girls in hijabs (and without any face-saving provisions about other ‘conspicuous’ religious garb). It’s rather a disappointment to see this happening in France, though.

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Luc 02.16.04 at 12:43 pm


But it’s part of this secularism that the state should not impose any disability on the basis of religious belief

It isn’t. It is almost the opposite. What you describe is freedom of religion.

And as far as I can understand you you think that secularism is just the neutrality of the state regarding religion.

But the French are in a sense unique because they made their version of secularism, Laicite, part of their constition.

In short I would describe it as that the state is free of religion. But it is much better described
in that french report on laicite.

http://www.publicsenat.fr/xox/data/special/rapport_laicite.pdf

The commision is appropriatlely called

COMMISSION DE REFLEXION
SUR L’APPLICATION DU PRINCIPE DE LAÏCITE DANS LA REPUBLIQUE


Yet now it is enforcing conformity on Muslim girls

Yes, this is the consequence of laicite. People should conform to the constitution.


It’s rather a disappointment to see this happening in France, though.

You are dissapointed about laicite. That can be understood. If it was a principle cherised by all it would have spread wider than just France.

But as it is, the UK still has a state religion, the US is still one nation under God, and many other states refer to religion in their constitutions.

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ginger 02.16.04 at 12:59 pm

“I think that’s because French Jews, for their own safety, have stopped wearing conspicuous symbols voluntarily. So it’s more sad than interesting.”

Yes indeed, Andrew, but then again, the fact that schools have for some fundamentalist groups become areas of indoctrination and revendication is also a sad fact.

But since this fact pre-exist this laws and is precisely the reality this law is intended to deal with, it cannot be blamed on it, other than by way of rhetorical artifices, that is.

The very fact that religion has become, for fundamentalists, an ideological tool is also sad. As is the fact that girls are used as tools by fundamentalists in their ideological battle “to defend freedom of religion”.

Keep in mind though, that outside of state schools (not universities), everyone will still be free to wear all kinds of religious symbols, and practice, preach, and indoctrinate as they like.

What I meant is interesting to me is that it’s abundantly clear that people who have lived those conflicts on their own skin seem to understand better what this is about. What’s even more interesting is that all those different first-hand experiences of conflicts and divisions and problems in achieving cooperation in class are ignored by those who are content in dismissing this law as intolerant or authoritarian.

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ginger 02.16.04 at 2:04 pm

Mrs Tilton: “the point is that a consensus among most Jewish males that the kippa should not be worn in a state school is precisely as relevant to a Jewish male who believes it his obligation to do so as is the support of 40% of French Muslim women for the hijab ban to a Muslim girl who believes her faith requires her to wear one.”

I know, I understood your point there. It just made me think of the situation of Jewish males in French state schools. Which is also related to the intent of the law, because many of those boys have sadly been victims of attacks by gangs of young Muslim males of the kind that’s a bit too keen on religious and political battles of intolerance, rather than integration.

“I think the state should be absolutely secular, that is, that no religion of any sort should play any role in the life of the state. (And I imagine you agree with me this far at least.)”

Absolutely. In fact I’d be even more radical and ban religious schools, that is, schools where kids are taught all day, where religion informs everything, if not all subjects, at least the whole education environment itself. I’m ok with “sunday schools” (or “friday schools” and “saturday schools”) for any religion, but as something extra and separate (and optional) from the core education which, state or private, should be kept secular in any case.

But I know I’m dreaming there so no point in discussing something which will never happen :)

“But it’s part of this secularism that the state should not impose any disability on the basis of religious belief. “

Ok, I fully understand what you mean here, but see, I think you are probably reasoning from a perspective of peaceful multiculturalism as may be in the US for instance, and not really considering the practical aspects of the situation in France. Also, aside from the practical context, you seem to me to overlook the basic principle that the state, which I agree should not interfere with religion, has still a right to demand religion not interfere with the state. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

This is felt very strongly in France, which has a history out of which a secularism has evolved that for some may seem to verge on anti-clerical paranoia, but it still has its practical historical origins and very solid legal basis.

“You should not take this as indicating that I see any particular value in the wearing of the hijab. Still less should you take it to mean that I approve of the misogynistic worldview that informs the practice. “

Ok, I do understand that, I really didn’t infer that from your posts, and I don’t even take it granted that everyone criticising this law is defending the hijab. But… the practical consequence of opposing this law is that you end up siding with the demands of fundamentalists. It doesn’t mean you (in general, all critics of this law) share them, but it does mean you’re willing to give them more consideration, to tolerate them, more than you can tolerate or give consideration to secularists (I mean it vaguely here in the sense of everyone upholding the view of laicite as expressed by the French commission), including the secularists among French Muslims, and French Muslim women in particular.

That’s one of the problems I see in positions like yours.

“You should take it as an assertion that the state should not infringe on the individual’s liberty of conscience. (And that’s ‘individual’, mark you; no hijab-wearing Muslim girl should have the right to insist that her female co-religionists conform to her own practice.)”

And here we have another problem already. By allowing that practice and therefore, the ideology behind it, into state schools (inspired by secularism), you (general, impersonal) are de facto allowing a view that contrasts radically with the principle of equality between women and men to be spread in those state schools.

Imagine a class that touches on the history of the early feminist movement that gave women the right to vote; or a civics education class; or a sexual education class. Here I am, the teacher, explaining away about human rights or sexuality or voting rights for women and how they’re a fairly recent thing and how in many parts of the world women are still second-class citizens, and there’s ten girls in my class wearing a head covering that overtly signifies they are second-class citizens, they are to be considered permanent instigators of all kinds of male sexual fantasies unless they cover their heads and shoulders, they are not individuals but symbols, not persons but property of men, their fathers or brothers, who thirty years ago, out of the blue, decided that having “their” women to cover up would be a good visible sign of how radical Islam is a powerful identity.

How am I gonna explain that blatant contradiction between what I, as a representative of a secular state based on ideas of equality, am teaching, and what these girls are (led and pressured to) representing?

How will I deal with the fact there’ll be ten other girls who, while still Muslim, have not been pressured to cover up and are more secular-minded because they have secular parents?

How will I deal with, say, a pupil whose mother and father came from Iran or Afghanistan only to find fundamentalist groups have taken such a visible hold even in French state schools?

But that’s not the biggest problem I’ll face. When those hijab wearing girls brough up by non-secular-minded parents will want to be exempted from the gym, from trips to the swimming pool, from biology classes, from even speaking to a male teacher, etc. who do I turn to for advice, what do I do, do I just let them have their way because of the need to compromise or not offend their beliefs? Wht about the other pupils? What kind of example are we setting?

These are all problems that arose in recent years, and that led teachers and girls and organizations to appeal to teh state for clearer rules.

On one of the BBC website “talking points” about this, someone from France commented by adding there were already laws banning conspicuous religious symbols in state schools (ie. that collectively classes and schools themselves should not exhibit such symbols), but the problems arose because rules were not clearly defined for those situations that emerged, when, in recent years, the wearing of the hijab along with the revival of fundamentalist groups using that issue as a pressure tool became a more significant trend. Not to mention the other general issues of gangs and tensions and conflicts based on strong statements of religious identification.

So this law is meant to clarify all that. As is the right of the state.

The Commission Report says “this is no longer an issue of freedom of conscience, but of public order”. Then they also make it clear by dealing with the objection about freedom of religion and the European court of human rights, that freedom of conscience is not threatened here – but freedom of expressing one’s religion in a state environment has to comply to the basic rules regarding the secular nature of the state and the equality between the sexes and the safeguarding of the rights of minors. Hence, the latter prevail.

Try and looking at it first of all from a strictly legal perspective, and you’ll perhaps see it more clearly.

Freedom of religion is still allowed. But religion is not free to impose, in a state education environment, views that *contradict* a couple of very basic common principles on which state education is based.

It is at the core a classic issue of the relation between church and state, and which comes first in the state’s own areas of competence, namely here, education in the state’s own schools. It’s not an interference by the state on how churches, mosques, synagogues should manage their own areas of competence (places of worship, religious preaching, practice, etc.), which are still fully granted and recognised by the state. The state only expects the same “courtesy” back from religions, ie. compliance with the law.

Kids should go to state school as equal pupils, equal citizens. Not as members of religious groups. I think this protects both the state and religions from reciprocal interference.

If strict traditionalist Muslims have a problem with this idea, it’s not enough to dismiss the law, it’s not enough for the state to give up on its own principles and the right to set rules that work for everybody equally in state schools, _and in state schools only_.

But if that happy day arrives, it should do so because Muslim girls have decided of their own volition to put off the hijab; not because the state bars them from the schools if they do not.

Mrs Tilton, we’re talking of minors, and we’re talking of a public, secular education environment. School is where young minds are formed. It’s the *best* place to set principles about equality and secularism! A secularism that can coexist with any religion as long as the latter accepts to respect it, at least in a state environment.

Whether Islam at large will abandon the strictest (and politically-driven, not religiously-sanctioned) views of women that inform the whole “females must cover up for modesty and decency” belief, is indeed a bigger matter that no law can address.

But (I am genuinely sorry to be so boringly repetitive, but I feel the need to insist on this) whether state schools should be a neutral area informed by equality and integration, or a sort of Hyde Park corner for all kinds of religius views even when they contradict the very basis of state education itself – well that’s something the state not only can but *must* legislate upon. Otherwise they may as well dismantle state education altogether, if no rules and no principles must be respected.

One of the most troubling things about all this, in my view, is that it is the French state that is doing it.

Why troubling? It’s state schools, who else should legislate on that?

The French state is not legislating on the wearing of the hijab (and everything that comes with it) *overall*, ie. anywhere and everywhere. Only in its own schools!

I don’t understand why you can’t see the state has a constitutional right, in fact, a duty to set its rules for state schools.

Not rules that infringe on anyone’s freedom. Rules that set very basic, common standards.

Again quoting from memory from a comment elsewhere (the BBC site again, I think) – in some other countries state schools traditionally have or have had uniforms. With the intent of assuring equality and neutrality. French schools don’t have compulsory uniforms or dress codes, but the idea is the same.

Plus, if you read the Commission report, as well as statements from organizations like Ni Putes Ni Soumises, SOS Racisme, etc. it’s not “the state” that arbitrarily decided to pass this law. They lsitened to teachers, pupils, local authorities, organisations, they listened to those pro and those against. They _responded to a set of needs_. Maybe few remember that, but the French government was actually rather reluctant to pass this law.

Also, the Interior Minister has been very concerned with racism and antisemitism in France, and also very open to discussion with religiuos groups. They even set up a Council of Muslims, legally recognised by the state. They set a pact of coexistence with Islam.

The overall picture really doesn’t seem to me (speaking from my brief experience in French schools as well) one of intolerance here. Quite the contrary, to me. It’s about rules for cohabitation. The rules are very clear and simple, and the principles they defend are very important. It seems to me the problem is with those not accepting them.

And they’re not even most Muslims, really, just the most vocal ones, as usual, with fudnamentalists, they pretend to speak for everyone, minors included. That’s where the intolerance lies.

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ginger 02.16.04 at 2:12 pm

Luc writes: “Yes, this is the consequence of laicite. People should conform to the constitution.”

Heh, exactly! people should respect the law of the state, what an authoritarian and repressive concept of “conformity”, eh?

I need to find me a religion that dictates I should not pay taxes…

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Andrew Boucher 02.16.04 at 2:23 pm

“What I meant is interesting to me is that it’s abundantly clear that people who have lived those conflicts on their own skin seem to understand better what this is about.”

Well you can insist, but it strikes me as a non sequitur. You refer to the absence of objections by French Jews to this law as meaning that they “understand” what this is all about. I interject that the absence of objections is because Jews have already voluntarily given up wearing conspicuous symbols because they fear for their safety. That doesn’t mean they support the ban – it’s just irrelevant to them.

In any case the right to express one religion’s should not depend on a popularity vote.

40

ginger 02.16.04 at 2:24 pm

Luc: also, I think it’s significant that the chapter on schools is titled “Defending public services”.

Defending laicité from religious fundamentalism. Defending equality vs. sexism, defending integration vs. division.

Those fundamentalists conveniently turning it into “an attack on religion” are basically saying that you “attack religion” each time religion doesn’t get its way in disregarding the laws and principle of a state, and in invading even those spaces that belong to the state. That’s not “freedom of religion”, that’s religious radicalism demanding more power that the state law itself. Completely wrong by all legal standards, and not just those of French “laicite”…

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ginger 02.16.04 at 2:28 pm

Andrew: huh? I get the impression you completely misunderstood what I said there, I wasn’t talking of popularity votes, nor implying that all French Jews must be supporting this law… There were no real “sequiturs” there for you to pick on. It was an observation of the differences between those talking from first-hand experience, and reacting to real situations — and those arguing on sophistries alone.

Do you always have this habit of twisting other people’s words, and then ignoring the other 90% of what they write?

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ginger 02.16.04 at 2:38 pm

… and in any case, Andrew, the right of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. to express their religion is still safeguarded.

Now I got what you’re saying, Andrew:
Jews have already voluntarily given up wearing conspicuous symbols because they fear for their safety

Indeed – and why do they fear for their safety?

In the specific instance we are referring to, ie. in schools?

What I said, was _maybe_ there is not significant vocal opposition from Jews to this law because _most_ will have had first-hand experience of the _same problems_ mentioned in this Laicite commission report, hence will have _understood_ what this is about…

In other words, most French Jews (assuming most of them are ok or indifferent to this ban, and that was an assumption) have probably _already taken the very practical conclusions this law seeks to enforce_.

You have exactly proven my point, Andrew, even if you thought you were doing the opposite (and even if you hadn’t even understood it)…

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Andrew Boucher 02.16.04 at 2:50 pm

First, French Jews have stopped wearing conspicuous religious symbols everywhere – outside as well as inside the school – because they are worried for their safety.

Secondly, this doesn’t prove your point at all, presumbably because you are not taking into account the difference between state requirements and individual choice. Most opponents to the ban object to the fact that it is something made obligatory by the state. They would not object to an individual choosing not to wear the headscarf (of course).

Now leave the headscarf out of this and just talk about French Jews, and suppose for the sake of argument that their wearing a symbol that identifies them as Jewish causes someone to beat them up. Is the proper response of the state to force them to stop wearing it? Or to provide them protection and pursue those who are beating them up? Surely it’s the second question which warrants an affirmative response.

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Mrs Tilton 02.16.04 at 2:57 pm

Ginger, you write:

Ok, I fully understand what you mean here, but see, I think you are probably reasoning from a perspective of peaceful multiculturalism as may be in the US for instance, and not really considering the practical aspects of the situation in France.

Actually, I’m looking at the situation from the perspective of my life in Germany, which is not all that far from France. (For that matter, Germany has not historically been as successful at creating a peaceful multiculturalism as have been the US and France.) Germany too has a lot of Muslims. Now, most of these are Turks, and many Turks tend to be more secular than Arab Muslims – but by no means all. Of my Muslim acquaintances, most don’t wear the hijab; they think it as little important as I do. Two do, though (a Turk and a Moroccan). And, for them, it’s pretty important. I don’t think it is any affair of the state to tell them they may not wear it. And, at least in school, it doesn’t. Few Muslim girls here wear the hijab in school, but they may do so if they wish. (Teachers, by contrast, are likely to be forbidden to do so. I say ‘likely’, because the constitutional court recently ruled that any such prohibition must arise from state law, not from a mere administrative act by a school board. Since that ruling, some states are hurrying to enact prohibitions; others are not.)

Also, aside from the practical context, you seem to me to overlook the basic principle that the state, which I agree should not interfere with religion, has still a right to demand religion not interfere with the state. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

We are unlikely to agree on the main point dividing us (though I do appreciate your reasoned and reasonable argument in favour of the ban). But I do agree with you that religion should not interfere with the state. Still, there is an important difference between a girl wearing a hijab and that same girl (or her parents) demanding that all other Muslim girls in the school wear the hijab (or, so as not to be constantly berating the Muslims, demanding that the school refrain from teaching evolutionary biology, less a problem in France, I believe, than in the peacefully multicultural United States) The former is merely an individual being true to her own individual beliefs. The latter is attempting to force those beliefs on a wider community. I have never maintained that a Muslim (or anybody else) is entitled to make a school over in his or her own image. He or she should have the same right as everybody else to come in and learn what’s taught, even if in their hearts they disagree with parts of it. Banning the hijab deprives them of their right to come in in the first place. Letting them in does not impose hijab-wearing on anybody else. Banning the hijab forces them to choose between state schooling and their religious belief.

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Ophelia Benson 02.16.04 at 3:16 pm

Tilton,

That was a very incomplete answer you gave to what I said. I feel like calling it disingenuous, but I’m so sick of people more or less calling me a liar that I ought not to. And yet that’s disingenuous of me, because by mentioning it while disavowing it, I get to have it both ways. (That’s another tactic that people use on me that irritates me.) So I should put it this way: I think your answer borders on the disingenuous.

My quarrel is not your rebuke of that particular post – it’s your sly extension of it to all the supporters of the ban.

“You’re to be commended, in a way. Not many supporters of the French anti-hijab law are as candid about their motivations as you are.”

Is that not meant to imply that we all have the same wicked motivations, and that we’re lying about the fact? If not, if I’m mistaken – what is it meant to imply?

I’ve seen a lot of this ‘You have disgraceful hidden motivations for what you say’ move, and I detest it. I also think it violates various implicit and explicit rules of debate.

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ginger 02.16.04 at 4:18 pm

Andrew: you like argument for argument’s sake so much you ignore 90% of the discussion and twist one point into absurd conclusions…

Anyway. My point was *not* “because most Jews no longer wear religious symbols, that itself validates this law”.

My wider point was, _in following your own distorted arguments_, that those who have experienced the very same phenomena the Laicite Commission observed, tend to not opposte the law (including being indifferent to it), not to view the law as interference into their religious practices, because they know and accept that schools should be secular and that revendication of religious identity can lead to divisions and conflicts.

Obviously people who voluntarily avoid wearing religiuos symbols are doing so by individual choice.

The point is about motivations, intent, and acceptance of secular rules inspiring this law.

Those who have experience of the problems mentioned, know and understand this law better. Those like you who prefer rhetorical artifices, don’t.

[As an important aside, French Jews are for the large part already secular and most would not wear a kippa _anyway_, simply because _they never have_, regardless of recent antisemitic attacks. (Also, just by virtue of “wearing” a Jewish name you can “provoke” the reactions of racists and antisemitic idiots, so that’s not just about religious symbols). So the situation is already very different in that respect (as well as, again, in the respect of the hijab being far more often a matter of coercion and pressures on young girls, and the hijab having associated with it a whole set of repressive notions about the individual wearing it, that the kippa does not have).]

Now leave the headscarf out of this

Eh, of course, there’s one too many practical aspects in that issue that are not so convenient for you to discuss, aren’t there?

and just talk about French Jews, and suppose for the sake of argument that their wearing a symbol that identifies them as Jewish causes someone to beat them up. Is the proper response of the state to force them to stop wearing it? Or to provide them protection and pursue those who are beating them up? Surely it’s the second question which warrants an affirmative response.

Suppose? The state has already banned also kippas and all conspicuous religious symbols in _state_ schools.

The Commission’s motivations are not only “safety”, certainly not blaming-the-attacked-for-the-attack-while-doing-nothing-against-the-attacker as your instance implied.

The motivations for removing conspicuous religious symbols are to defend legal principles of equality and secularism, and ensure they are applied in state schools, and that no religion is exempted from respecting them at least in a state school setting.

The point about conspicuous religious symbols and associated behaviours is that they contradict those principles. You can split the issue in two levels, if you like: the legal principles one, and the public order one. But they’re still one whole. They’re connected, you can’t separate them. One is the consequence of the other.

Not that you’d care since you’re not interested in discussing the actual contents and premises of the law.

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Mrs Tilton 02.16.04 at 4:31 pm

Benson,

so far as I can tell neither you, nor Ginger, nor again any of the other pro-ban commenters here or on AFOE (with the exception of Raymond) has a disgraceful hidden motivation. As I’ve said to Ginger, I think the majority of people who support the ban are doing the wrong thing for laudable reasons.

That said, I also think there are more hijab opponents whose motivation is (or is informed by) bigotry than is entirely convenient for the higher-minded sort of ban supporter. France is not the comments box of Crooked Timber, writ large. Anti-Muslim bigotry in France is neither unknown nor rare.

Your avoidance of those various tactics that irritate you is duly noted, and appreciated.

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ginger 02.16.04 at 4:50 pm

Mrs Tilton: I really somehow thought you were in the US, not Germany.

I do understand your point there. But context is important here.

See, I too am for respecting all sorts of individual religious practices. At a level of personal relations, I have no problem with the hijab itself. As a principle, I do have a big problem with it and all it represents, but I’m not going to bother anyone wearing it, nor do I feel that particularly bothered by anyone wearing it, be they friends or acquaintances of work colleagues. But… this is not an adult social environment where everyone has formed their opinions and everyone chooses, more or less, freely, and can respect others even if they don’t subscribe to their beliefs, and even if they wish those beliefs weren’t so reactionary in the first place.

This is about state schools attended by minors. That is the huge dividing line.

True, like you say, those girls wearing a hijab are not demanding it be worn by everyone else.

But they are wearing something representing a view that contrasts with equality and while that is perfectly fine in an environment where everyone is grown up and will have formed their ideas, its not so in a school. Actually the commission report dedicates another chapter to Universities by saying precisely that it is a different matter because there’s no issue of minors and of granting all underage girls a space for emancipation and liberation. It assumes a different environment.

Also, aside from the debate on contrasting principles, there’s all those practical problems of those girls skipping certain classes and activities which doesn’t happen in universities.

I have never maintained that a Muslim (or anybody else) is entitled to make a school over in his or her own image.

Ok, but that is still maintained by the fundamentalist groups who are _using_ this issue (like the issue of photographs with the veil or burqa or without, on id cards or driving licenses, which was a legal debate recently also in the US recently). And who are using minors, girls who are not of the legal age to decide for themselves, who are still subject to parental authority.

They are the ones who, behind all this apparently superficial issue of wearing or not wearing a garment, have the very politicised and ideological intent not literally of “remaking the school in their own image” but of forcing the state to compromise a part of its rule to accomodate them. They’re using underage girls like a wedge, basically.

That’s why the hijab was encouraged to spread as a practice in the first place…

So what it all boils down to again is, the prevalence of the state’s laws over religious beliefs. That is really at the heart of this, and fundamentalists know this too well. Otherwise they would have said, ok, fine, whatever, we’ll have our girls in state schools wear the hijab everywhere but state schools. We’ll still uphold our dictates and pressures on girls, just not in the state schools.

What those fundamentalists are afraid of is the chance given to those girls of having an environment that’s completely free from their pressures.

Banning the hijab deprives them of their right to come in in the first place. Letting them in does not impose hijab-wearing on anybody else. Banning the hijab forces them to choose between state schooling and their religious belief.

Well, not really, it doesn’t keep or drive anyone out by force, there’s still other factors like I wrote previously in response to Sebastian; and most importantly, that objection is not sufficient to ask the state abandons its right to reassert the principle of equality.

Because see, you’re right, the hijab does not impose hijab-wearing on everybody else; but it does impose on the other pupils, on the teachers, on the state school and therefore on the state itself to _accept, allow, endorse that view of women that contradicts its own principles inspiring its state education for children_.

I do appreciate your dislike for the very idea of a ban, even if limited to schools, and even if not doomed to be as negative in outcom. But I think, whatever your reaction to this law, you still need to consider the context, and legal basis, for this legislation.

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Andrew Boucher 02.16.04 at 5:00 pm

“Anyway. My point was not “because most Jews no longer wear religious symbols, that itself validates this law”.

And did I say this? Your point was that we should be listening to the people affected by the ruling itself. You mentioned, as support, that French Jews were not opposing the ban. I replied that they were not opposing the ban for other reasons – because they had already given up wearing religious symbols because they were fearful of their safety. That’s all. If you can’t take that in, fine. Just count me out for replying to you again.

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ginger 02.16.04 at 5:03 pm

PS – Mrs Tilton: “I think the majority of people who support the ban are doing the wrong thing for laudable reasons”

Maybe, but thing is, the situation the law addresses is not an ideal one, not a happy one, not a peaceful one, but one riddled with contradictions and problems. It follows that both options – allowing the hijab, or banning it – are bound to be imperfect. And possibly to embolden fundamentalists, either way.

The drawing line still remains the law and its principles. Not religion and its beliefs, not the pressures of fundamentalists.

Ideally, the issue of young girls pressured to wear a hijab should not even exist. Ideally, every religion should be so tolerant of each other and of the state’s own principles that they would share those principles fully, and not demand to dictate social and individual behaviour of their followers.

But laws must deal with the reality, not the ideal.

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ginger 02.16.04 at 5:12 pm

Andrew: yes, I thought you were saying I’d been saying that the lack of opposition from Jews validates this law.

If you weren’t saying that, then I just didn’t understand your reply.

“I replied that they were not opposing the ban for other reasons – because they had already given up wearing religious symbols because they were fearful of their safety.”

Ok, and assuming all of them did that only for their safety, not because of being already secular-minded, how would that contrast with what I was saying?

I don’t follow, I don’t know anymore if you do it on purpose or not, but I really cannot follow.

If you can’t take that in, fine. Just count me out for replying to you again.

Feel free to. It’s not like you gave significant or relevant replies anyway.

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Luc 02.16.04 at 5:19 pm


I replied that they were not opposing the ban for other reasons – because they had already given up wearing religious symbols because they were fearful of their safety.

And you are plain wrong. The Jewish community in France has loudly complained that some of them don’t wear relious symbols anymore because of security concerns. And that same community according to you applauded this law because they have conceded to the fact that they can’t wear any religious symbols. There’s not an ounce of logic in that.

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Raymond 02.16.04 at 5:25 pm

Mrs. T-

I do tend to get a bit snotty on certain issues, this being one of them. The headscarf issue isn’t an academic exercise and I find the arguments against the ban utterly uncompelling. Islam, even in western countries, is moving in a very definate direction.

I simply feel that muslim women living in the west have a good shot at making positive changes in the islamic world. These muslim women need our support in unshackling themselves from muslim men (and leftist intellectuals).

Muslim men haven’t exactly set the world on fire the last 500 years. Other than…maybe circle-jerk technology, they’ve stagnated. I feel we owe it to these women to create an environment where they can set their own course and determine their own futures.

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Ophelia Benson 02.16.04 at 5:28 pm

Tilton,

Okay, thanks for the clarification. I did think you meant people commenting here, but you didn’t. Yes, I realize there are people with horrible motives on the pro-ban side. As of course there are on the anti-ban side. It’s all very muddy.

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Mrs Tilton 02.16.04 at 5:38 pm

Raymond,

I see that I owe you an apology; your disgraceful motivations are hardly hidden.

You’re right, though, that Muslim women could have a very positive influence on Islam. But banning what some of them think an important part of their religion is not, I’d suggest, a very constructive way of encouraging them.

In any case, I defer utterly to your doubtless superior knowledge of circle-jerk technology.

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Andrew Boucher 02.16.04 at 6:25 pm

“The Jewish community in France has loudly complained that some of them don’t wear relious symbols anymore because of security concerns. And that same community according to you applauded this law because they have conceded to the fact that they can’t wear any religious symbols.”

And where did I say that they “applauded”? Is it possible on this board to ask that people be able to be able to keep in mind distictions? I said that Jewish people weren’t complaining about the ban, not that they were applauding it. And they weren’t complaining about the ban because they already not wearing the symbols. On the other hand, you are correct that they are complaining about the lack of safety which meant that they couldn’t wear the symbols in the first place.

Anyway bye bye.

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JL 02.16.04 at 7:49 pm

You are entirely correct, Ginger, the hijab issue has long since gone from being a mere philosophical debate to one with real and dangerous consequences.

As a former hijab-wearer herself warned in the earlier thread: The Islamists are using us in their jihad against liberal, secular society (not to mention any moderate interpretation of Islam)… Make no mistake, hijab represents the triumph of Islamism.”

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Ophelia Benson 02.16.04 at 8:28 pm

“But banning what some of them think an important part of their religion is not, I’d suggest, a very constructive way of encouraging them.”

But perhaps it is a constructive way of encouraging the other women. Perhaps it’s not possible to encourage both. Perhaps one has to choose. If so – why are we under so much moral pressure to choose the hijab-wearers than the non-wearers? Why is there so much more worry about the relgionists than there is about the secularists? Why is it the Islamists who get the benefit of the doubt? Why is there more worry about the students who want to wear it than there is about the students who don’t, but are forced to?

These are not rhetorical questions, they’re dead serious. I’m very curious about this note of passionate sympathy for the religious side and the concomitant lack of it for the secular side.

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Randy McDonald 02.16.04 at 11:01 pm

Mrs. Tilton:

Randy, of course I don’t think everybody who favours this ban is a bigot. [. . .] But I don’t think everybody who favours the ban is so nobly motivated. Raymond has kindly assisted me here by providing an example.

It isn’t open to doubt that some supporters of the hijab ban are biased unfairly against Muslims, any more than it’s not open to doubt that some opponents of the hijab ban are biased unfairly against women.

But:

Now that you’ve had a chance to see them a second time, though, you’re pefectly welcome to dissociate yourself from Raymond’s sentiments. If it’s not brass-plated nerve in me to suggest as much.

But why? Inasmuch as Raymond’s arguments weren’t invoked by Ophelia, and since those arguments are hardly part of the core justification for the ban, Ophelia isn’t under any obligation to distance herself from his statements. One might as well argue that you’re an Islamist by proxy based on your opposition to the ban.

A point on the metalevel of discourse, here: For three years at the undergraduate level, I was involved in debating. Admittedly my form as a debater was never the best, but I did maange to absorb the rules of formal debating reasonably well. Among other things, we’re taught that not only are ad hominem arguments inadmissible, but any debaters who make them are to lose points for trying to change the focus of the debate from a discussion of the subject to personal attacks. Those principles seem relevant in this context.

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Randy McDonald 02.16.04 at 11:11 pm

Mrs. Tilton:

You’re right, though, that Muslim women could have a very positive influence on Islam. But banning what some of them think an important part of their religion is not, I’d suggest, a very constructive way of
encouraging them.

Firstly, and unconsidered in this passage, there’s the whole question of what happens to young Muslim women who don’t want to be religious. In the abstract, these women might have a choice to wear the hijab or not; if, in practice, their only choices are to wear the hijab or risk stigma and possible physical attack as an immoral woman, talk of these women being free to engage or not to engage religion becomes a mockery. (There’s also the question of those young Muslim women who’d like to engage with Islam on terms which exclude the hijab.)

Secondly, the hijab is not a requirement of Islam–rather, modesty is. This document surveys the relevant Koranic materials, demonstrating that a sense of modesty roughly equivalent for the two sexes is required, but that any special burden on women is most definitely not. To quote the author of the above mentioned page, “[t]o wear the hijab is certainly not an Islamic obligation on women. It is an innovation (bid’ah) of men suffering from a piety complex who are so weak spiritually that they cannot trust themselves!”

The law is imperfect, yes. So far, though, it seems to be the best of a set of options which all inevitably involve some degree of harm, allowing the largest number of French Muslim women to engage with their religious communities and with wider French society on their own terms.

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Agrippa 02.16.04 at 11:22 pm

Hello. I have a very inelegant hypothetical here. What if groups of immigrants from India, who were of the (formerly or not so formerly) “untouchable” class, settled in a number of cities in the U.S. These untouchables believed that it was important to their Hindu history to wear a black headband so that all the Americans would know right away that they were second (or is 7th) class citizens. The untouchable children, male and female, all in black headbands, were trained by their parents that they should walk behind their betters, keep their heads down, not dream for better….You get the picture. Is this freedom of expression or freedom of oppression?

Thanks for your time. What a marvelous group of debaters here.

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agrippa 02.16.04 at 11:36 pm

Oops. This is my first visit to crookedtimber. I’m a tad embarassed to say that I just assumed it was an American site until I saw the time difference when my post went up.Please substitute ‘American cities’ to British cities or French cities or anywhere else you happen to be.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 1:16 am

Well done, Agrippa. Exactly. I’ve been meaning to post something along those lines (but haven’t found the time). Only I wouldn’t have done such a good job of it.

I was thinking of black people wearing chains, or Chinese women getting their feet bound, or Jews wearing a yellow star – or untouchables, but I couldn’t think of what the actual thing they would wear would be.

Anyway. Exactly.

There is so much denial of what the hijab is and what it stands for, it just amazes me. You’d think it was a nice colourful Breton dress or something.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 02.17.04 at 3:09 am

“But perhaps it is a constructive way of encouraging the other women. Perhaps it’s not possible to encourage both. Perhaps one has to choose. If so – why are we under so much moral pressure to choose the hijab-wearers than the non-wearers? Why is there so much more worry about the relgionists than there is about the secularists? Why is it the Islamists who get the benefit of the doubt? Why is there more worry about the students who want to wear it than there is about the students who don’t, but are forced to?

These are not rhetorical questions, they’re dead serious. I’m very curious about this note of passionate sympathy for the religious side and the concomitant lack of it for the secular side. “

I’m really not sure who you are talking about but I’ll tackle your argument.

There isn’t passionate sympathy for the religious side, you are almost entirely mistaken in labeling it as such.

Opponents of the ban aren’t generally sympathetic with the Muslim faith. I certainly am not sympathetic with it at all. I think many modern strains of it are very damaging. Nevertheless, we have to get along with people from time to time. The interaction between Western culture and Islamic culture is going to be a big issue for at least the next couple of decades. This ban is not likely to help non-Muslims and Muslims get along better in France. The people who will bear the brunt of the increased tension will be the oppressed, minor, female, children. I am not comfortable with laws that are going to make their lives worse–cutting them off from what may be their only secular touchstone, public schools.

The law also exhibits a lack of understanding about religion and its importance to its adherents. I don’t expect refined secular French intellectuals to have experienced such commitment first-hand, except maybe to communism in far-past decades. As an American, with experience in religion, I will assure you that banning public displays of religion in this fashion is likely to increase rather than decrease relgious fervor. But as we have discussed before, this law seems quite incurious about real-world outcomes.

Furthermore the law exhibits a disturbing lack of concern for the rights of minority groups in France. Are mainstream French students so fragile as to be incapable of dealing with the hijab? I think not. Therefore we come back to the repression of women issue. As I have discussed before, there has been very little attention paid (from the pro-ban side) to the problem of the daughter of devout Muslim parents who will be pulling her from the school, insulating her further from secular society while making the very opression in question easier to carry out against her.

I also find it somewhat shocking that so many people on this board are so willing to mention that many Jews have voluntarily chosen to hide symbols of their religion because they were being subjected to intense violence, and then just move on from the conversation as if nothing important had been mentioned. I assure you that very few Jews would think that is some sort of argument relevant to the hijab issue–at least not in the way that ginger seems to think.

As for: “Andrew: you like argument for argument’s sake so much you ignore 90% of the discussion and twist one point into absurd conclusions…”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

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Randy McDonald 02.17.04 at 3:18 am

Mr. Holsclaw:

As I have discussed before, there has been very little attention paid (from the pro-ban side) to the problem of the daughter of devout Muslim parents who will be pulling her from the school, insulating her further from secular society while making the very opression in question easier to carry out against her.

It’s one reason why I’m uncomfortable with the law. Granted that it has a strong likelihood of enhancing the autonomy of a majority of French Muslim women, its negative effect on a minority of French Muslim women–likely strongly negative for an even smaller minority–can’t be overlooked.

That’s why I called the law, elsewhere, the “least bad” solution. If you can think of a comparable partial solution that doesn’t involve police-state-level intrusion into the home lives of ordinary French Muslims, I’d be happy to hear it. Otherwise, we’re left with being inactive.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 02.17.04 at 7:12 am

I think that it has a medium-level likelihood of mildly enhancing the autonomy of some French Muslim women who currently wear the hijab (which is by no means a majority of Muslim women). It will have a strongly negative effect on Muslim women who will attend schools but live in an envioronment where they will be treated as ‘whores’ for failing to wear it. It will have a crushingly negative effect on those who will be pulled from schools. Without taking quite a bit more care to protect those who will be negatively effected, I can’t see that this damage is worth it for the idealistic ‘secularity’.

And you aren’t left with being inactive. If you won’t let the children get pulled you would be in a different situation. If France actually bothered to actively crack down on Muslim gangs who treat non-hijab-wearing women as ‘whores’ you would be in a different situation. The ban of the veil BEFORE the other actions are taken put these girls in serious peril. If you take these steps first, then you could get away with restricting the debate to the secularism argument. I would still suggest that this action is more likely to polarize than secularize, but at least you wouldn’t be dooming these girls to further and deeper bondage. To restrict discussion (as ginger has) to the secularism argument at this stage is heartless.

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ginger 02.17.04 at 9:45 am

Sebastian: I also find it somewhat shocking that so many people on this board are so willing to mention that many Jews have voluntarily chosen to hide symbols of their religion because they were being subjected to intense violence, and then just move on from the conversation as if nothing important had been mentioned. I assure you that very few Jews would think that is some sort of argument relevant to the hijab issue—at least not in the way that ginger seems to think.

How poor of you really. Just because the topic of antisemitism is larger than the topic of the hijab, which I thought was the main thing being discussed here, I must be indifferent and cold-hearted about that, of course…

I must have explained myself very badly on that one, though, I admit. Mrs Tilton mentioned the French Jewish males being affected by this law as kippas are also banned; I read it and just thought, well, there’s no vocal opposition from Jews to this law as there is from those groups of Muslims who are vocally protesting it, in France and abroad. So I wondered, why? The most obvious answer I could think of is there is no Jewish fundamentalism of the kind of Muslim fundamentalism; then (as far as I know, and it’s a generalisation) the secular mentality is much more widespread among Jews in France, and not only; then, the kippa is not a tool of ideological battle like the hijab, and is not enforced on young males like the hijab can be forced on young girls; THEN… and here I may be wrong, but I just thought that since there have been several cases of attacks on Jewish boys in state schools, often by gangs of young Muslims who take their identity to the level of ideological battle and intolerance, they’ll know the context the law has been devised in, and maybe there’ll be more appreciation for teh principle that schools should be neutral, secular, and possibly kept free from religious conflict and religious identification.

I didn’t mean it as, they’ll be GLAD to give up the kippa; I just think, among Jews whose kids go to school, there may be a higher appreciation of the message the state is sending fundamentalists groups by means of this law.

Message being: we all must get along, we all must respect religious identity and habits of others, but the _laws must be respected first_.

Which is, in extreme synthesis, also the main objection to all your other points.

The state in France wants freedom of religion and freedom from religion, for its own state education institution; it respects religions to be practiced, and expects laws to be respected. It won’t go to a mosque or synagogue to tell religious leaders what they should preach; it expects religious groups not to come into the school and demand what the state should teach. I, the state, don’t tell you, the church, how to run your business; you don’t tell me how to run mine.

I don’t know what’s so difficult about that. The concept of “freedom of religion” you are defending is not “freedom of religion”, is concession and yielding of the state’s own right to legislate and competence (here, state education) to religious fundamentalists.

That’s a warped idea of that “freedom” by all definitions, it’s an idea that the fundamentlists have slyly managed to spread, and what’s saddest it’s that it should be defended by people who are not fundamentalists.

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ginger 02.17.04 at 9:57 am

And Sebastian, there has been lots of discussion of “the problem of the daughter of devout Muslim parents who will be pulling her from the school” – but you and those bringing that up have completely refused to look at any other possible outcome, because you accept at face value that the fact some _fundamentalists_ are so hardened in this ideological battle of theirs, ideological battle _using_ young girls as mere tools, that for them it’s a matter of: either the state gives us fundamentalists this concession, to apply our own rules in its own schools, OR we’ll build more Koranic schools and treat our girls even more like shit.

And for you, that is enough for the state to retreat on its own ground.

Even if it has all the legal basis to do so, not to mention the fact the state is showing a much higher concern for those girls in the first place.

You don’t want the state to do what it can do, ie. keep schools secular and entirely free from any sort of religious fundamentalist pressures on girls, so that they be allowed a space for emancipation; but you expect it to do what it cannot do, ie. force fundamentalist Islam to give up its view of women overall, not just in state schools. Private schools exist, and they are also subject to laws on education, but religious schools can give more space to religion: that’s another BIG concession the state gives to religion, but somehow if parents choose those private schools, it’s the state’s own “fault”, not the responsibility of parents.

You want the state to give in to fundamentalists in state schools just because it can’t “win” over them _in all other settings outside of state schools_.

You want state schools to become less secular and more influenced by religion, just so as they can “compete” with fundamentalists.

That’s so upside-down reasoning I don’t know what sort of knowledge of the law and of the history of relations between church and state you have.

Again, think of the parallel with creationists demanding their views be taught in state schools, and you should be able to see it even more clearly. Should you care, that is.

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ginger 02.17.04 at 10:05 am

If France actually bothered to actively crack down on Muslim gangs who treat non-hijab-wearing women as ‘whores’ you would be in a different situation.

Perhaps if you cared to explain how that should be done, other than what is already being done, with any gangs of any ethnic/religious group, who commit crimes and abuses…

Do you want the state to force Muslim fudnamentalists to become secular? And how should that be achieved? Wouldn’t it be further interference from the state?

You really have no idea, and you keep equating pressures on girls with thug-like violent behaviour. It’s not always necessarily so. When there’s no instance of abuse already punishable by law, but there is a pressure on girls, what do you do? When you bring up a girl with those repressive views from age 3 or 4, she’ll never need to be beaten into wearing a hijab and behaving with “modesty”! So what should the state do with those parents?

To restrict discussion (as ginger has) to the secularism argument at this stage is heartless.

No, it’s that this law is about state schools, not about reforming Islam and turning fundamentalists into liberal-minded happy people. By all means consider me “heartless” just for pointing out this little fact.

But you’ll have to show some practical instances of how you’d like instant-reformation of radical Islam to come about by law. Or you’ll have to accept this law is about the state legislating on its own schools, nothing more and nothing less.

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Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 12:30 pm

Randy writes:

Inasmuch as Raymond’s arguments weren’t invoked by Ophelia, and since those arguments are hardly part of the core justification for the ban, Ophelia isn’t under any obligation to distance herself from his statements. One might as well argue that you’re an Islamist by proxy based on your opposition to the ban.

I think you may have misunderstood the tenor of my exchange with Ms Benson. I took her to task for thinking it improper to scold a patently offensive commenter. She took me to task for tarring all commenters with this same brush. In the event, we were each wrong about the other; and I believe we have subsequently cleared things up. In principle, though, you are of course right: support for the ban need hardly rest on bigotry, and absent evidence of this motivation in any given speaker it would be wrong to infer it. But (except as regards Raymond, who has repeatedly offered such evidence) that is not what I was doing.

Ophelia goes on to ask:

I’m very curious about this note of passionate sympathy for the religious side and the concomitant lack of it for the secular side.

My own sympathy for the religious side is not so much passionate as intellectual. I have no emotional investment in the hijab; I view it as at best an excess of piety and at worst as embodying a misogynistic worldview. But then, I am not a Muslim, and it is not for me to interpret for Muslims the tenets of their faith. I merely object to what I view as an infringement of the individual’s liberty of conscience.

But you should not view this as evidencing lack of sympathy for the secular side. In this instance, this is not the side being attacked. The French state is not proposing that any woman be forced to wear the hijab against her will. If it were, I’d be opposing that; rather more emotionally, in fact, than I oppose the ban.

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yabonn 02.17.04 at 2:37 pm

mrs tilton writes :

“I merely object to what I view as an infringement of the individual?s liberty of conscience.”

But doesn’t the division between who is pro and who is con in france seems strange to you then?

All the people usually trying to give the kids liberty of conscience (teachers massively, the muslim girls themselves) are majoritarily for this law.

The opponents to this law in france are, for the biggest part, the religious. Religious for liberty of conscience? Ha.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a cost, but the closer you get to the problem (teachers, ni putes ni soumises, muslim women poll etc), the more widespread is the opinion that the advantages will be bigger. They think that, overall, girls will be more able to emancipate if they wish so. Looks like liberty of conscience to me.

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Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 2:42 pm

Yabonn,

as I’ve said, I think most people who support the ban are doing the wrong thing for the right reason.

As for liberty of conscience, the law does not infringe it for those who don’t think they need to wear the hijab. For those who do, it does.

You are right that girls will emancipate their minds if they wish to. No law can do it for them. This law is likelier to alienate than otherwise the very girls it would wish to emancipate.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 3:11 pm

M T,

Okay, fair point about the intellectual as opposed to passionate sympathy. That’s a kind of distinction I make all the time myself.

But this business about the free choice. Yabonn has a very good point in her skepticism about the devotion of the religious side to free choice.

Can any choice made under Islam be considered genuinely free, in fact, when Islam itself includes no right of departure?

Muslims are forbidden to leave Islam. That’s apostasy, and the penalty is death. If you’re born Muslim, you have to stay Muslim. The UN actually altered Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, under pressure from Islamic countries, and removed the clause about the right to change or leave religions, leaving only the right to have a religion.

That’s freedom? If that’s freedom, what would slavery look like?

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yabonn 02.17.04 at 3:40 pm

mrs tilton,

“as I?ve said, I think most people who support the ban are doing the wrong thing for the right reason.”

I understood you think the majority of people is wrong, but my point is that it seems strange that this wrongness increases with the knowledge you have of the problem.

“As for liberty of conscience, the law does not infringe it for those who don?t think they need to wear the hijab. For those who do, it does.”

“This law is likelier to alienate than otherwise the very girls it would wish to emancipate.”

No, no.

First, you say above you’d react stronger if the state ordered to wear the hijab. Well yes : that’s because the two obligations “wear” and “don’t wear” are not equivalent, as the fate of the veiled and not veiled are not the same.

So it’s a bit exagerate to oppose flatly the one wanting to wear the hijab, and the ones refusing to wear it, as you do above. To caricature grossly, what you say would advocate a sect of prozelyting masochists too (not comparing islam to).

Second, it is true some will go in private schools, but not that many : simply not that many people is so extreme. The law can’t do anything, as you mention. For many many others, the law will provide a common ground with other people, rather than to be defined by their weil.

Sorry to bring this again, but it’s what both teachers and muslim women seem to think it will happen. It’s not about believing “in the law” for them, but evaluating the consequences, and i think they are well placed to do so.

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Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 4:38 pm

Ms Benson,

I am sure that Yabonn is right at least to some degree. While I would presume that some Muslim opponents of the ban view it as a freedom-of-conscience issue (e.g., perhaps, those who make a hijab out of the tricouleur), many others simply think girls need to wear the hijab and don’t like them being made to stop. I don’t share their view. I merely think that the choice whether to wear a hijab should be made by the girl who wears it (or doesn’t).

Can any choice made under Islam be considered genuinely free, in fact, when Islam itself includes no right of departure? … If you’re born Muslim, you have to stay Muslim.

Obviously I view the Muslim teaching that one cannot stop being a Muslim as distasteful. Or, to be more precise, I view as distasteful the thought that the religion should have any power to impose a penalty (any penalty, let alone death) on one who no longer accepts Muslim teaching. I suppose Muslims would be within their rights to think the apostate was Very Bad, and to refuse him or her access to religious services (a Muslim funeral, for example), though I am not certain why the apostate should be much bothered by this. That is, they may think whatever they like as an internal doctrinal matter, and I should hope apostates would be secure enough in themselves and in their decision to shrug their shoulders at it.

Under Jewish teaching, you know, a Jew cannot dejudaise himself. He may light fires on the sabbath to fry the bacon for his breakfast after being enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury, and yet (halakhically speaking) he remains a Jew; merely a bad one. Though they do not threaten the apostate with death, observant Jews might well frown at him; and if their system of belief holds him still to be a Jew, fair enough, as long as this is restricted to their internal beliefs. The point for the apostate, I should think, is precisely that the internal beliefs of Judaism are of no more relevance to him.

So also with Islam. Pious Muslims are welcome to disapprove of the apostate, even to believe that he cannot effectively ‘stop’ being a Muslim (though from your desription it sounds more as though he can, but simply may not do this). My concern for liberty of conscience leads me to assert that they may believe what they like, however benighted that be. That same concern leads me to assert that they should be unable to visit any punishment on the apostate (save perhaps the sundering of personal relations, which is any case their own affair). Though there are certainly liberal Muslims, I don’t think we can regard present-day Islam as on the whole a liberal institution; a regard for the liberty of conscience of Muslims does not mean that one agrees with what their conscience tells them.

But to return to the narrower question: yes, of course a choice made by a Muslim can be free. Muslim law can tell Muslims that they may not renounce Islam. It can even put apostates to death, in countries where it can get away with this. It cannot prevent them from renouncing Islam, if that is what they really intend to do. And, conversely, a Muslim can freely choose to abide by the tenets of his religion because he believes that religion true. On a less dramatic level, a Muslim girl can freely decide to wear the hijab, even though her religion tells her to.

(Indeed, I know one Muslim woman quite well who wears the hijab – not just a headscarf either – because she believes she should, though she lives in a country and is from a social and educational milieu in which no penalty of any sort would attach to her refusal to wear it; if anything, fewer people would make ignorant assumptions about her if she left it off.)

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Sebastian Holsclaw 02.17.04 at 5:38 pm

“Can any choice made under Islam be considered genuinely free, in fact, when Islam itself includes no right of departure?

Muslims are forbidden to leave Islam. That’s apostasy, and the penalty is death. If you’re born Muslim, you have to stay Muslim. The UN actually altered Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, under pressure from Islamic countries, and removed the clause about the right to change or leave religions, leaving only the right to have a religion.”

Ah, so we are back to the girls having no choice again. But you seem so certain that they will have the choice to stay in the secular schools. I see this argument has gone full circle from ‘we have to ban the hijab because it oppressive to girls who have no choice about wearing it’ to ‘France has a right to secular public society’, to ginger’s very strong ‘even if 99% of Muslim girls would be damaged by this it is still France’s right’ position from the previous thread to ‘We can’t be blamed if they choose to leave the schools (implying choice)’ all the way back to ‘we must ban the hijab because Muslim law allows for no choices’. You win. I can’t defeat that logic.

The ban exists, the girls have been doomed to be sacrificed (so sorry, ‘will be allowed to be sacrificed’ because we can’t do anything about it and will pretend that we aren’t making things worse for them). Another triumph of French principle over reality. I guess we will just have to move on.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 6:02 pm

Ms Tilton

“It cannot prevent them from renouncing Islam, if that is what they really intend to do.”

Hmm. I’m not sure what you mean. You mean they can renounce Islam internally and no one can prevent that? That’s true enough, but not much of a freedom, given that outward conformity is so very onerous. Or do you mean that one can go ahead and renounce and be killed? Also true enough, but not what I would call much of a freedom.

There are a good few states that can get away with the death penalty for apostasy you know. Can, and do. This isn’t a hypothetical, nor is it far-fetched.

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Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 6:50 pm

Ms Benson,

oh, I meant they could renounce publicly and be killed. That is very much a freedom. I grant you that the consequences of exercising that freedom are pretty appalling. But the choice lies ultimately with the individual, not the religious/legal system.

Nobody should be faced with that choice, of course. I know there a number of states where people can be and sometimes are killed for apostasy. I’m very happy that I do not live in one. I don’t think the state should interfere in the beliefs of the individual, in large ways or small. Banning the hijab is very minor stuff compared with killing an apostate; but both violate a principle that I think important.

Some people in this thread wonder about opponents of the ban who oppose it from a liberal perspective. It at least makes sense (I suppose these people would think) for a theocrat to oppose the ban; but why a liberal? But I don’t think this very perplexing at all. I oppose the ban for precisely the same reason that I would oppose a Muslim (Christian, Hindu, Jungle-God) theocracy.

It is sad that I find myself agreeing, on this issue, with a number of people whose views I detest and disagreeing with a number whose views I would generally share. But I think the former right as to result (though for very wrong reasons) and the latter, as I’ve said before, wrong though in many cases very laudably motivated.

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agrippa 02.17.04 at 7:12 pm

Mrs. Tilton,
The thing I find troubling about your argument is where do you draw the line. Specifically, is there any point at which you might say that “the state” is obligated to intervene in a religious practice? I’m not trying to be insulting, but do you think the radical form of female circumcision performed without anesthsia is permissible if a 10 yr old girl claims not to object?

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agrippa 02.17.04 at 7:20 pm

Or, what if a young woman’s family required her to wear the full type of burka with the face screen that is common in Afghanistan. Is it not unhealthy for a child to never be in the sun? What about vitamin D deficiencies and the prevalence of scalp sores that have been noted there?

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Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 8:50 pm

Agrippa,

clearly lines need to be drawn somewhere. I would certainly draw them when one individual’s religious practice would harm another. And I’d draw it for a minor, where he or she would harm him or herself.

So, I would require Christian Scientists to obtain medical help for their children even though they believe illness an illusion; and even if their child shared that belief. If adult Christian Scientists choose to dispense with medical help, that is their own affair.

The burqa is a less clear case. If, as you say, it has resulted in vitamin deficiencies or sores (and I will take your word for it that it has), then I would advise parents not to have their children wear it; and if they had them wear it nonetheless, I’d hold them accountable to ensure that it didn’t result in any of these problems. (BTW, I know that under the principle of pikuach nefesh virtually every obligation under Jewish law must give way in the face of a threat to life or health, and that the threshold of ‘threat’ is often very low; sadly I know much less about Islam, but would it – or any of its various schools – have a similar doctrine? Perhaps one of CT’s readers would know.)

As for genital mutilation, no, of course I would forbid it even if the underage victim wanted to go along. To be honest, I would be extremely uneasy about allowing it even in the case of a fully consenting, indeed eager adult. But, in the latter case, I admit that I find it difficult to construct a principled argument against it.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 9:33 pm

Ms Tilton

Interesting – I mean seriously: what you say really does interest me. In general the opponents I’ve been reading don’t, much, because they seem to me to just skip past the difficult bits, and you’re not doing that.

But I’m slightly confused about one thing. If apostates are free – to declare their apostasy and be killed – why aren’t hijab wearers also free?

But perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that the state that interferes with either of them is wrong.

Well, I don’t agree, because that still leaves all the Muslims and semi-Muslims and would-be-secular-if-they-could Muslims (not to mention all the non-Muslims) unfree to go to school or send their children to school in a secular environment. The trouble is that freedoms are always in tension with other freedoms. But even though I don’t agree – at least you’re not skating.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 9:34 pm

Ms Tilton

Interesting – I mean seriously: what you say really does interest me. In general the opponents I’ve been reading don’t, much, because they seem to me to just skip past the difficult bits, and you’re not doing that.

But I’m slightly confused about one thing. If apostates are free – to declare their apostasy and be killed – why aren’t hijab wearers also free?

But perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that the state that interferes with either of them is wrong.

Well, I don’t agree, because that still leaves all the Muslims and semi-Muslims and would-be-secular-if-they-could Muslims (not to mention all the non-Muslims) unfree to go to school or send their children to school in a secular environment. The trouble is that freedoms are always in tension with other freedoms. But even though I don’t agree – at least you’re not skating.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 9:35 pm

Ms Tilton

Interesting – I mean seriously: what you say really does interest me. In general the opponents I’ve been reading don’t, much, because they seem to me to just skip past the difficult bits, and you’re not doing that.

But I’m slightly confused about one thing. If apostates are free – to declare their apostasy and be killed – why aren’t hijab wearers also free?

But perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that the state that interferes with either of them is wrong.

Well, I don’t agree, because that still leaves all the Muslims and semi-Muslims and would-be-secular-if-they-could Muslims (not to mention all the non-Muslims) unfree to go to school or send their children to school in a secular environment. The trouble is that freedoms are always in tension with other freedoms. But even though I don’t agree – at least you’re not skating.

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Randy McDonald 02.17.04 at 9:45 pm

Mrs. Tilton:

I grant you that the consequences of exercising that freedom are pretty appalling. But the choice lies ultimately with the individual, not the religious/legal system.

That’s a very problematic argument. Taken to its logical limits, that means that any government action to promote change in traditional (or neo-traditional, in the case of the hijab) cultures is automatically flawed, even if the choice isn’t one that the people concerned want to make but are incapable of doing.

So, no action against segregation in the United States in the mid-20th century, given the practice’s firm integration into American (particularly Southern) culture; no action against anti-Semitism or misogyny, since everyone’s done that.

If I’m misinterpreting your position, please tell me. I just don’t see how you can avoid these consequences given your arguments above.

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Randy McDonald 02.17.04 at 9:46 pm

Mrs. Tilton:

I grant you that the consequences of exercising that freedom are pretty appalling. But the choice lies ultimately with the individual, not the religious/legal system.

That’s a very problematic argument. Taken to its logical limits, that means that any government action to promote change in traditional (or neo-traditional, in the case of the hijab) cultures is automatically flawed, even if the choice isn’t one that the people concerned want to make but are incapable of doing.

So, no action against segregation in the United States in the mid-20th century, given the practice’s firm integration into American (particularly Southern) culture; no action against anti-Semitism or misogyny, since everyone’s done that.

If I’m misinterpreting your position, please tell me. I just don’t see how you can avoid these consequences given your arguments above.

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Randy McDonald 02.17.04 at 9:46 pm

Mrs. Tilton:

I grant you that the consequences of exercising that freedom are pretty appalling. But the choice lies ultimately with the individual, not the religious/legal system.

That’s a very problematic argument. Taken to its logical limits, that means that any government action to promote change in traditional (or neo-traditional, in the case of the hijab) cultures is automatically flawed, even if the choice isn’t one that the people concerned want to make but are incapable of doing.

So, no action against segregation in the United States in the mid-20th century, given the practice’s firm integration into American (particularly Southern) culture; no action against anti-Semitism or misogyny, since everyone’s done that.

If I’m misinterpreting your position, please tell me. I just don’t see how you can avoid these consequences given your arguments above.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 9:49 pm

Ms Tilton

Interesting – I mean seriously: what you say really does interest me. In general the opponents I’ve been reading don’t, much, because they seem to me to just skip past the difficult bits, and you’re not doing that.

But I’m slightly confused about one thing. If apostates are free – to declare their apostasy and be killed – why aren’t hijab wearers also free?

But perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that the state that interferes with either of them is wrong.

Well, I don’t agree, because that still leaves all the Muslims and semi-Muslims and would-be-secular-if-they-could Muslims (not to mention all the non-Muslims) unfree to go to school or send their children to school in a secular environment. The trouble is that freedoms are always in tension with other freedoms. But even though I don’t agree – at least you’re not skating.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 9:50 pm

Ms Tilton

Interesting – I mean seriously: what you say really does interest me. In general the opponents I’ve been reading don’t, much, because they seem to me to just skip past the difficult bits, and you’re not doing that.

But I’m slightly confused about one thing. If apostates are free – to declare their apostasy and be killed – why aren’t hijab wearers also free?

But perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that the state that interferes with either of them is wrong.

Well, I don’t agree, because that still leaves all the Muslims and semi-Muslims and would-be-secular-if-they-could Muslims (not to mention all the non-Muslims) unfree to go to school or send their children to school in a secular environment. The trouble is that freedoms are always in tension with other freedoms. But even though I don’t agree – at least you’re not skating.

90

Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 9:55 pm

Ms Tilton

Interesting – I mean seriously: what you say really does interest me. In general the opponents I’ve been reading don’t, much, because they seem to me to just skip past the difficult bits, and you’re not doing that.

But I’m slightly confused about one thing. If apostates are free – to declare their apostasy and be killed – why aren’t hijab wearers also free?

But perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that the state that interferes with either of them is wrong.

Well, I don’t agree, because that still leaves all the Muslims and semi-Muslims and would-be-secular-if-they-could Muslims (not to mention all the non-Muslims) unfree to go to school or send their children to school in a secular environment. The trouble is that freedoms are always in tension with other freedoms. But even though I don’t agree – at least you’re not skating.

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Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 10:01 pm

Ms Benson,

If apostates are free – to declare their apostasy and be killed – why aren’t hijab wearers also free?

But of course they should be. Apostates should be free to renounce Islam (or any other religion) and suffer no worse penalty than, perhaps, the disapproval of their former co-religionists. A hijab-wearer should be free to take the thing off, with exactly the same results. But she should also be permitted to keep it on, if she so chooses.

that still leaves all the Muslims and semi-Muslims and would-be-secular-if-they-could Muslims (not to mention all the non-Muslims) unfree to go to school or send their children to school in a secular environment.

Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘secular environment’. If by this one means that the school teaches no religion (as doctrine; I would not be greatly bothered by some sort of comparative survey of major religions and other sorts of world-view, as has been discussed in another CT post); if one means that the doctrines of no religion inform its curriculum (e.g., no creationism); if one means that the school promotes neither religion in general nor any one religion; why, there you have your secular environment, even if half the kids are in hijabs, or yarmulkes, or dreadlocks. But if you mean ‘an environment in which no individual may show any visible sign of her belief’, I think that goes a bit far. Schoolchildren should be permitted to enter into and participate in a secular learning environment of the first sort described above, even if some of them wear a hijab, or a crucifix, or for that matter an amulet to Thor.

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Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 10:08 pm

Randy,

That’s a very problematic argument. Taken to its logical limits, that means that any government action to promote change in traditional (or neo-traditional, in the case of the hijab) cultures is automatically flawed, even if the choice isn’t one that the people concerned want to make but are incapable of doing.

My statement about freedom to choose even if it means death is much more limited in scope than I think you think it is.

It means just that and nothing more. A tyrant may jump up and down and scream and threaten if I do or fail to do X. He may indeed cut my head off for doing it. But the choice to do it remains mine no matter how great his tyranny – even if that tyranny is so oppressive that none but the most committed would make the choice.

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Randy McDonald 02.17.04 at 11:25 pm

Mrs. Tilton:

I grant you that the consequences of exercising
that freedom are pretty appalling. But the choice lies
ultimately with the individual, not the religious/legal system.

That’s a very problematic argument. Taken to its logical limits, that means that any government action to promote change in traditional (or neo-traditional, in the case of the hijab) cultures is automatically flawed, even if the choice isn’t one that the people concerned want to make but are
incapable of doing.

So, no action against segregation in the United States in the mid-20th century, given the practice’s firm integration into American (particularly Southern) culture; no action against anti-Semitism or misogyny, since everyone’s done that.

If I’m misinterpreting your position, please tell me. I just don’t see how you can avoid these consequences given your arguments above.

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Randy McDonald 02.17.04 at 11:26 pm

Mrs. Tilton:

I grant you that the consequences of exercising
that freedom are pretty appalling. But the choice lies
ultimately with the individual, not the religious/legal system.

That’s a very problematic argument. Taken to its logical limits, that means that any government action to promote change in traditional (or neo-traditional, in the case of the hijab) cultures is automatically flawed, even if the choice isn’t one that the people concerned want to make but are
incapable of doing.

So, no action against segregation in the United States in the mid-20th century, given the practice’s firm integration into American (particularly Southern) culture; no action against anti-Semitism or misogyny, since everyone’s done that.

If I’m misinterpreting your position, please tell me. I just don’t see how you can avoid these consequences given your arguments above.

95

Ophelia Benson 02.18.04 at 2:18 am

Ms Tilton

Interesting – I mean seriously: what you say really does interest me. In general the opponents I’ve been reading don’t, much, because they seem to me to just skip past the difficult bits, and you’re not doing that.

But I’m slightly confused about one thing. If apostates are free – to declare their apostasy and be killed – why aren’t hijab wearers also free?

But perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that the state that interferes with either of them is wrong.

Well, I don’t agree, because that still leaves all the Muslims and semi-Muslims and would-be-secular-if-they-could Muslims (not to mention all the non-Muslims) unfree to go to school or send their children to school in a secular environment. The trouble is that freedoms are always in tension with other freedoms. But even though I don’t agree – at least you’re not skating.

96

Randy McDonald 02.18.04 at 6:23 am

Mrs. Tilton:

But the choice to do it remains mine no matter how great his tyranny – even if that tyranny is so oppressive that none but the most committed would make the choice.

That, though, makes the question of choice a mere formality. Certainly it’s an unacceptable outcome in a liberal-democratic society.

It comes down to the question of what should be done when, in a liberal society, illiberal forces, movements, and people use their freedoms to infringe on the rights of others. If any infringements must be made, they should be made at the expense of the illiberal forces, not their putative victims. It’s not my favourite choice; it is, though, the least bad one.

And sorry about the multiple posts.

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Matt 02.18.04 at 5:40 pm

This goes back to the Megalithic faiths, where honor won by cunning and predatory exploit gives way to honor won through the display of wealth. It is worthwhile to study this phenomenon from within other cultures.

‘Until very recently, fathers and brothers arranged their(women’s)marriages, determined their occupations, with a view always to advantage the family as a whole. It was they who decided whom a daughter or sister should marry, and when, or that another, to save the expense of a dowry, should not marry at all; it was they who calculated that it was worth sending a clever daughter or sister to a university on the mainland, paying her room and board and lodging….If a man so much as spoke to a girl in the village street, or worse, touched her face or hands she was compromised and he had to marry her immediately or a vendetta was declared; to kiss her, even on the cheek, was an outrage. An even more dishonoring gesture was to tear off her headscarf, known as the attacar, it amounted to symbolic rape; the girl, even if she had protested, was considered to be deflowered, and had to be married without delay. The attacar was a common cause of vendettas into the present century….The vendetta is out of date, and to some degree, is marriage, for unmarried couples no longer suffer social exclusion.’
(Carrington, Dream Hunters of Corsica, p.83)

‘Once the break instituting the symbolic process has been established, what we have called the semiotic chora acquires a more precise status….The semiotic that precedes symbolization is only a (theoretical supposition) justified by the need for description….In the extreme, negativity aims to foreclose the thetic phase, which after a period of explosive semiotic motility, may result in the loss of the symbol function, as seen in schizophrenia.’
(Toril Moi, Kristeva Reader, Kristeva on the Chora)

At this point, identifying with the majority requires a subsumption, and it is this aspect that the French are so proud of, having spent quite a lot of blood to forge their type of democracy. To continue wearing the hajib in opposition to secular law actually tends to render its meaning different from that of its traditional one. In Shang China(1100 B.C.E.), the sacred and secular were much less-well defined. What you got then was slavery and mass human sacrifice. Schizoid.

Regards,
Matt

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Matt 02.18.04 at 6:02 pm

What she is wearing on her head may be functional, the desert winds and sun can wreak havoc on delicate skin. On the other hand, she wears a symbolic sword. French echarpe ‘sword’ Corsican sciarpa ‘scarf.’

When Boswell visited Corsica, he saw a truly ‘savage’ dance called the maresqa, a sword dance of great antiquity. Alfor and Gallop consider this a pre-christian symbolic representation of the contest between summmer and winter. The clergy went vehement over another dance, the deadly caracollu.

This same maresqa-style dance was witnessed and recorded by one of China’s beloved poets, Tu Fu:

When Little Miss dance the chien-chi
Nine suns fall

Therefore, it does not belong to any one ethnicity in particular. In fact, even Confucius has something to say about the headscarf:

‘Moreover, to fail to observe a single rule of decorum would make a virtuous girl feel ashamed of herself; how much more should that not apply to a gentleman who has received an (imperial) order! Confucius says: ‘Si(my disciples), you are loath to part with the price of the sheep, but I am loath to see the disappearance of the rite,’ For what will happen when it is discarded? The government will lose its worthiest men — that is the long and short of it.”
(Lunyu, 3.17, trans. Lau)

‘It is very important to safeguard the immanent presence of the virtual in the actual in order to prevent a Platonic (chorismos)from splitting apart the two faces of the Real.’
(Boundas, Exchange, Gift, Theft)

Regards,
Matt

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