Under the veil of secularism

I pretty much agree with Jacob Levy’s analysis of Jacques Chirac’s endorsement of a ban on the wearing of head scarves, yarmulkes and other religious symbols by French students.

Tellingly, in Chirac’s speech on secularism last week he referred to the wearing of a head scarf in schools as “a kind of assault” against France. The alleged concern for protecting Muslim girls fell away entirely; we were left with the understanding of secularism as requiring religion’s invisibility, and the silly claim that any religious symbol visible to the naked eye constituted proselytization.

But I worry that Muslim girls are being to cover up, forced to remain isolated from mainstream French culture. It’s not really a choice. Turkey also has no-veil laws to prevent women from being forced into Muslim observance.

In this country, we wouldn’t dream of banning religious symbols. We don’t need to. Well, Sikh kids can’t carry real swords, but that’s about it.

Muslim girls in France may be denied an education if they refuse to remove their scarves. Or, they could end up in Catholic schools.

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  1. Secularism is a worthwhile concept to defend – but not in the mechanistic, Gradgrind way the French seem to be going about it.

    There are surely much better ways

  2. I don’t agree. If you believe in strict secularism, you have nothing “higher or greater” than yourself to believe in. A nation is a collection of individuals: Where one may be imperfect,; all may be so. It is only when a nation is build in the image of a “higher truth” (God)that it’s path may be laid out with respect to duty and obligation. Duty and obligation only to ones’ self is the path to selfishness, avarice and eventual destruction ot the nation.

  3. Mmmmkay, let’s just all stop for a moment to think of how wonderful and virtuous life is in some theocracies that have a “duty and obligation” to a higher power, like, oh, let’s say, Saudi Arabia.

    Boy howdy, you’re right! It’s like paradise on earth over there!


    I’ll apologize for being snide, but I wasn’t aware that being religious made one (or a country) immune to sin or even selfishness. I may be Christian, but I don’t think that my faith is a guarantee of virtue.

  4. “But I worry that Muslim girls are being to cover up, forced to remain isolated from mainstream French culture. It’s not really a choice. Turkey also has no-veil laws to prevent women from being forced into Muslim observance.”

    How is that better than forcing Muslim women to act in opposition to beliefs they may sincerely hold? The headscarf isn’t a “religious symbol,” it’s a modest garment. Excessively modest to those (like me) who don’t share the same view of modesty, but it’s ultimately little different from a low-hemmed skirt or a non-plunging neckline. Should governments legislate a hemline height—require all skirts and dresses to fall several inches above the knee—in order to prevent women from being forced into Pentecostal Christian or traditional Catholic observance?

    Talk about the fashionistas…

  5. The great thing about all this is that the headscarf is *new* to Islam. It started in the 70’s; one Imam’s opinion. The story has been on a lot of Websites like Dhimmi Watch. The writer of one article said that all the girls have to do to check is look at their family albums. Mom and Grandma aren’t scarfed.

  6. The great thing about all this is that the headscarf is *new* to Islam

    See, I’ve read that repeatedly, but if someone could point me to more verification that’d be great. The thing is, I remember someone writing about a trip through rural Turkey in about the 1950s, and all the woman in the fields pulling up their dresses over their heads so as to cover their faces as he passed by.

  7. The chadors, burkhas, whatever you want to call them, have been around for a very long time. Headscarves represent abandoned freedom compared to them.

    I understand the concern that Muslim girls may be forced into subservient roles and the French government doesn’t want to see that. From what I’m reading, there are proportionately large enclaves of immigrant Muslim populations in French cities, they’re not assimilating well at all, and the French don’t want their culture to be overrun. And this is a valid concern – much of what we think of as Spanish culture is a holdover of the Moorish conquest, and that was over with in the 15th century (to bin Ladin’s regret.)

    But I think it’s stupidly transparent to say that religious freedom means that no one can manifest their religion in public.

    And I think it’s good for us to see things like this to appreciate our First Amendment rights: the government can’t make us have a religion, and it can’t keep us from having one. This is a culture worth holding on to.

  8. Okay, “abandoned freedom” doesn’t literally mean what I mean for it to mean. I guess I mean “wild abandon” or something like that.

  9. Richard Brandshaft says:

    We look at these things from an American view — as Ms. Jacobs points out, we have no need to ban anything. We believe — rightly, so far — that our culture is so strong ideological threats will go away if we just leave them alone.

    Other places have different experiences. We let Nazis mouth off; Germany doesn’t. We don’t care if Muslims wear head scarves; Turkey and France look at it differently.

    With respect to religion, the more we Americans succeed in detaching it from everyday life the more benign we think religion is. When JFK ran in 1960, whether we would have a US President taking orders from the Vatican was a serious question that had to be addressed. A few years ago, when the Pope said Catholics who had divorced and re-married should abstain from sex in their second marriage, the news story I saw was a few paragraphs in the back pages. It’s not like anyone was listening. But that’s America. In other places, religion is a real menace. We refuse to acknowledge that, even when Muslims fly planes into our buildings. (The argument is that Muslim terrorists aren’t “really” Islam. This is like saying the Crusaders and the Inquisitors and the involuntary pregnancy movement aren’t “really” Christian.)

    What is silly is Chirac’s pretense of neutrality. It isn’t Christians who stone women to death and fly planes into buildings.

  10. jeff wright says:

    > We look at these things from an American view — as Ms. Jacobs points out, we have no need to ban anything.

    Richard Brandshaft is right on. It’s coming folks, like it or not. France is the tip of the iceberg because it’s closer to the Mideast and they’ve really screwed up their immigration policies. This is why our Founders didn’t want religion anywhere around government. Period. Our heritage encourages the practice of religion, but quietly, and as a matter not to be ever, ever be thrust upon others.

    What our Founders didn’t foresee was that the children of the Enlightenment (us, and the Euros) would forget our collective past and would congratulate ourselves on being oh, so tolerant and “diverse” that we would somehow conclude that medieval religious thinking—which they’d rejected and believed their descendants would do as well—would somehow be deserving of our respect.

    We’re in trouble. Most Western people seemingly don’t realize it, but we’re engaged in a religious war right now. Yeah, it’s so 11th Century, but it’s real.

  11. Apparently we in Oklahoma aren’t quite as secure in our beliefs, because we have one school district that has banned headscarves. In fact, a lawsuit’s about to be filed.

  12. Becky, Becky, Becky,

    Please do not mistake forced slavish adherence to man-made “church” dogma for “national” and individual acquiescence to the existence, omnipotence, and will of God.


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