For shame

See Martens, S. (passim) for insightful analysis and thoughtful commentary on the French headscarf controversy. For my part, may I say simply that the majority in the National Assembly is scandalously, monstrously, shamefully wrong.

The French treasure la?cit? as a safeguard of the republican values of libert?, ?galit? et fraternit?. And so it is. All the more perverse, then, that libert? be abridged under the banner of la?cit?.

And that’s all I have to say on the matter for the moment.

32 thoughts on “For shame

  1. Thank you Bob for that link! It is indeed interesting. I am sure many French Muslims support that Law of Secularism but do not dare to defend it publicly yet.
    For those who think this Law of Laicite is “shameful”, I have only one question: what do you answer to Muslim girls who say they do not want to wear the headscarf but that they are increasingly forced to do so by peer pressure or even by threat?
    Do you just deny their existence?
    Do you just say that they should leave State schools?
    This is a Law of libert?, Freedom of Conscience against proselytism and against religious constraints.

  2. Phersu – I would answer this:

    Your nation has failed to protect you and now in its shame it will punish you by empowering those who would force you to wear the headscarf. Where before the headscarf was something you wore in school out of fear and could take off when your headmaster insisted, by forbidding it the pressure to wear it outside of school will be ten times greater than before. Where you could once have proudly been a French Muslim woman without a headscarf, if you fail to wear one you will now be branded as someone who has abandonned her family’s faith and her roots; if you do wear it, you will now be branded as someone who has rejected France. Where Muslim women were once compelled to get an education by a state that wished to free them of prejudice and inequity, they will now have to choose between education and security, because the state that failed to protect the choice not to wear the headscarf will not offer any greater protection now.

    Your nation has taken away the freedom of people who do choose to wear the headscarf out of a genuine conviction, and it has given you nothing in return.

  3. Where before the headscarf was something you wore in school out of fear and could take off when your headmaster insisted

    I do not understand this argument. Before the law, the headmaster could not do anything, as you know.
    The Conseil d’Etat had clearly said in 1989 that she could wear the scarf if she wanted. The headmaster could only have a meeting with the parents but nothing more. The “precedents” were clear-cut.
    What could she reply to her friends?
    Now she can explain that she does not want to go to a private school and therefore that she will not wear the scarf.
    Or she will go to a private school and can still have a real education (the program has to be the same in public and private schools, except that religion is authorized in private schools).

    By the way, I do not deny that some girls also want sincerely to wear the scarf “out of a genuine conviction” (whether by faith, by revolt, by attachment to their community, for aesthetic reasons, etc). They are not always forced by parents, by clerics or by friends.
    But if they refuse the secular school system, they can go to private schools.
    There are not many Muslim schools but they will exist soon (it takes five years for a private school to be “officially sanctioned” or chartered “sous Contrat d’Etat”). Other private schools authorize scarves and can not refuse a student for religious reasons.

  4. Yes, there is the 1989 ruling, and in a Common Law state, that would be essentially state policy. France is not a Common Law state. As you know quite well – since I see that you’ve read my previous post – headmasters in France do ban head coverings and do refuse entry to girls who won’t take them off.

    Living by the tenets of one’s faith – even when those tenets include a dress code – is not the same thing as refusing the secular school system. Furthermore, do you really want boys and girls from Muslim families attending religious schools instead of secular schools? I thought the idea was integration.

    And who is going to pay for these private schools since the Muslims most affected tend to be the poorest ones? The French state offers very slim funding for Catholic schools. It will likely offer none for Islamic schools. What would you like to bet that it will be charities funded from the Middle East funding these schools? There are Muslim schools all over the world funded by Middle Eastern, especially Saudi charities. Some are, I’m sure, wonderful places that offer high quality education. But some are also the madrasses that gave the world the Taliban. There is little chance that this measure will enhance integration or diminish the worst elements of French Muslim culture.

    I stand by my claim that this law will make matters worse in every way.

  5. Scott,

    “Where you could once have proudly been a French Muslim woman without a headscarf, if you fail to wear one you will now be branded as someone who has abandonned her family’s faith and her roots; if you do wear it, you will now be branded as someone who has rejected France.”

    The state (at the behest of 70% of the populace) obviously sees those those two options as a binary choice rather than non-exclusive possibilities, and has acted to clearly delineate them as such. To say that the state has given the populace “nothing in return” is meaningless. It has given them precisely what they appear to want, a delineation between French-ness and devout Muslim-ness.

    Bernard Guerrero

  6. The state (at the behest of 70% of the populace) obviously sees those those two options as a binary choice rather than non-exclusive possibilities, and has acted to clearly delineate them as such. To say that the state has given the populace “nothing in return” is meaningless. It has given them precisely what they appear to want, a delineation between French-ness and devout Muslim-ness.

    And of course Jewishness and Sikhness, of course. If a majority really wants a delineation between French-ness and devout Muslim-ness, then it is the business of the constitution as implemented by the government or the courts to save the country’s blushes.

    If the French state had really wanted to take the side of Muslim women who face often brutal reprisals for not wearing headscarves, it could have prosecuted the brutes who perpetrate them, which would have required no particular legal innovations, unless you count enforcement as one.

    The NA has backed a stupid propaganda victory at the expense of the vulnerable, and I hope it’s proud of itself.

  7. For those who think this Law of Laicite is “shameful”, I have only one question: what do you answer to Muslim girls who say they do not want to wear the headscarf but that they are increasingly forced to do so by peer pressure or even by threat?

    Since I’m the one who called the law shameful, I suppose I’d better respond.

    My answer to a Muslim girl in that unfortunate position would be: if you do not wish to wear the hijab, do not wear it.

    If a girl’s parents pressure her into wearing it, then she must persuade them to agree with her, or else she just might have to wear it until she’s old enough to set out for herself and live by her own rules. It may be hard for you to believe, but it is not only young French Muslim girls who are subjected to parental dress codes that they dislike. Less flippantly, it is not only young French Muslim girls whose personal religious beliefs may be at odds with those their parents wish to inculcate in them.

    If a girl who would otherwise refuse the hijab feels driven to wear it because of peer pressure, she is going to have to decide how much importance she attaches to the approbation of her peers. Again, there is nothing unique or special about her position. We all find ourselves facing peer pressure from time to time for one reason or another, and we must all make up our own minds.

    As for those who would threaten girls with violence for refusing the hijab, my answer is that the state should crack down on them, hard, for violating the liberty and autonomy of free citizens. Instead, the state is itself violating their liberty and autonomy itself. Not an optimal use of state power, in my view.

  8. “giving the socialists a fig leaf to escape if it all goes bad.”
    Is that a bad thing? I imagine that the legislative process might produce better results if the goals laws are supposed to serve were actually considered to be a relevant benchmark which – if it clearly demonstrated the failure of a legislative measure – might ultimately even motivate the supporters of any given law to question the wisdom of earlier decisions and lend their support to repealing the failed law in question.

  9. I want to apologize first for my style in English which is awkward and incorrect. And sorry also for being too long and repetitive (I have not many synonyms in your language).

    Scott Martens wrote.
    headmasters in France do ban head coverings

    Yes, but they used to be always over-ruled when there was an appeal. Some organizations knew how to use the ruling of the Conseil d’Etat and funded lawyers to intimidate headmasters. That is why the Loi sur la La?cit? became necessary!

    Furthermore, do you really want boys and girls from Muslim families attending religious schools instead of secular schools?

    Most Muslims do not wear headscarves in France and will not stay in state schools. Those who refuse secularism have the right to go to a religious school (even though there may not be enough of them right now). Yes, I prefer to respect their constitutional right to refuse secular schools than to permit the anomaly of proselytism within state schools.

    The French state offers very slim funding for Catholic schools.

    Comparatively to what? The Vatican? The French state funds 50% of expenses for the buildings of private schools when they are officially sanctioned (after 5 years, if they accept the national program and national competitive exams).
    I think you are begging the question when you assume that the French state will not treat Muslim schools exactly the same way they treat Catholic and Jewish schools after the Five-Year delay. If they teach the national program, they will get public funding or they can sue the State.

    Yes, you are right, some girls will also go to some private salafist madrassas where they will not get what the education we would prefer. So what? Your argument becomes “illiberal” on that. Why should we protect these students from their own choice? Should we force them never to go to such schools? Should we abolish salafism then?

    Bernard Guerrero
    It has given them precisely what they appear to want, a delineation between French-ness and devout Muslim-ness.

    No, it is a delineation between secular French citizens and some devout French citizens who prefer religious schools. Catholic students who go to Catholic schools are not “disenfranchised” from their rights to be French. The few Muslim girls who refuse to take off their scarf while they are minor will not lose their citizenship.

    des
    If the French state had really wanted to take the side of Muslim women who face often brutal reprisals for not wearing headscarves, it could have prosecuted the brutes who perpetrate them, which would have required no particular legal innovations, unless you count enforcement as one.

    Please, explain to me how you prosecute a general climate of intimidation? Do you put policemen everywhere? I do not understand.

    Ms Tilton
    My answer to a Muslim girl in that unfortunate position would be: if you do not wish to wear the hijab, do not wear it.

    Yes, they are many courageous Muslim girls who take that choice. The Commission Stasi showed there were also some Muslim girls who demanded to be protected. You can think I make up that example but it is real: one Muslim girl at least said that she had to leave the public schools because there was too much pressure to wear the scarf. That what convinced me that the Law had become indispensible.

    I agree with you, it is not a simple choice and I had also some doubts (especially with some ridiculous arguments I have heard in the National Assembly).

    But I still think that the Law was (1) necessary, (2) it can even be positive for the Muslims and their integration as 40% of them acknowledge.

    I fear English-speaking thinkers react too rapidly about that affair without considering all the facts. They think the “Evil French Papists” are robbing the poor minority of their rights and they imagine some apartheid or Stalinists burning the Mosques. I think a case can be made that this law is a protection of freedom of conscience. Yes, it is not sufficient, it will provide zero help for economic integration, it is only a case of “negative” liberty, it can even yield some undesired side effects but it is not merely “shameful LePenism”, “racism”, “backward Republicanism”, “stigmatisation”.

    Sorry once again for my poor style in English and to clutter this page of comments.

  10. Please, explain to me how you prosecute a general climate of intimidation?

    You don’t. Are you seriously claiming that no laws were broken as part of the intimidation process? If, as is surely the case, they were, you prosecute the offenders in such a way as to make it clear you mean business and that the state backs women’s right not to wear the scarf.

  11. Are you seriously claiming that no laws were broken as part of the intimidation process?

    Very often, no. You cannot always pinpoint (is that the word?) acts of violence. Girls cannot always call the police when some of their friends or relatives insist that a girl without a hijab is a slut/a bad Muslim/a traitor and that she should be insulted and shunned by all.

    This intimidation will go on outside of school of course but no law can change that. This law is limited only to public schools with minors and it may help to protect most girls who will stay in the public system (even if they choose to wear the hijab when they leave class).

  12. Zero-tolerance policing of such crimes as were committed would have got the message through at least as effictively in the opinion which I am not currently experiencing the slightest hint of ceasing to have.

    If Muslim adolescents insult and abuse only girls wearing shorter skirts or tight fitting tops, would you pass a law making those compulsory at school too? (Actually, I might be more conflicted on that one, but not in a good way…)

  13. “I have only one question: what do you answer to Muslim girls who say they do not want to wear the headscarf but that they are increasingly forced to do so by peer pressure or even by threat?”

    To use this in support of banning the headscarf is to confuse victim and victimizer. Those who threaten girls into wearing a headscarf ought to be punished. The fact that France lets unemployed Muslim gangs threaten women is a good argument for destroying the gangs and reforming the criminal system. It is an awful argument for banning a religious symbol

  14. My concern on this subject is particularly for minor children, as distinct from adults who are capable of making decisions of their own on this subject. What, exactly, would it feel like for a girl to be told that in order to be a good person she has to cover her body entirely, unlike her brothers, or her father? What does it mean? (Read here for one perspective, not sympathetic to the proposed ban.) The assumption behind the necessity of the veil seems to be that the female body is uniquely dangerous, whether because of what it exposed does to others, or because of what it exposes females themselves to. The sin of Eve carried onto all of her daughters, forever and ever, and so on. (That, or a proprietary nature towards the female body on the part of men.)

    I do believe that people should have the right to opt out of hegemonic visions which are personally threatening. I believe that the state, as a neutral enabler, should not support the expression of these hegemonic visions in the institutions includnig under its aegis, that it should create a space for free expression. It should be possible, if you’re a woman, not to physically isolate yourself from the surrounding world; it should be possible, if you’re not straight, to be able to expect to date and love; it should be possible, if your physiognomy differs from whatever the local norm is, to be an equal.

    No matter that it?s a tradition, some traditions need to be destroyed in the public sphere. Misogyny is one of these traditions, and the hijab appears to be a manifestation of one of these traditions.

    It’s not enough, mind. The banlieues need to be brought into the mainstream of French society. It’s a start, though, by giving French Muslim girls in oppressive situations the beginnings of the space that they need to allow themselves not to wear the hijab.

    Anyway, more here.

  15. There are not many Muslim schools but they will exist soon

    Phersu, that is precisely what is wrong with this law. What I see this law as doing is preventing any sort of blurring of identities whereby it is possible to be a devout Muslim and French at the same time. By forcing a significant number of Muslims outside the state education system you actually reinforce the ghettoisation of Muslims in France.

    I also pity the teachers in places like Argenteuil who are going to have to enforce this. It’s a recipe for classroom chaos. In fact children’s education seems to have been completely missing from this debate.

    I work in a government office with a number of Muslim women who wear hijab – I’ve never noticed it making them less British, less professional or less enlightened. I accept that there is a difference when independent, adult, women choose to wear hijab. Of course there is pressure in some families, but this law seems to be almost a way of avoiding the chronic law-and-order problem in Muslim housing estates.

    PS – no need to keep apologising for your English, it’s fine.

  16. Young Fogey:

    The situation in your office, though, is different from the situation in schools. Presumably those women made a conscious decision to wear the hijab, something they’re quite qualified to do as adults. If they want to accept the psychological baggage, that’s their choice.

    We’re talking about children, though, people below the age of majority who are being pressured to wear the hijab as a symbol of their inferiority. Schools in Canada have an obligation to act in loco parentis; for instance, teachers can be held liable if they suspect abuse but do nothing. I hardly think that schools and teachers in France have less responsibility–I certainly don’t think that they should tolerate abusive behaviour in classrooms.

  17. In my view, you’re the one who’s wrong. You’re dealing with this in the abstract, without considering the reasons behind this law, and the reasons for those supporting it (including 40% and more of French Muslim women).

    Besides, unlike you, the National Assembly is in France.

    Think about it.

  18. If only the entire world had the same concept of laicit? as France. I’d be for taking it even more radically, and ban all religious schools. Parents have no right to impose religion on children, they’re not their property. Teach it to them, yes, in a religious setting; but not put them in environments where religion dictates everything that’s taught to them, including subjects that have nothing to do with religion. Religious teachings should be kept outside of any comprehensive schooling system, state or not.

    But I can only dream about that…

  19. Actually, Ginger, I agree with you, at least part of the way. I don’t know that I’d be comfortable banning relgious schools (as long as they adequately taught the state-set curriculum). But that is because I am a woolly-headed liberal, no doubt. I certainly agree, though, that religion should have no role in the running of a state, to include the running of state schools.

    But it is one thing to require the state to be la?c, another to insist that its citizens be. The purpose of state neutrality is the protection of the liberty of the individual. It is a perversion of this neutrality for the state to use la?cit? to abridge the liberty of a citizen. And it is a perversion of la?cit? itself to erect, in its name, what is in effect a religious test for access to state schooling.

  20. Mrs. Tilton:

    But it is one thing to require the state to be la?c, another to insist that its citizens be. The purpose of state neutrality is the protection of the liberty of the individual. It is a perversion of this neutrality for the state to use la?cit? to abridge the liberty of a citizen. And it is a perversion of la?cit? itself to erect, in its name, what is in effect a religious test for access to state schooling.

    The state is under no obligation to support, in secular school systems, parochial religious or cultural dogmas.

    If (for instance) you’re a Baptist Christian who’s anti-gay, and if you want your child to be taught by public school teachers that being gay is wrong, you should be (ideally in a non-homophobic society) disappointed when the teachers refuse to accept your dogma.

    Likewise, if you are a parent of daughters, and if you’re motivated by a particular variant of misogyny which holds that all females must be kept from public sight, you should be under no expectations that public school teachers will connive in this misogyny.

  21. Young Fogey
    I also pity the teachers in places like Argenteuil who are going to have to enforce this. It’s a recipe for classroom chaos.

    I wonder about that. The situation was worse before the law. Teachers asked the students to remove the signs and some students simply refused and quoted the decision of the Conseil d’Etat in 1989.
    Now the rules will be clearer and equal for all religions, with no risk of special prejudice or arbitrary variations.

    Mrs Tilton
    But it is one thing to require the state to be la?c, another to insist that its citizens be.

    Yes, you are right to insist on that difference and it would be totalitarian if this difference was not respected.
    But the law does not force all citizens to be la?cs. It applies only to minors (and civil servants). University students can show all the signs they want, even in State Universities.

  22. Randy McDonald writes:

    If (for instance) you’re a Baptist Christian who’s anti-gay, and if you want your child to be taught by public school teachers that being gay is wrong, you should be (ideally in a non-homophobic society) disappointed when the teachers refuse to accept your dogma

    You are having trouble keeping your categories straight, Randy, so let me help you out.

    I agree with you that state schools should not teach any religious dogma (whether that being gay is wrong, that girls and women should go about in headscarves, or even less obnoxious doctrines). Religion has no place in the running of the state, full stop.

    But barring Muslim girls in headscarves isn’t analogous to refusing to teach homophobic Baptist bigotry in the schoolroom, you see. It’s analogous to barring Baptist children from the schoolroom if they will not sign a form repudiating the homophobic element of Baptist belief.

    Now, you may assert that the state should force people to choose between adherence to a religion you dislike and access to schooling. But you cannot claim (or rather, you can claim, but not convincingly) that this is anything other than a state infringement of liberty.

  23. Mrs. Tilton:

    [B]arring Muslim girls in headscarves isn’t analogous to refusing to teach homophobic Baptist bigotry in the schoolroom, you see. It’s analogous to barring Baptist children from the schoolroom if they will not sign a form repudiating the homophobic element of Baptist belief.

    No. It’s equivalent to Baptist children being told that the school administration will not tolerate homophobia in the school context, no matter how fervently their parents hold this belief, and no matter how sincerely they themselves might hold it.

    Now, you may assert that the state should force people to choose between adherence to a religion you dislike and access to schooling. But you cannot claim (or rather, you can claim, but not convincingly) that this is anything other than a state infringement of liberty.

    Firstly, Cheryl Bernard provides a useful summary of the ways in which the hijab isn’t a necessary condition of being a Muslim. To say nothing of how it’s a neologism invented in the 1960s by a Lebanese clerics, but let’s leave that aside.

    As for Islamophobia, well, I’m about as Islamophobic as the majority of French Muslim women who support the ban; I’ve had too many close calls with organized religion in my life (conception in a religiously mixed marriage, sexual orientation) to think that allowing religion and traditional cultures a veto over an individual’s behaviour is at all tolerable.

    On to your main point. Henry Farrell, over at Crooked Timber, has argued that a ban would be justified under certain circumstances. I quote:

    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.

    He doesn’t think that those conditions are met.

    As I observed downthread in the comments there,

    “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.”

    That’s the long-term goal of this law. While I’m skeptical about the law inasmuch as it can effect young women who wear the hijab voluntarily, the law seems to be the best possible solution given the specific context of what’s going on.

  24. Randy writes,

    [the hijab ban is not equivalent to banning Baptists who will not repudiate homophobia from schools but is] equivalent to Baptist children being told that the school administration will not tolerate homophobia in the school context, no matter how fervently their parents hold this belief, and no matter how sincerely they themselves might hold it.

    With respect, you’re still having trouble drawing a correct analogy. France would do right to forbid Muslim schoolgirls to force their female Muslim classmates to wear the hijab, or to use school time to harangue non-hijab wearers for being heretics. There’s your analogy to a school refusing to tolerate Baptist homophobia in the schoolroom. But that is not what France is doing with this law. It really is like forcing wee Baptists to sign a renunciation of homophobia to gain entrance to the schoolroom.

    I’d tend to agree with Cheryl Bernard that a girl needn’t wear a hijab to be a good Muslim. (Of course, unlike Ms Bernard, I am not an imam whose theological authority is nigh-universally accepted in the Islamic world.) But then, you and I are not Muslims, so our views on the necessity or otherwise under Islamic doctrine of wearing the hijab aren’t particularly important. There are many Muslim women, for that matter, who would agree with Ms Bernard that their faith does not require them to wear the hijab. But their views are as irrelevant to Muslim women who think it does as are yours or mine. With respect to herself (and, of course, only herself), it is the individual belief of a Muslim woman that is important for her decision to wear the hijab. And, if she believes that her religion requires it, then France now requires her to choose between her faith and access to free schooling. This is a religious test, nothing less, and it is reprehensible in a liberal democracy (especially a liberal democracy like France that justly prides itself on the secular nature of the state).

    And this law will not affect those Muslim girls who are forced by their parents to wear the hijab against their will. They may happily slip the scarf from their head as they arrive at school (if they hadn’t already been soing so anyway). It will affect precisely those girls who genuinely believe they are obligated to wear the hijab. And it will affect them by driving them into Allah only knows what sort of dame-madrassahs the Islamists will now establish for the girls the state turns away. That is, it will remove from a secular educational environment precisely those girls who might most benefit from it; precisely those people whom the state should most fervently wish to assist in integrating into French society; precisely those who might otherwise have served as a living illustration to fellow Muslims (and adherents of any religion or none) that one can reconcile one’s private values and beliefs with one’s place as citizen of a secular, pluralist state.

    [Catholics now being allowed divorce in Italy, dissenters now allowed in UK parliament etc.; and then:] What goes for established religions should also go for newly-established religions.

    You are confusing two different meanings of the word ‘estabished’. I suppose one could call Islam ‘newly-established’ by comparison with Christianity and, a fortiori, Judaism. But it has been around for a considerable while by now, you know. But that’s neither here nor there; what you are talking about is the de jure (as in southern Europe) or de facto (as in England) loss by established, i.e., state, churches of their former privileges. And that’s all to the good, of course.

    Islam, by contrast, is hardly the established religion of France. Muslims in that country are a fairly sizeable, and fairly unpopular, minority. They are in much the same position, in fact, that was occupied by Roman Catholics in England back when the establishment nature of the Church of England was much more than the essentially notional thing it is now. And, in those days, Roman Catholics could not matriculate at Oxford or Cambridge unless they subscribed the 39 Articles of (Anglican) Religion. I suppose there might well have been indifferent RCs in those days who wouldn’t scruple to sign a wee piece of paper to obtain admission to university. But a Roman Catholic who took his faith seriously could not in conscience do this, and thus was effectively barred from studies. And that, the respectable Anglican majority told itself, is the way things should be.

    Now, it may be my own personal view that most Roman Catholic teachings are wrong and some of them positively harmful. But it is very much not my view that Roman Catholics be put in a position where they must abandon some element of their belief or else be burdened with a civil disability. The days when Roman Catholics faced this choice are long behind us, of course, thank God or whomever else you wish to thank. England technically retains a state church but is de facto secular and pluralist; nobody’s religious liberty is abridged (unless, ironically, they are members of the royal family). And this development is one you’d expect good republican Frenchmen to hail. How very odd, then, that they have now chosen to ape the discriminatory Anglican-establishment England of a long-past, less enlightened age.

    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.

    Quite so. But then, that’s not what this law is about. This law is barring from the schoolroom those Muslim girls who do want to be subjected to the wearing of the hijab. You and I may think the hijab silly, even offensive in its implications. But we are not being forced to wear it. Those who freely choose to wear it are having their freedom to choose taken away.

  25. With respect, you’re still having trouble drawing a correct analogy. France would do right to forbid Muslim schoolgirls to force their female Muslim classmates to wear the hijab, or to use school time to harangue non-hijab wearers for being heretics. There’s your analogy to a school refusing to tolerate Baptist homophobia in the schoolroom. But that is not what France is doing with this law. It really is like forcing wee Baptists to sign a renunciation of homophobia to gain entrance to the schoolroom.

    See more below on this point.

    I’d tend to agree with Cheryl Bernard that a girl needn’t wear a hijab to be a good Muslim. (Of course, unlike Ms Bernard, I am not an imam whose theological authority is nigh-universally accepted in the Islamic world.)

    Theological qualifications are unnecessary when it comes to critiquing a religion. For instance, the institutional Catholic Church might argue quite sincerely that its opposition to gay marriage is based on a solemn concern for human dignity, for the institution of marriage, for people already married, and for the putative marrieds themselves. All of the external critiques of the Catholic Church’s position won’t change it, likely, or at least not directly lead to change. That does not mean that the critiques aren’t well-founded.

    You are confusing two different meanings of the word ‘estabished’. I suppose one could call Islam ‘newly-established’ by comparison with Christianity and, a fortiori, Judaism. But it has been around for a considerable while by now, you know.

    I am, quite aware. The multi-million size communities in Britain, Germany, and France are rather different from such smaller Muslim communities as existed in northwestern Europe in the early 20th century, not least because of their size and relative prominence, though. Islam is an old religion worldwide; a substantial Islamic presence in Europe, though, is an innovation indeed.

    Islam, by contrast, is hardly the established religion of France. Muslims in that country are a fairly sizeable, and fairly unpopular, minority. They are in much the same position, in fact, that was occupied by Roman Catholics in England back when the establishment nature of the Church of England was much more than the essentially notional thing it is now.

    I disagree with your analogy on two grounds.

    The first of my grounds for disagreement lies with the fact that this law isn’t targeting Islam because it’s a minority religion, or an unpopular religion; it’s targeting Islamic (or arguably Islamist) symbols, most notably the hijab, mainly because of the ways in which that these symbols replicate a system of inequality within Muslim communities.

    My second, and related, ground for disagreement with your analogy lies in the fact that a much closer similarity would be found with the situation of the Catholic Church and many practising Catholics in Third Republic France. Especially early in the Republic but continuing up into Vichy times, the institutional Catholic Church was substantially (though thankfully, not wholly, to say nothing of its nominal members) opposed to basic principles like democracy, social pluralism, the individual conscience, and equal treatment for minorities. (Cf. the anti-Dreyfusards.)

    That is, it will remove from a secular educational environment precisely those girls who might most benefit from it; precisely those people whom the state should most fervently wish to assist in integrating into French society; precisely those who might otherwise have served as a living illustration to fellow Muslims (and adherents of any religion or none) that one can reconcile one’s private values and beliefs with one’s place as citizen of a secular, pluralist state.

    Numbers are somewhat hard to come by in this matter, but so far the numbers of young French Muslim girls expelled from schools for wearing the hijab in the past couple of decades seems to number in the hundreds, or the low thousands are most. Out of a total population of 4 to 5 million with a relatively young demographic profile, that’s a fairly small fraction.

    Because of the paucity of licensed and accredited Muslim schools, because of the costs involved with going to private schools, and because of the other factors coming into play for French Muslim parents and girls apart from wearing the hijab (the need for a good education, for instance, or the desire to keep in touch with one’s peers), I’m skeptical whether the numbers will rise substantially.

    This law is barring from the schoolroom those Muslim girls who do want to be subjected to the wearing of the hijab. You and I may think the hijab silly, even offensive in its implications. But we are not being forced to wear it. Those who freely choose to wear it are having their freedom to choose taken away.

    I’d like to refer you back to Henry Farrell’s points, and introduce some personal experience of my own. No, I’m not French, Muslim, or a schoolgirl. I am, however, not heterosexual. Thankfully I’d a fairly easy time of it growing up, without any particular problems. However, I’m friends with people who didn’t, and I’m acquaintances of too many people who’ve had absolutely horrendous times of it.

    The hijab, as the majority of French Muslim women apparently see it, both is a symbol of female subordination and seclusion and a means to that end. Inasmuch as pervasive social pressure in their communities could be relieved by the ban–providing a valid and acceptable excuse, as Mr. Farrell noted in that thread, for not confirming to a disliked regulation–they would see this as a generally positive thing, enhancing their autonomy vis-a-vis conservatives and men within their communities. Removing headcoverings as a putative norm for young women–not only French Muslims, mind–would also provide significant relief.

    There is a minority of French Muslim women–and, of particular importance, a minority of young French Muslim women–who disagree. The law is concerned, after all, with young women, with people below the age of majority. I’d argue, though, that pervasive pressures in their home life make it impossible for them to freely decide. What sort of free decision is it to wear the hijab or not, when everyone tells you that women who don’t cover themselves are morally inferior to those who do?

    I didn’t grow up in a homophobic household. Those of my friends who did, though, would have found it a tremendous relief–despite the inevitable cognitive dissonance–if it had been made crystal clear that they wouldn’t have to publically avow the homophobia of their peers, indeed that they’d be prohibited. The self-hatred would have been lessened somewhat–enough, perhaps, to begin moving out into the world despite their upbringing, and to begin to hope for something better.

    Yes, I know that gay and bisexual North American men are rather different from French Muslim women. Still, I’d imagine that the relief when misogyny or homophobia was disavowed would feel much the same for members of either group.

  26. Here’s a challenging conundrum for us all:

    “Instructions for al-Qaida units: ‘If you live in an area where people wear Western dresses, you also dress like them … if the majority in that area has a secular mindset, do not express your religious sentiments.'” – according to: http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20040213-113722-5875r

    If so, is it wise to ban the wearing of religious symbols?

  27. Besides, unlike you, the National Assembly is in France.

    Wha?!?!?! Now, the whole point of this wee European Union thing is that me and French people (France being a whole, ooh, 150km or so away), like, we have the same citizenship. You know, their government can propose laws that affect me and vice versa. When the National Assembly propose such a profoundly racist and illiberal law as this, it’s my business. Especially given France’s maximalist approach to European legislation. What next? A ban on the headscarf for Civil Servants at the Berlaymont?

    Consider also that this ban doesn’t just apply to school-children. Since May 2002, Civil Servants have been prohibited from wearing hejab at work – see the text of the Conseil d’Etat decision. How does this protect children? Not only minors are forbidden from wearing headscarves, but civil servants are as well. Does anyone wonder how this ‘example’ plays in the private sector? You know, if the government won’t hire any of those funny raghead women with their veils, why should I hire them in my company? I mean, they put off customers don’t they? Pretty soon, you have a recipe for the self-perpetuating exclusion of French Muslim women.

    Sorry, I don’t believe that this law has anything to do with protecting anyone, and everything to do with entrenching the profound Islamophobia in French society. Can’t have any of those uppity beures getting above their station, can we?

  28. “The first of my grounds for disagreement lies with the fact that this law isn’t targeting Islam because it’s a minority religion, or an unpopular religion; it’s targeting Islamic (or arguably Islamist) symbols, most notably the hijab, mainly because of the ways in which that these symbols replicate a system of inequality within Muslim communities.”

    This seems a piece of shifting sand argumentation. Aren’t Jewish symbols banned too? Are these symbols replicating a system of inequality within the Jewish community? I mean other than the fact that the French government chooses not to agressively police those who beat the crap out of Jews…

  29. Are these symbols replicating a system of inequality within the Jewish community? I mean other than the fact that the French government chooses not to agressively police those who beat the crap out of Jews…

    I’d be interested in seeing objective data concerning your second point. I wonder how much more aggressive French policing could get in this regard without imposing a police state on French Muslims, surely a fairly major contravention of liberal ethics.

    The hijab–in the sense that we’re talking about it–is a highly specific symbol.

    The Koran does have injunctions on dress. The specific commandments, however, do not require the hijab as we call it. As the linked source summarizes, there are three sections in the Koran dealing with the issue of dress command people of both sexes to cover “private parts,” order women to cover their bosom, and require wives of Muhammad (_not_ wives of all Muslim men) to seclude themselves to protect themselves from hostile men. Further, women are not responsible for men’s lewd thoughts since they cannot be responsible for the sins of another; whether they are in a hijab or not (or even a burka), the thoughts of men are their responsibility alone.

    If you go to Islam Online, say, you can’t find any incontestable argument in favour of the hijab that we’re talking about. Modest dress is stated as a requirement for Muslim women, but you can’t go much beyond that. To say nothing of the fact that the hijab is a late 20th century Lebanese invention, and that it wasn’t worn by previous generations of Muslim women.

  30. Which does precisely nothing to explain why Jewish symbols are banned. And have you been paying attention re: Jews getting beaten up in France? Seriously I don’t typically feel the need to source things which are well reported and comprehensively documented.

  31. And have you been paying attention re: Jews getting beaten up in France?

    Oh, Lord.

    What, exactly, is the relevance of anti-Semitic attacks in France to the topic at hand, pray tell?
    Also, what necessary relationship does the frequency of anti-Semitic attacks bear to policing methods.

    At least in Atlantic Canada in the late 1990s (perhaps things are done differently elsewhere), trying to change the subject when you’re engaging in formal debating loses you points. Of course, in formal debating unlike in blog commentaries you’re required to stick to a single subject, bringing up counter-examples only as they’re specifically relevant to the case being debated.

    The counter-example that you do bring up–Which does precisely nothing to explain why Jewish symbols are banned–is relevant. I understand it’s because the French legislators felt a need to extend the legislation to include symbols of all religions.

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