Conflict Brewing Over the Burqa in France

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niqab_france.jpg
In the two weeks since French President Nicholas Sarkozy condemned the all-enveloping burqa or niqab garment as a sign of the “subjugation” and “debasement” of women, words have flown in France as well as Britain and the United States about the proper extent of religious practice in public. In this vein the French National Assembly convened a special commission last week that will investigate for six months and recommend whether or not to ban the burqa in France.
Arguing for the ban, a Muslim woman, Mona Eltawahy, wrote in the New York Times that the burqa served to erase women from the public sphere. She further wrote that many in Europe or America were afraid to speak out against the burqa, a silence that would “sacrifice women at the altar of political correctness.”


While I agree with many of Eltawahy’s points as well as her severe distaste for the burqa, banning an article of clothing is not just a question of political correctness but an infringement on personal rights. A potential ban raises questions about government interference with individual behavior in a public space.
Debate on this issue also took on another dimension for France after Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) threatened action in France in response to any effort to ban the burqa. Formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (known by its French acronym GSPC), AQIM changed its name and pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in 2003; Al Qaida deputy Aiman al-Zawahiri “accepted” the group into Al Qaida in 2006.
I fear that any ban could legitimize fringe groups like AQIM. On the one hand, AQIM poses a real threat; AQIM has violently attacked or kidnapped soldiers and tourists across North and even into West Africa, and bombed the UN office in Algiers. According to some analysts they also inherited the European networks of the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, an unspeakably violent organization that massacred tens of thousands in Algeria and bombed the Paris Metro during the Algerian Civil War of the 1990′s.
Yet the group’s appeal, reach and sophistication remain limited, as demonstrated by the January outbreak of bubonic plague in an AQIM camp. AQIM has attacked westerners and international organizations, but has shown no ability to act outside of Africa. Furthermore, there is scant indication of support for AQIM in Muslim communities in France, despite worries about the increasing radicalization of Muslim populations in crowded suburbs and prisons alike.
But movements like the one to ban the burqa could alter this isolation of extremists in France.
Despite the very limited number of Muslims wearing the burqa and the fact that the burqa is neither required nor traditionally worn by Muslims outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan, many French Muslims have already interpreted any potential ban as an attack. The website for the French daily Le Monde has a comment board about this issue, entitled, “In France, liberty for everyone except Muslims!” after one poster’s message. Another commenter spoke out against the burqa, but still concluded that a ban would be counterproductive, and would only lead to more religious extremism in France, not less.
This is not to say that a ban on the burqa will bring about a groundswell of support for groups like AQIM. But France and other countries cannot put aside their principles due to security concerns or appear to use the law to discriminate against Muslims. Such policies will have dire consequences for Muslim integration in Europe and for the continued struggle against insurgent and terrorist groups that feed off of popular discontent and perceived hypocritical actions of Western governments.
– Andrew Lebovich

Comments

68 comments on “Conflict Brewing Over the Burqa in France

  1. questions says:

    My reading of the Republic reduces the totalitarian side to a kind of fantasy that is considered and rejected. After the whole state apparatus is set up, and all sources of intensity and challenge to the metals in one’s soul are banned (Homer, raucous laughter, unapproved sex…), we go pretty quickly into the downfall. Dreams are uncontrollable, sex is uncontrollable, private life intrudes, fathers and sons and mothers and sons relate in ways that cause rebellion and bring out individual desire. The aristocracy falls inevitably down to democracy (bad for Plato because it is more about uncontrolled desire and selfishness than about the good of all) and ultimately into tyranny. So we end up with exactly what we didn’t want — Thrasymachus’s rule.
    I suppose you could call The Republic “fantastic” in the sense that it runs through a fantasy of government by thinkers and ends up with a more realistic government by utter tyrannical bullies. After all, bullies don’t have publicly acknowledged weaknesses, bullies have the guns, and justice would seem to be the will of the stronger. But I don’t think Plato approves of Thrasymachus’s rule; I think he wants to avoid it.

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  2. Daivid says:

    Up to our asses in paradoxes, as usual, but various points here well taken. Yes, it has been a very long time since I’ve read any Plato. Might well be fun to take a look at the Meno.
    On human thought, I think we need to be both arrogant and humble (what the hell, one more paradox). I think we need to be arrogant enough to dare to think, especially about anything and everything outside of prescribed parameters of thinking, and humble enough to remember that thinking is an exploration in which we might or might not know what we are doing, and might or might not find what we are looking for, and be open to the possibility that what we find will have not much of anything to do with what we thought we were looking for or would find.
    Every system of thought available to us should be a springboard. Every belief system should be always subjected to every manner of re-thinking. I hold to certain sectarian beliefs having to do with fundamental humanity-wide justice and the essential role of peace in a civilized world. War, all war, is barbaric, primitive, tribal conduct which the nations of the world still have not outgrown, and which very powerul business and ideological, especially religious, interests might not allow us to outgrow. But given that, I know I have to be willing to rethink all sorts of things. If common humanity is the common denominator, certain things seem to me to keep emerging in systems of human thought. As you can see, I really do believe there is such a thing as common humanity, and that when not distorted by narrow belief systems, tends to emerge.
    But they just keep cutting down the Amazon Rainforest, burning fossil fuels, and develping evermore powerful and evermore clever, cold-blooded “acceotable” weapons of war. Shit.

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  3. ... says:

    platos philosophy is an endless conversation..

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  4. Paul Norheim says:

    To elaborate (and correct myself) a bit: Of course you don´t even
    have to read Plato through Kant when you have Socrates – his
    dialectical method, his questions and his irony. On the other
    hand, there are fantastic, even totalitarian aspects in Plato.

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  5. Paul Norheim says:

    No, I`m not miffed. Just thought that there was no need for a
    “quick defense of Plato”. The history of philosophy certainly has
    some “fantastic” aspects – and those are not necessarily among
    the least interesting.
    “…at least in my reading, Plato’s work is more about the
    limitations of his thinking than about his thinking itself, if that
    makes sense”.
    Plato providing a “Critique of Pure Reason”? It certainly makes
    sense, if you read him through Kant. But there are other aspects
    as well…

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  6. questions says:

    Oh, I hope you aren’t miffed — I meant more to point out that, at least in my reading, Plato’s work is more about the limitations of his thinking than about his thinking itself, if that makes sense. The ironic distance is a thing to behold, and I think the use of “fantastic” might at some level mask what I take to be central. But again, no miffing intended!

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  7. Paul Norheim says:

    questions,
    when I, who have written novels and poetry, half approvingly
    mention that Borges (perhaps half jokingly) regarded philosophy
    as belonging to the tradition of fantastic literature – it is certainly
    not meant as an attack on philosophy.
    “Parmenides” is BTW the most difficult piece of philosophy I`ve
    ever tried to read and comprehend.
    Personally, I regard Plato`s dialogues as “polyphonic essays”
    (inspired by Bachtin`s famous description of Dostojevsky`s later
    works as “polyphonic novels”). Books like “Symposium”
    demonstrate clearly that Plato was highly conscious of literary
    forms and composition.

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  8. questions says:

    David,
    The point is that even as Plato proposes, Plato also disposes. That is, he understands the weaknesses of his own positions (a level of self-awareness that is a wonder!) The result is modesty, a realization that one must attempt even in the face of knowing failure, that despair and grandiosity are both harmful.
    Meno’s paradox is that if we already know the answer we don’t bother searching, and if we don’t already know the answer we won’t recognize it when we see it so we don’t bother searching — grandiosity — “I know already” or or despair “I can never know.” The solution to the paradox is hope — keep searching AS IF it’s findable, and AS IF you don’t already know it.
    I think that Socrates’s solution to Meno’s paradox might be Plato’s greatest gift — modesty, searching, and not giving up in despair.
    If you either haven’t read the Meno, or haven’t read it in years, I recommend all 20-some pages. I’m sure it’s online for free in an acceptable translation. And Spark Notes and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Wikipedia all have what are probably useful study guides.

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  9. David says:

    Is the picture with this thread seductive, or am I just being a typical male?

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  10. David says:

    Is the picture with this thread seductive, or am I just being a typical male?

    Reply

  11. David says:

    Sounda a bit like matter and anti-matter to me, questions (just sayin’, although I’m not completely sure what).
    You are absolutely correct, WigWag, about the empowerment of team membership and the role of the uniform in same. This aspect of human nature is one of the most powerful of two-edged swords. I am a big fan of secular teams, especially my Gators, but find ideology-bound teams all too often more harmful than helpful for humankind.
    Therein lies that ubiquitous rub.

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  12. questions says:

    Hey Paul,
    A quick defense of Plato — The Parmenides wonders about the validity of the theory of forms, and Socrates speaks in the Meno about the quite possibly wrong-headedness of the claim of the immortality of the soul. So not even Plato is completely accepting of Platonism. Even The Republic, itself, undermines its own system.
    Just thought I’d throw that out!

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  13. Paul Norheim says:

    “…and so I would prefer that all religious texts be treated as
    literature, some fiction developed out of factual events, some
    pure fiction, some great literature and poetry, some pretty
    pedestrian.”
    David, as you may know, Borges even regarded philosophy as a
    part of the great tradition of fantastic literature. It somehow
    makes sense: Plato`s claim that the world of ideas is the real one,
    while the one we see is an illusion etc.

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  14. WigWag says:

    David, I enjoyed your thought provoking story about your grandmother. It got me thinking. Being a member of a covenantial community like a religious community is, in many ways, like being a member of a team. What comprises a team? There are two factors; common aspirations and a uniform.
    While the team member sacrifices autonomy in selecting his dress, whe s/he dons the uniform, this is more than made up for by the empowerment engendered by being a team member.
    Yes, Muslim women who wear the burqua or Hajib are relinquishing some autonomy; but they must feel empowered by a stronger sense of integration into the covenantial community.
    By wearing the burqua or Hajib women may be giving up individual empowerment for a much greater sense of empowerment.
    It takes all types to make a world; live and let live.

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  15. David says:

    “Kudos go to Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers most of whom were deists.” A shout out from the amen corner, WigWag.

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  16. ... says:

    one has to like a person who has a sense of humour!

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  17. WigWag says:

    David said,
    “We need not to forget that there are Muslim women who prefer to wear a burqa. Doesn’t make any sense to me, but it doesn’t have to make any sense to me.”
    I am sure there are many reasons why millions if not tens of millions of Muslim women are delighted to wear the burqua or hajib. Many wear it out of reverence for the Almighty; many wear it because of the comfort derived from adhering to cherished family traditions and many wear it to make a political statement or as an emblem of personal identity. All of these are good reasons but it is odious if women are forced to wear religious garb and we know that this happens very frequently. Many Muslim women have written books on the subject and Iranian women in particular have expressed anger that they are forced to wear the Hajib by the religious police. Religious coercion is not limited to Muslims; it exists in the Jewish and Christian traditions and surely it must exist in other religious traditions as well.
    It would be ignorant to think that wearing religious garb is not immensely satisfying to alot of women. As an emblem of religious affiliation it signals membership in a covenantial community that many people undoubtedly find fulfilling and rewarding.
    I can identify with this myself. Although I am not religious or particularly spiritual, during Yom Kippur every year, I return to shul and daven Kol Nidre with the enthusiasm appropriate to a healthy fear of death.
    As Paul Norheim mentioned previously, the United States seems to have worked all of this out far more successfully than many Muslim nations or the secular Europeans.
    Kudos go to Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers most of whom were deists.

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  18. Paul Norheim says:

    Oh,
    wait until you`ve heard how I as a Norwegian pronounce these
    words…

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  19. WigWag says:

    Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
    George and Ira Gershwin
    Things have come to a pretty pass,
    Our romance is growing flat,
    For you like this and the other
    While I go for this and that.
    Goodness knows what the end will be;
    Oh, I don’t know where I’m at…
    It looks as if we two will never be one,
    Something must be done.
    (refrain)
    You say eether and I say eyether,
    You say neether and I say nyther;
    Eether, eyether, neether, nyther,
    Let’s call the whole thing off!
    You like potato and I like potahto,
    You like tomato and I like tomahto;
    Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
    Let’s call the whole thing off!
    But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
    Then we must part.
    And oh! If we ever part,
    Then that might break my heart!
    So, if you like pajamas and I like pajahmas,
    I’ll wear pajamas and give up pajahmas.
    For we know we need each other,
    So we better call the calling off off.
    Let’s call the whole thing off!
    You say laughter and I say lawfter,
    You say after and I say awfter;
    Laughter, lawfter, after, awfter,
    Let’s call the whole thing off!
    You like vanilla and I like vanella,
    You, sa’s’parilla and I sa’s’parella;
    Vanilla, vanella, Choc’late, strawb’ry!
    Let’s call the whole thing off!
    But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
    Then we must part.
    And oh! If we ever part,
    Then that might break my heart!
    So, if you go for oysters and I go for ersters
    I’ll order oysters and cancel the ersters.
    For we know we need each other,
    So we better call the calling off off!
    Let’s call the whole thing off

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  20. questions says:

    Paul,
    I feel like breaking out in song:
    “You say ‘toMAYto, I say toMAHto….’” just to highlight a trivial difference!
    (Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, from the movie, “Shall We Dance” — the song is called “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” (in case you don’t know it))

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  21. Paul Norheim says:

    …,
    Apropos your snide remarks:
    regardless of my disagreements with questions and WigWag on
    several crucial, as well as trivial issues, I have to say that I read
    with great pleasure their cultivated responses to your surprisingly
    unpleasant remarks above (Jul 07 2009, 5:00PM).
    Especially the malice and irony in WigWag`s reply – treating you
    as an ignorant bigot without saying it directly.
    Well deserved!

    Reply

  22. Daivid says:

    Loved the old system of library classification in which all religious texts were classified as mythology. Freedom from religious dogma is one of the greatest freedoms the human intellect can enjoy. Only when religion is directly linked to and a driving force for humanitarianism is it of any real value to humankind.
    The book of the human record (at least for the dominant European/American tradition), as Faulkner called the Christian bible, is spot on. And there is no question that some of the great thinkers and great humanitarians have based themselves in various religious traditions. But I suspect it was because of who they were, not the tradtion they were part of. Organized religious institutions do not have a particularly admirable track record, but they do have great power within their respective societies, and they have wrought great harm to the human spirit and the human body, often quite self-righteously.
    I am struck by how utterly differently the same religous text can be seen by various adherents. Again, I think it is a function of the person, not the text, and so I would prefer that all religious texts be treated as literature, some fiction developed out of factual events, some pure fiction, some great literature and poetry, some pretty pedestrian.
    My maternal grandmother was a Primitive Baptist preacher. Her congregation beleived she had been called to preach, but not all of the heirarchy agreed. However, because Baptist congregations are, at least in theory, independent, they could choose her as their preacher. Interestingly, she believed women could be called by God to preach, but they could not be ministers. Only men could be ministers.
    She wrestled with her Bible till the day she died. I only wish she’d lived long enough realize she was battling with the belief that it was to be taken literally. She tried to, but never really could.
    But back to my original thought: religious texts are very important cultural documents, but lousy guides to universal human conduct, especially peaceful universal human brotherhood, or at least those groups which claim to follow those texts do a lousy job of following the humanitarian precepts at the base of much of religious texts. What the Israelis are doing to the inhabitants of Gaza is a perfect example of the utter failure of the humanitarian aspects of the Jewish texts to have any positive influence on the behavior of the government of the Jewish homeland, and as best I can tell, the more orthodox the Jew, the less likely the support for humane treatment of Gazans.

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  23. ... says:

    thanks wigwag.. perhaps questions can see the origin of my remarks in the words of your 3:59pm post on castration, whereby perhaps he would like to direct this to you instead of me…”So stop with the snide remarks. They are unbecoming, ignorant, and, to be honest, just not very smart.”

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  24. WigWag says:

    “Speaking of the fear of castration, there is a religion that likes cultivating that fear thru a ritual called circumcision. perhaps some of you know about it directly!”
    That’s correct; circumcision is a rite almost universally practiced by Jews and Muslims. In the Jewish religion it takes place eight days after a male child is born during a ceremony called a briss. The procedure is frequently performed by a doctor in a hospital but is often performed by a religious official called a “Moyle.”
    The Muslim tradition is somewhat more flexible. The circumcision ceremony called “khitan” may be performed anywhere from seven days after birth to the time when the male youngster enters puberty; in fact sometimes it’s done as a rite of passage into puberty; usually when the boy is 10-12 years of age or after he has recited the entire Koran once through.
    Circumcision is not mentioned in the Koran but almost all Muslims regard it as essential and it is sometimes called by the euphemism, tahara, which I believe means purification.
    In the United States most Christian boys are still circumcised ostensibly for health reasons; although there is no evidence that it improves health. Some people claim that circumcision reduces the intensity of male sexual pleasure so it is frowned upon in some quarters.
    A unique form of circumcision limited primarily to a very small segment of the Muslim community is female circumcision. The practice is barbaric and is usually considered to be female genital mutilation by almost everyone including the vast majority of Muslims. The practice is more prevalent in North Africa than anywhere else. Women who have been circumcised have had their clitoris removed which eliminates any possibility that they will ever experience sexual pleasure. It is hard for me to believe that the process is ever consensual and it usually occurs at the insistence of the girls father (or if he’s dead) her brother.
    I have no doubt that millions of Muslim women wear the hajib or burqua voluntarily and with tremendous pride. In the United States, millions of women happily adhere to the adage that their husbands are the lords of the family like Jesus is Lord of the universe. Tens of thousands of Jewish woman happily sit in segregated sections of the synagogue, as far away from the Torah as possible, believing that’s the way the creator of the universe wants it to be.
    We can question the origins of these traditions without being disrespectful to the women who choose to follow them.
    I think, … that your connection between the ritual of circumcision and the wearing of religiously mandated garb that covers up the body is an interesting one.
    Thank you for pointing it out.

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  25. questions says:

    I have such limited exposure to theology — probably mostly from the Sunday NY Times…. I think there are some issues of what may be called simply the logic of monotheism — if the deity is omni-omnium, then it only makes sense to have one. More than one decreases the omni-potential and so interferes with the logic. But I really really don’t do theology. Have stayed far from Aquinas and Augustine and the like. One day I should read it all, but I’m having too much fun.
    And I guess that, as with any social movement, there are layers of causes. Some people may have pushed because of logic, others for political power, and so gender issues may well have played a role.
    I will say, portions of my household are into pantheism, despite its lack of, umm, efficiency. The Greek plays are fun, and I wouldn’t mind having my own set of deity trading cards!
    The anxiety issues seem compelling on some level. (And here, I would agree with you!) But I would probably add layers of complexity (as usual!). I have read only a little teeny bit of Lacan’s work — it’s really difficult to get into and quite possibly deliberately obfuscatory. (You could try Amazon search inside and see if you get past a few pages. I need to read about Lacan rather than actually reading Lacan. Sad, but there you go.) I would guess that Lacan’s reworking of Freud is pretty compelling.
    A nice place to get at Lacan is through the Slovenian theorist, Slavoj Zizek (accents on each z). He’s fairly accessible, incredibly funny, full of great jokes. He’s written a huge number of books on psychoanalysis. They use popular culture references and are fun. He’s got one on Hitchcock’s films, and many more. Possibly Kindle-able, but I’m not sure. Certainly, if you google him you’ll find entertaining magazine essays all over the place. He’s sort of the Michael Jackson of the theory crowd! And if he ever “plays” your neck of the woods, he’s worth the price of admission. Really brilliant thinker.
    And as for Paul’s comment, I don’t think you’re presenting my view accurately. I don’t think it’s one-sided, and I’ve posted about how I think that there are institutional and individual cost/benefit analyses that keep the situation going.
    I recall quite distinctly writing that what might be best is for Israel to risk everything, accept a kind of annihilation in the hopes of peace. Within deep self-sacrifice is the place of morality. Complete other-directed behavior at crucial moments. And I think that Israel is there.
    I don’t really know where this whole questions-defends-everything-Israel-does-and wishes-for more stuff got going. I think that there are posters here who don’t quite get my view right.
    But there’s not much I can do about this kind of reading of what I write here. I have a nuanced position that gets routinely caricatured by those with a craving for simple narratives with good guys and bad guys and quick answers to overly simplistic questions. Condemnation is easy. But understanding the structures behind events is not so easy. I am more interested in the structures than I am in screaming. It is only with proper understanding that we can actually do something that makes things better rather than worse — my goal in the end.
    …, I don’t think you have that right. And circumcision is practiced by a lot of people in the world at this point. The Jewish symbolism is not castration and impotence and fear. In fact it’s the opposite — there’s work to be done in the world, and you have to take individual responsibility for that labor. Hence, strength rather than weakness is at the heart of the practice. “Geographic” similarity between the foreskin and testicles is insufficient evidence for your point. So stop with the snide remarks. They are unbecoming, ignorant, and, to be honest, just not very smart.

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  26. ... says:

    speaking of the fear of castration, their is a religion that likes cultivating that fear thru a ritual called circumcision.. perhaps some of you know about it directly!

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  27. WigWag says:

    Paul, I’ve answered the question you posed to me at 3:47 pm over on the thread entitled “Darkness in Tehran.”
    Check it out if you’re interested.
    Cheers!

    Reply

  28. WigWag says:

    Questions, the other thing that’s interesting about all of this is the light it sheds on the three religions based on the Abrahamic tradition. Of the three, Judaism came first with the other two being heretical off-shoots.
    Of course, according to biblical accounts, Abraham was at first a polytheist. You remember the account in Genesis where he returns to his home to collect his “gods.” Many people, especially feminist theologians, believe that that the move towards monotheism and the worship of the single god; at first Yahweh and later the Trinity (as if that can be called a single god) or Allah; was really just a revolutionary movement designed to obliterate the pantheon of gods many, if not most of whom were identified as female. Before monotheism, in many parts of the world, it was the mother goddess or mother goddesses who were revered and worshipped. Not surprisingly, Yahweh, before he was worshipped as the one and only god was considered to be one of many gods; amongst the Semitic tribes wondering around Canaan, Yahweh was the god of war and, not surprisingly, he was male gendered. The irony here is the ridiculous notion that a male gendered deity could create the universe. When exactly has it been that male gendered creatures whether natural or supernatural could give birth to anything?
    So the profound sexism that afflicts Judaism, Christianity and Islam may be rooted in the sexism that gave birth to monotheism in the first place.
    Treating women as chattel; requiring them to cover their hair, face or whole body; forbidding them from serving as clergy; making them sit in a separate section of a house of worship; refusing to touch them when they are menstruating, is all part and parcel of the sexism that imbues Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
    The best metaphor for all of this is found in the first few pages of the bible in a passage that Jews, Christians and Muslims all revere; the story of Eve and the snake (read phallic symbol) or devil. Of course, it just had to be a woman that led to the downfall of man and the expulsion from Paradise.
    Talk about original sin!
    A Freudian would say that much of this is rooted in the male fear of castration. It’s a fear that you have to admit is on ample display here at the comment section of the Washington Note almost daily.
    Don’t you think?

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  29. Paul Norheim says:

    “WigWag seems quite happy to wish for something different, as
    do I.” (questions)
    I am sure everybody wish for something different. But WigWag
    wholeheartedly supported the bombing of Gaza.
    Yesterday my sister got a new job, in the Norwegian Refugee
    Council, which cooperates closely with the UN in 20 trouble
    spots in the world. Curious about the organization, I had a look
    today at their work. Here is an excerpt from their website
    regarding their activities in Gaza and other parts of the
    Occupied Palestinian Territories:
    “As a consequence of the blockade, private enterprise is
    practically at a standstill in Gaza. 98 per cent of industrial
    operations have been shut down, and the construction sector,
    which prior to September 2000 provided 15% of all jobs, had
    effectively ground to a halt.”
    So what are the NRC doing in the Occupied Palestinian
    Territories?
    “NRC’s legal aid project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
    offers information, counselling and legal assistance free of
    charge to displaced Palestinians and Palestinians at risk of being
    displaced through demolition of their homes or withdrawal of
    identity papers and documents securing their access to
    education, employment and social benefits.”
    And in Gaza – where “98 per cent of industrial operations have
    been shut down”?
    Please read this slowly:
    “NRC is currently initiating a project which will support
    emergency repair and reconstruction of destroyed houses and
    social infrastructure. NRC is also co-chairing the shelter cluster
    in the Gaza Strip together with UNRWA
    Due to the blockade of Gaza, no building materials can enter
    and the project currently focuses on job creation activities such
    as rubble removal related to social infrastructure and water
    utility companies.”
    Job creation activities such as rubble removal due to the
    blockade? Six months after the war?
    WigWag and Questions – since we are discussing moral issues
    and “wishing for something different”:
    Isn´t it about time for you two to raise your voices, and agree
    that Israel can`t continue to blame Hamas exclusively for the
    fact that “rubble removal” is the only possible job creation
    initiative in Gaza right now?

    Reply

  30. Daivid says:

    POA is correct. We need not to forget that there are Muslim women who prefer to wear a burqa. Doesn’t make any sense to me, but it doesn’t have to make any sense to me. Neither do the yarmulkas, which just look silly on adult males. Freshman beanies were bad enough. But if I am dealing with someone wearing a yarmulka, the burden is on me to keep my reaction so to myself that he never even suspects I think it looks silly, perhaps the way one of my Gator hats with the deranged, hyperviscious gator on it, looks a bit over the edge to him.
    Any society which needs to constrain the free religious practices of any of its citizens, so long as those practices do not forcibly impinge on anyone else’s rights, is a society with a serious flaw, and one that is damned sure betraying liberte, a word the French need to define in a way that the full spectrum of its citizens can subscribe to.

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  31. Paul Norheim says:

    “Ultimately, the problem is not the burquas or the head scarves;
    the problem is men and their broken and pathetic “Y”
    chromosome.” (WigWag)
    “3) What exactly is it about men (at least heterosexual men) that
    makes women’s sexuality so threatening?” (WigWag)
    Instead of applying Freud to Afghanistan or blaming the Y
    chromosome in general, a more obvious question is: Why do
    women have more liberties in modern secular societies than in
    societies where rural experience and old traditions amalgamate
    with old religious texts?
    And you should not forget the re-active aspect here: Modern
    Islamism as a direct response and alternative to secular
    modernity. In many of the modern Islamist movements (and I
    include Taliban and al Quaeda among them), the oxymoron
    “neo-conservative” (or perhaps we should rather talk about
    “reactionary modernism” here?) is brought to it`s most extreme
    formulation.

    Reply

  32. ... says:

    being very concerned about muslim women and using it as an opportunity reflect on muslim culture is fine… however, it’s more then coincident we never read of such concern from these same folks on the plight of the palestinians, as that would highlight something much different… glad to see a few of you are always on the same page, patting each other on the back…

    Reply

  33. WigWag says:

    “If you take a short trip into Freud (is it in Totem and Taboo?) you find an emphasis on the need for sexual availability and a desire on the part of the father to stop the son’s supplanting him. So it’s less about subjugation and more about guaranteed access. (Any Freudians out there, feel free to correct my reading if I have this wrong.)”
    Well, Questions, given the general tenor of the comment section and the need of some to assert themselves in a nasty, rude and extraordinarily testosterone driven fashion, getting too deeply into a Freudian analysis here could get dangerous.
    I found this comment of yours quite interesting,
    “Note that the covering denies access to males not in the immediate family. And it’s possible that at some bizarre level, the covering helps with a range of self control issues (though I kind of doubt this as rape is pretty universal.)”
    I agree with you. The covering may deny access to males not of the immediate family. This is precisely what I meant when I referred to the tendency to treat women as chattel. Actually its access to their sexuality that’s treated as a property right by their fathers, brothers and husbands.
    Of course its not only Muslim society afflicted with this problem. Southern Baptists believe that the husband is the lord of the family like Jesus is the Lord of the universe. We all know about the Catholic Church and its views of what woman can and cannot do. Ultra orthodox Jews have a similar view about women’s sexuality as devout Muslims. As you may be aware, ultra orthodox Jews men will not let a menstruating woman to touch them or even enter a cemetery.
    As for your comment about rape; of course it is universal. And as we know, rape is not about sex, it’s about power.

    Reply

  34. questions says:

    WigWag,
    If you take a short trip into Freud (is it in Totem and Taboo?) you find an emphasis on the need for sexual availability and a desire on the part of the father to stop the son’s supplanting him. So it’s less about subjugation and more about guaranteed access. (Any Freudians out there, feel free to correct my reading if I have this wrong.)
    Note that there are more polygynous (what we mistakenly call polygamy) groupings than polyandrous groupings. Note that the covering denies access to males not in the immediate family. And it’s possible that at some bizarre level, the covering helps with a range of self control issues (though I kind of doubt this as rape is pretty universal.)
    …,
    I don’t think your questions get at the heart of WigWag’s position, which I often find caricatured here. WigWag doesn’t, near as I can tell, think that the treatment of the Palestinians is good and ought to continue; rather, the view seems to be that there is a territorial struggle, a sense of legitimate threat, little incentive from either party to enter into meaningful negotiations.
    WigWag seems quite happy to wish for something different, as do I. But WigWag takes more seriously the suicide bombings, the refusal to acknowledge Israel’s existence, the rocket launchings that others here dismiss as trivial. For WigWag, the threats are real and Israel’s actions, though unfortunate, are justified at some level.
    For others, there either is no justification at all, or insufficient justification.
    If you try to argue at this level instead of insisting on WigWag’s general immorality (which is simply an incorrect reading), you might be able to engage in a discussion. But the rantings are tiresome. The accusations are tiresome.

    Reply

  35. ... says:

    i have 3 questions about gaza as a prison camp.
    1) isn’t israels creating a prison camp the moral equivalent or creating something they were radically opposed to in the first place?
    2) does the tradition of forcing people to be held captive in gaza have anything other then israels desire to subjugate the palestinian people, a desire that seems ubiquitous in all human cultures?
    3) what exactly is it about israel, that makes palestine so threatening?

    Reply

  36. WigWag says:

    I have three questions about this complicated issue:
    1) Isn’t banning burquas or hijab (France) the moral equivalent of requiring burquas (Afghanistan under the Taliban)or hijab (Iran)?
    2) Does the tradition of wearing burquas or hijab have its genesis in anything other than men’s desire to sexually subjugate women; a desire that seems ubiquitous in all human cultures?
    3) What exactly is it about men (at least heterosexual men) that makes women’s sexuality so threatening?

    Reply

  37. Tony says:

    And what percentage of women in France actually wear a “burqa”? A minuscule amount I’m sure. This is dog-whistle politics of the most blatant kind.
    As if Messrs Sarkozy, Berlusconi et al. really give a toss about women’s rights. Sheesh!

    Reply

  38. JohnH says:

    Wow! The French are thinking of outlawing Princess Diana’s wedding dress?
    http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=1847530n&tag=related;photovideo
    And Jackie Kennedy’s funeral attire?
    Dress codes in schools are one thing (they should start with sexually provocative attire–teenagers’ hormones distract them from their studies enough without adding stimulation). But nationwide bans on certain kinds of attire? Would folklore festivals have to redesign their traditional clothing to meet modern standards? Weird!

    Reply

  39. WigWag says:

    Apparently head scarves don’t always go over so well in Germany either. This terrible story of a Muslim woman murdered in a German court room for wearing an hajib was reported today by the BBC
    Page last updated at 13:16 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 14:16 UK, BBC World Service
    Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr’
    The body of a Muslim woman, killed in a German courtroom by a man convicted of insulting her religion, has been taken back to her native Egypt for burial.
    Marwa Sherbini, 31, was stabbed 18 times by Axel W, who is now under arrest in Dresden for suspected murder.
    Husband Elwi Okaz is also in a critical condition in hospital, after being injured as he tried to save his wife.
    Ms Sherbini had sued her killer after he called her a “terrorist” because of her headscarf.
    The case has attracted much attention in Egypt and the Muslim world.
    German prosecutors have said the 28-year-old attacker, identified only as Axel W, was driven by a deep hatred of foreigners and Muslims.
    Medics were unable to save Ms Sherbini who was three months pregnant with her second child. Her three-year-old son was with the family in court when she was killed.
    Axel W and Ms Sherbini and family were in court for his appeal against a fine of 750 euros ($1,050) for insulting her in 2008, apparently because she was wearing the Muslim headscarf or Hijab.
    Newspapers in Egypt have expressed outrage at the case, asking how it was allowed to happen and dubbing Ms Sherbini “the martyr of the Hijab”.
    Senior Egyptian officials and German diplomatic staff attended the funeral in Alexandria along with hundreds of mourners.
    Media reports say Mr Okaz was injured both by the attacker and when a policeman opened fire in the courtroom.

    Reply

  40. arthurdecco says:

    “I can`t wait to read Arthur`s latest horror-report from the interior of Questions` dark, mendacious soul.” Paul Norheim
    Why would you be waiting for such a thing Paul?!?
    You writers are always opening other people’s mail and prying into the secret hearts of those you don’t have any business knowing about. It’s gotta be some kind of sickness, doan cha think – to be on the edge of your chair witnessing conflict with joy?
    Be assured if questions says anything interesting, I will deal with it.
    Tho I might have long wait…

    Reply

  41. Paul Norheim says:

    I can`t wait to read Arthur`s latest horror-report from the
    interior of Questions` dark, mendacious soul.

    Reply

  42. questions says:

    Sorry POA,
    I can’t always tell. But “gaping” is the right word. It was a hell of an explosion. I don’t think an insurance co-op is going to save you. But don’t worry. There’s lots of mustard.

    Reply

  43. questions says:

    arthurdecco,
    I have the hardest time understanding your posts. What is so low in citing Rousseau’s work when, to the best of my knowledge, Rousseau for the French is akin to the American Founding Fathers for the US — a major thinker whose texts inform our political culture and our sense of ourselves. When we in the US want to know if we should do something, we frequently consult founding texts. Rousseau’s concerns about religion’s ability to take over civic culture is a huge part of French political society.
    In trying to understand what religious garb means to people, one thinks through a variety of possibilities. Nothing low there either.
    And POA really does seem to have exploded.
    So where is this alleged “lowness” to which I have sunk?

    Reply

  44. Paul Norheim says:

    Questions,
    I admire the French concept of citoyen, so different from the
    practice of linking citizenship to ethnicity – the old German
    mistake. However, this latest twist (connected to the development
    I described above) smells of intolerance, even fanaticism in the
    name of feminism. It actually narrows the honorable concept of a
    citoyen. They are diminishing it in a shortsighted response to
    current conflicts and waves of religious-ideological fanaticism.
    It`s a defeat.
    And Prahapartizan, I really hope that America never falls into the
    same trap.

    Reply

  45. PrahaPartizan says:

    Questions, I believe your comments about any and all religious items being banned by French public schools is correct. For whatever reason, the French developed a strong anti-clerical streak in their public institutions during the late 19th century and it continues to this day. This is not an anti-Muslim prohibition or even a pro-feminist policy, although some would try to make it appear either or both. Frankly, I believe it’s a policy we would do well to adopt here in the US as well, although its constitutionality would certainly be questioned here. Perhaps that’s why France has been through five republican constitutions while we’ve had only one.

    Reply

  46. arthurdecco says:

    questions, you reach new lows with every post you submit. There’s no sense of embarrassment in you, is there?
    You will do or say anything if it advances your agenda.

    Reply

  47. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Thats not my head, and how dare you call it “gaping”.

    Reply

  48. questions says:

    Of course it’s Betsy, but usually you want mustard when it gets stuffy. I’m a little worried about that gaping hole in the back of your head where you just exploded. I think it’s confusing you. If Obama fixes the health care system, maybe we can get you patched up and good as new.

    Reply

  49. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Is that you, Betsy?
    If so, pass the ketchup, its getting stuffy in here.

    Reply

  50. questions says:

    Oh dear. I think POA exploded. I have been thinking this might happen.

    Reply

  51. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Oops.

    Reply

  52. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Oh gawd…
    BlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblahBlahblahblahblahblah……..
    Ad infinitum.

    Reply

  53. questions says:

    Paul,
    It’s not so much what I am for or against, but rather what makes sense in a French social and political context. I think Rousseau is fairly foundational, and I think there’s a somewhat different notion of what it means to be a citizen from what the US practices.
    As for me, I really don’t know what to say. I see the validity of deep religious faith, I see the rebellion against the west and covering as a way to express that rebellion, I see the “west” as imposing all sorts of sex-related dress codes on women as well, and I see the fact that the covering can make it very hard for girls and women to be full members of the public sphere. What’s a citizen or a feminist or a religionist supposed to do?
    And POA, I’m pretty sure that French public schools ban any and all religious garb including kippot, Stars of David, crosses, head coverings and the like. The response of some girls I read about has been head shaving (showing hair is sometimes the issue); the response of some families has been to pull their girls out of school.
    It’s a complex issue to negotiate — what exactly is a citizen? There’s a model of participation and belonging in Rousseau that isn’t really part of American political culture, and I think that makes this move by the French government look so weird to us.
    And re David and the subjugation of women — if I’m right about Rousseau, the subjugation of women is less the issue than is the definition of citizenship and the problem of religious expression’s taking over civil functions, and eventually civil society.
    Remember France had lots of wars with England over versions of Christianity, lots of wars.

    Reply

  54. Paul Norheim says:

    Banning the burqa would be a great mistake. I believe the
    Americans have had a better hand in dealing with religious
    freedom and tolerance than the French – not to speak of less
    tolerant European countries.
    And questions – you quote Rousseau: “It is impossible to live in
    peace with people one believes to be damned; to love them
    would be to hate God who punishes them; one must absolutely
    bring them back or torment them”
    I grew up in circumstances (i.e. my family) where those rules
    were present, and somehow we lived through it. I strongly
    believe that this is not the business of the state. I am for a
    secular state with religious freedom. Militant secularism
    supported by the state is a mistake.
    David said it: “If France wants to help end this subjugation, its
    only proper role is to prevent Muslim men (and women) who
    would physically punish a Muslim woman in France who refuses
    to wear a burka, and make it a crime to use religious dogma as
    the basis for physically forcing on anyone anything they do not
    wish to do.”
    The latest developments in France is just one of many signs of
    increasing intolerance from both secular modernists in Europe
    (see Holland and Denmark) and elements within the Muslim
    community. A sad, stupid and dangerous developments, and we
    Europeans should fight against these tendencies.

    Reply

  55. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Maybe they can put a law in place that mandates french women have to shave their pits?
    And we sure as hell don’t wanna see any poor oppressed Jewish men wearing those wierd little kippas, do we?
    Damn, those French bigots might just hafta do a full constitutional rewrite!

    Reply

  56. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Because they are being ethnically cleansed and the Chinese government is resettling hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese in Xinjian without a peep of objection from the rest of the world”
    Damn those nasty chinks, don’t they know the Israeli’s are the only ones allowed to act that way?

    Reply

  57. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Another Islamophobic attempt to paint the Muslims as evil and backward. Where is the defense of Muslim women that wear the burqa willingly out of deep religious conviction?
    Now the French are going to reach into Muslim living rooms and mosques, and install a legal wedge between husband and wife, faith and the law?
    Obviously, the Israeli’s aren’t the only ones legislating bigotry into their nation’s body of laws.

    Reply

  58. Josh Meah says:

    “Despite the very limited number of Muslims
    wearing the burqa and the fact that the burqa is
    neither required nor traditionally worn by Muslims
    outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan”
    ^ That is just incorrect. The burqa is
    considerably more widespread (ME, North Africa).
    Don’t marginalize the burqa.
    Second, the French are wrong on this. There is no
    debate: a ban is an explicit infringement on
    personal expression and privacy. Some women,
    believe it or not, prefer the burqa — really –
    talk to women with burqas and you’ll find that
    out. I don’t think this is that complicated. I’m
    normally not this blunt, but the French fucked
    this one up. Banning the burqa is anti-Muslim and
    sexist. Forget the AQIM issue — they’re pissed
    off enough as is being the Algerian regiment left
    over from other French misadventures — i don’t
    think the burqa is gonna push them over the edge
    since they already dove off a long time ago…
    but yea — support civil rights. Let people wear
    what they want to wear and stop intervening in the
    personal space of people. This is so beyond whack
    that there is even a discussion. Some people don’t
    want the French definition of proper attire –
    they prefer to be more modest. Why is that anyone
    else’s business? And so what if it’s due to family
    pressure? When did family structures become so
    wrong? WHOO!!!! support the model that supports
    high divorce rates and unhappy societies. Really
    guys, we in the west don’t need to intervene
    everywhere do we?…

    Reply

  59. David says:

    Burqa, dammit (that’s how much I hate the damned things, and anything else that singles out women as second-class, including requiring women to wear dresses, demanding that they wear heels, and other business-world subjugation of women if they want the job. Oh, what am I saying? America is so beyond any subjugation of women in the workplace, where they even get equal pay for equal work.

    Reply

  60. David says:

    It is a serious transgression of civil rights f or the French government to ban the wearing of burkas, even if it is correct that they represent the subjugation of women. If France wants to help end this subjugation, its only proper role is to prevent Muslim men (and women) who would physically punish a Muslim woman in France who refuses to wear a burka, and make it a crime to use religious dogma as the basis for physically forcing on anyone anything they do not wish to do. Excommunicate them from your church or synagogue or mosque – fine – but you may not physically impose on anyone what they will or will not wear, unless you are a parent and your eight-year-old needs a little guidance, but even then physical force seems to me not to be the smartest choice.
    Covering reproductive regions of the anatomy are with us pretty much universally (except in nudist camps, which are at least a nod to civil liberties) de rigeur, so that we might as well accept that constraint, except in the case of nude bicycling for the planet or nude performance art against war (or college streaking – those were the days).

    Reply

  61. ... says:

    sorta like how the folks in gaza are 2nd class citizens hey wigwag! wonder who is responsible for that? man, if you can work an angle, you will!

    Reply

  62. ... says:

    a first hand look at how silly it can get… it seems to be an area that lawyers love getting involved with… mind you, someone has to put them up to it..usually…
    http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/304189

    Reply

  63. WigWag says:

    The question is complicated. Those who view it simply as an issue of individual rights are not looking at the totality of the situation. Many women in France (as well as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh) wear the burqua not because they choose to but because their husbands or fathers insist that they wear it. Although it’s less austere than the burqua the same thing is true of the head scarf in Iran and Turkey. In Iran, women are forced to wear it on pain of arrest (and beating) by the religious police. In Turkey, where a similar debate is taking place, secularists oppose the head scarf not because they object to women who choose to wear it but because they know that women who don’t want to wear it will be forced to by the men in their lives.
    The problem is that in far too many Muslim nations women are not entitled to equal protection under the law. The reality is that in many of these nations women are second class citizens who are little more than chattel belonging to male members of their families.
    At least France is trying to come to grip with the issue in a thoughtful way. Instead they could be adopting the approach the Chinese government is currently adopting in its majority Muslim province of Xinjiang. In response to ethnic rioting by the Muslim Uighur population the Chinese are busting heads and asking questions later. Close to 200 people have already been killed and many hundreds wounded. Why are the Uighurs angry? Because they are being ethnically cleansed and the Chinese government is resettling hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese in Xinjian without a peep of objection from the rest of the world.
    Ultimately, the problem is not the burquas or the head scarves; the problem is men and their broken and pathetic “Y” chromosome.

    Reply

  64. questions says:

    I think that in order to understand the move in France you probably have to go back to Rousseau’s discussion of religion.
    From The Social Contract, Book IV, ch. 8:
    It is impossible to live in peace with people one believes to be damned; to love them would be to hate God who punishes them; one must absolutely bring them back or torment them. Wherever theological intolerance is allowed, it is impossible for it not to have some civil effect; and as soon as it does, the Sovereign is no longer Sovereign, even in the temporal sphere; from then on Priests are the true masters; Kings are but their officers.
    ….
    But whoever dares to say, no Salvation outside the Church, has to be driven out of the State; unless the State is the Church, and the Prince the Pontiff. Such a dogma is good only in a Theocratic Government, and in any other it is pernicious. (Cambridge U. Pr., pp 150-151 of The Social Contract and other Later Political Writings, Gourevitch, ed.)
    ******
    (Note that the “Sovereign” is a technical term for Rousseau that is more democratic in character than it sounds here. The Sovereign is the people, properly constituted, thinking about the General Will rather than about particular desires of individuals. It is what WE are, not what I am.)
    Rousseau sees the clear tensions between freedom of conscience which he supports and the expression of religious views that crosses over into public life and start to threaten civil society. Remember what is really at stake in religion — non-believers are generally considered wrong and likely to suffer for their mistakes. Tolerance of the damned is not so good.
    Tolerance is a civil function more than a religious function.
    To the extent that France preserves Rousseau’s spirit, it may well be proper for the nation to limit the public expression of religion. This isn’t a matter of personal taste, it’s a matter, as Rousseau puts it, of one’s having to live with someone one knows to be damned, or the equivalent.
    It’s not really easy to maintain the cognitive dissonance between thinking that, say, God hates x, y, and z, and not being allowed to help God along in the destruction of x, y, and z.
    We in the US don’t really keep the cognitive dissonance under control either.

    Reply

  65. ... says:

    here in canada a number of years ago there was a case of an rcmp member who was sikh and wanted to wear his turban instead of the traditional hat associated with the rcmp… as it turned out – these things are always more complex and archaic then one would initially believe once the lawyers get involved) he was allowed to wear his turban on the basis of religious rights which trumped over a hundred years of a tradition of a canadian institution… i might have some of the details incorrect, but that is the general idea… personally i felt that since he was working for the gov’t, he ought to abide by the rules associated with the tradition of that work he was doing, but apparently his religious tradition took precedence.. it will be interesting to see what happens here…

    Reply

  66. MNPundit says:

    My heart completely supports the French. It needs to be ended. But being a lefty, my head takes over. Face coverings should be able to worn if desires, except if the person is in government service, and for ID documents. Otherwise it should be up to private actors.

    Reply

  67. Outraged American says:

    Amen Mr. Lebovich! I would go topless right now if it weren’t
    “illegal” and my breasts weren’t heading south to my knees.
    If Frenchwomen want to wear such an uncomfortable, not to
    mention, horridly UN-CHIC, garment, it should be their right to do
    so.
    Why should a government be allowed to decide what people wear?
    Especially the French government, because, beyond Sarkowsy’s arm
    candy, French women have horrible taste in clothing. Viva Armani.

    Reply

  68. JohnH says:

    I don’t believe the photo is appropriate. The definition of a burqa is “A dull, monocolored dress that covers the entire body, including the face. It has a tight mesh over the face allowing air and restricted vision outwards. Women of Afghanistan are currently required to wear a burqa.”
    http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/islam.html
    What is shown here is a veil and scarf, which is already banned in French schools.
    This is all pretty remarkable, silly stuff. It was not long ago that good Christian women in Europe and America wore hats with a mesh veil covering their faces to church and other solemn events. (Picture Jackie at JFK’s funeral.)
    Clearly this is a case of the government stepping into the arena of cultural norms, tastes and preferences. What next–making berets illegal?

    Reply

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