Tuesday 9 February 2010

Burqa's and Britishness

The Sunday Times (24 January 2010) carries an article by Dominic Lawson about the idea of banning the burqa is simply not British:

"Pearson declared last week: “We are not Muslim-bashing, but this [the wearing of the burqa] is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy.” First of all, he absolutely is “Muslim-bashing” — it’s of a piece with his gratuitous remarks in his first interview as party leader that “the Muslim population is rocketing; their birth rate is much higher than ours”. (In that Vienna passage from Mein Kampf, Hitler used the same old “they’re outnumbering us” tactic: “Especially the inner city and the areas north of the Danube canal swarmed with a people who even externally no longer bore a similarity to Germans.”) Second, how is it compatible with “Britain’s values of freedom and democracy” to use the force of the state to prevent a small number of law-abiding women from wearing an item of clothing they regard as part of their religious observance, and to arrest them on the streets if they persist in exercising their conscience in a way that harms nobody?

On Thursday’s edition of Newsnight, confronted by a formidably articulate female Muslim student (who was not wearing a burqa), Pearson tried a different tack. The burqa, he claimed, was “oppressive to women” and should be banned for that reason. His interlocutor was magnificent in her incredulity: “So we should criminalise women in order to empower them? Send them to jail to free them?” She might also have noted that UKIP’s sudden embrace of feminism is desperately insincere: it seemed to have no problem with its MEP Godfrey Bloom when he declared that the problem with women in this country was that they didn’t clean behind the fridge properly.

Nicolas Sarkozy, so transparently a mountebank, is attempting a similar burqa ban in France; it follows the banning of all “ostentatious” religious emblems, including the veil, from schools and public buildings. France, however, since its bloody revolution, has had a determinedly anti-clerical political culture, regarding religion as something that has no place whatever in the public realm. That is not the British way; we evolved — not least as a result of our own historical experience — a much more tolerant approach to open expressions of religious difference, which can be summarised by the phrase “live and let live”.

You can read the full article here.

Jazakh'Allah-khairun to Maz for referring me to this article.

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