As an atheist, I find the Pope's hat silly, the do-nothing Saturdays of Orthodox Judaism to be counter-productive, those magical Mormon underpants to be downright ridiculous, the fabricated Church of Scientology to be science fiction, and the Islamic dress code highly restrictive. I would openly criticize any of these practices and have no plans to adopt them into my life. However, I wouldn't so much as raise a finger to make any of these practices illegal and in fact would defend them were the U.S. Government to propose banning any of them. I understand that in order to be free to live as the Godless person I am, I must allow others to be free - even if people like Rabbi Daniel Lapin believe that all atheists are "parasites" because "they benefit from society but contribute nothing to it" (source). I defend the Rabbi's right to make such inflammatory generalizations. And I'm free to say, "fuck him."
In France, freedom of religious worship is under attack - veiled by the guise of "secular foundations" and "national values." Today, the French Senate has passed a total ban on "the burqa-style Islamic veil on public streets and other places" (source). As someone who espouses a morality with secular foundations, I find this deeply alarming and would urge other non-believers to consider my position carefully.
|Caught wearing a veil in France?|
That's a 150 Euro fine, Mademoiselle.
I find manifestations of Islamic law to be deeply counter-productive to freedom and equality, not the least of which being stoning women to death for adultery. Is this really demanded by the Quran? Does the Bible call for the stoning of infidels, homosexuals, and heretics? It is clear that these books are open to interpretation, which is what makes them especially dangerous in the hands of the powerful. But all that is immaterial because secular law recognizes that a particular religious dogmatism is not grounds for capital punishment (which I am universally against, but that's another post).
The struggle for fundamentalist Islam to integrate in Europe is well-documented and ongoing; conflicts from building code violations for minarets to refusal of a Muslim woman to unveil at security checkpoints are becoming increasingly common. Is the Islamic call to prayer over loudspeaker at the crack of dawn a public disturbance when most non-Muslims are trying to sleep? Should non-Muslims wear ear plugs or should Muslims keep their outdoor prayers to a speaking voice between dusk and dawn? Often, the best solution between "community standards" and "individual liberty" is not clear. But in this recent case in France, I believe the circumstances are unequivocal: whatever we think of a woman who - in a country with a secular government - chooses to wear a burqa, it indeed must be her choice and remain free from government intervention. She is harming no one, in any way, by wearing a burqa. The assertion of "national values" is a fantasy of collectivism; any civilized modern society should recognize cultural pluralism.
With a French Senate vote of 246 to 1, it would appear as though this issue isn't even controversial in France. "National values," apparently, exclude a certain style of dress. What's next? Language? Culinary preparation? It is estimated that less than 2,000 women would be affected. Yet when it comes to personal freedom, the role of government is to uphold the rights of the minority even in opposition to a widespread majority. This is not private property where one can simply elect not to visit, these are public streets in which wearing a veil will be a crime. As with all laws that infringe on civil liberties, this one will have unintended consequences beyond Islam:
- What if I want to wear a veil because I recently underwent surgery or had a debilitating accident?
- What if I am wearing a costume or wish to demonstrate and use this veil as a form of protest?
- Heck, what if I simply don't feel like showing my face while walking down the streets of Avignon?
Under this proposed law (which now has one month to be reviewed by a special group of bureaucrats calling themselves the "Constitutional Council"), all of these reasons would ostensibly be outlawed, as well. Indeed, no reason should be necessary for one to dress however they please. While I would go as far as to make a case for public nudity, I would at least hope that - on the opposite end of the spectrum - free individuals can choose how much of themselves they wish to cover in public.
The best case one might be able to make for this very bad law comes from a well-meaning Muslim woman from Algiers:
"How can we allow the burqa here and at the same time fight the Taliban and all the fundamentalist groups across the world?" said the president of Neither Whores nor Submissives, Sihem Habchi. "I'm Muslim and I can't accept that because I'm a woman I have to disappear."
While her point about oppressive Islamic regimes such as the Taliban are well-taken, what Sihem Habchi fails to comprehend is that this law effectively targets Muslim women and subjugates them in exactly the same way but in the opposite direction. One "primitive" society mandates that women wear a burqa, another "enlightened" society mandates that women cannot wear a burqa. Until governments respect a woman's right to choose (in this and many other areas), these are merely coercive means to different ends.
I believe in secular values and would be greatly pleased to wake up tomorrow and find that religious dogmatism, from the divine totalitarianism of the pedophile-protecting Catholic Church to the misogynistic practices of Sharia law, has disappeared from the social landscape. Nonetheless, such an outcome can only be achieved through moral means - those which are free from violence or threats of violence (which all government law essentially represents). To legislate a mandatory dress code - be it a theocratic or secular one - is antithetical to the path toward liberty. France's proposed law should upset us all.
Because first they came for the veiled women, but I said nothing because I'm not a veiled woman...