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Controversial Tearing Away the Veil: The Burka: Religious Freedom vs. Social Responsibility?

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Mai Harinder Kaur, May 7, 2010.

  1. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    Tearing Away the Veil
    By JEAN-FRANÇOIS COPÉ

    MOMENTUM is building in Europe for laws forbidding the wearing of garments that cover the face, like the Islamic burqa and niqab, in public. Just last week, the lower house of the Belgian Parliament overwhelmingly passed a ban on face coverings. And next week, the French Assembly will most likely approve a resolution that my party, the Union for a Popular Movement, has introduced condemning such garments as against our republican principles, a step toward a similar ban.

    Amnesty International condemned the Belgian law as “an attack on religious freedom,” while other critics have asserted that by prohibiting the burqa, France would impinge upon individual liberties and stigmatize Muslims, thereby aiding extremists worldwide.

    This criticism is unjust. The debate on the full veil is complicated, and as one of the most prominent advocates in France of a ban on the burqa, I would like to explain why it is both a legitimate measure for public safety and a reaffirmation of our ideals of liberty and fraternity.

    First, the freedom to dress the way one wants is not what’s at stake here. Our debate is not about a type of attire or the Islamic head scarf that covers the hair and forehead. The latter is obviously allowed in France. The ban would apply to the full-body veil known as the burqa or niqab. This is not an article of clothing — it is a mask, a mask worn at all times, making identification or participation in economic and social life virtually impossible.

    This face covering poses a serious safety problem at a time when security cameras play an important role in the protection of public order. An armed robbery recently committed in the Paris suburbs by criminals dressed in burqas provided an unfortunate confirmation of this fact. As a mayor, I cannot guarantee the protection of the residents for whom I am responsible if masked people are allowed to run about.

    The visibility of the face in the public sphere has always been a public safety requirement. It was so obvious that until now it did not need to be enshrined in law. But the increase in women wearing the niqab, like that of the ski mask favored by criminals, changes that. We must therefore adjust our law, without waiting for the phenomenon to spread.

    The permanent concealment of the face also raises the question of social interactions in our democracies. In the United States, there are very few limits on individual freedom, as exemplified by the guarantees of the First Amendment. In France, too, we are passionately attached to liberty.

    But we also reaffirm our citizens’ equality and fraternity. These values are the three inseparable components of our national motto. We are therefore constantly striving to achieve a delicate balance. Individual liberty is vital, but individuals, like communities, must accept compromises that are indispensable to living together, in the name of certain principles that are essential to the common good.

    Let’s take one example: The fact that people are prohibited from strolling down Fifth Avenue in the nude does not constitute an attack on the fundamental rights of nudists. Likewise, wearing headgear that fully covers the face does not constitute a fundamental liberty. To the contrary, it is an insurmountable obstacle to the affirmation of a political community that unites citizens without regard to differences in sex, origin or religious faith. How can you establish a relationship with a person who, by hiding a smile or a glance — those universal signs of our common humanity — refuses to exist in the eyes of others?

    Finally, in both France and the United States, we recognize that individual liberties cannot exist without individual responsibilities. This acknowledgment is the basis of all our political rights. We are free as long as we are responsible individuals who can be held accountable for our actions before our peers. But the niqab and burqa represent a refusal to exist as a person in the eyes of others. The person who wears one is no longer identifiable; she is a shadow among others, lacking individuality, avoiding responsibility.

    From this standpoint, banning the veil in the street is aimed at no particular religion and stigmatizes no particular community. Indeed, French Muslim leaders have noted that the Koran does not instruct women to cover their faces, while in Tunisia and Turkey, it is forbidden in public buildings; it is even prohibited during the pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims are the first to suffer from the confusions engendered by this practice, which is a blow against the dignity of women.

    Through a legal ban, French parliamentarians want to uphold a principle that should apply to all: the visibility of the face in the public sphere, which is essential to our security and is a condition for living together. A few extremists are contesting this obvious fact by using our democratic liberties as an instrument against democracy. We have to tell them no.

    Jean-François Copé is the majority leader in the French National Assembly and the mayor of Meaux.
     
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  3. kds1980

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    I agree that safety with Burqa is a safety issue But an important question is that why the world is waking up in 2010.Was Burqa not a safety issue in 50s 60s 70s .If not then why now.Is there any surge in crime by criminals wearing Burqa
     
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  4. Lee

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    Kanwardeep ji Narayanjot ji.

    It is a hard one to answer, I think for a possible answer we may need to look at the laws in effect in Islamic countries and sort out how we feel about them.

    For example I was reading the other day that the British consulate in Dubia is currently drawing up a list of common sense do and don'ts for British tourists after a spate of highly reported cases involving Britians being tried under some of that countries anti lewdness laws. we have a married couple being tried for kissing in public.

    On the whole such a list a a great idea, as it arms tourist with what they need to know about the laws of the land.

    How do I feel about such laws?

    Well their government is of course entitled to effect such laws as it's people want or need. When you visit abroad, you must obey the law.

    If I feel this way, then I must consider the same for all the laws of all other countries. Although personally I feel that such anti lewdness laws, and such laws restricting face coverings do impinge on human rights issues, if the majority of civilians in these countries support such laws, then so be it.
     
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  5. spnadmin

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    Lee ji

    I honestly do not think obeying the law is the point of the controversy or the discussion we have been having. Mulsim women in burqa were not breaking any laws when they immigrated to European countries. It was not against the law to wear the burqa. Then the idea of a new law rose on the political horizon. If it is passed then the rules will have changed for Muslim women in Burqa. First they were within the law. Next they are not.

    So many who find this law controversial think that the ban on the burqa has been championed by politicians who have been less than transparent about their reasons. And I think the author of the threat starter article has raised some provocative comparative questions that get to the heart of the politics of this issue.

    What is good reason to abridge the rights of law-abiding individuals?

    Are rights given by governments to individuals according to the political climate of a week, a year, a decade. Rights given are rights than can be taken away. Or, are rights to religious expressions inalienable, such that governments should protect these rights and only abridge them when there is clear and imminent danger to society at large.

    An ancient theme is at work here that weighs individuals against the collective. So how well does the author address these issues?
     
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  6. Lee

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    Narayanjot ji, and my deepest applogise to Mai Harinder Ji ( I mistakenly referanced Narayanjot instead of you in my last post).

    Yes you are correct, obeying the law is not the point here, I was of course just giving my thoughts as to the stickyness of this topic.

    Again I say it's a hard one to sort. If the majority of French citisens see no wrong in this law, then as a UK citizen I can of course speak about what I think of such laws, but am powerles to do anything about it.

    Our history shows us that in times of trouble, the greatest scapegoat is the foreigner in our midsts. We have obviously not grown so much as a species, as it is clear that once again in this time of global financal problems the 'immigrant' is once again the first to bear the brunt.

    What to do about it? Honestly I don't know.


    As to rights. There are no inaliable rights, all rights are granted or taken.
     
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  7. spnadmin

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    Lee ji

    Thanks for clarifying your views. "There are no inalienable rights?" Depends on where you live -- how you view that.

    What about the understanding we are "endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This idea is embedded in the American Declaration of Independence has its origins in the philosophical writings of 18th Century English and French philosophers. When did the French take a different course?

    Your own Magna Carta is grounded in a related notion. Under the idea that government is a social contract between the ruler and the governed, individuals see it in their self interest to give up some rights to government. But the fundamental argument is that these personal rights are relinquished voluntarily in the interest of social order.

    When a government starts to assume that it "owns" those personal freedoms then the contract has been broken. After that one can expect social unrest, even revolutions.
     
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  8. Lee

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    I agree perception is totaly subjective. However in reality, Both the Magna Carter and the American Declaration of Independance, came about after bloodshed. Or These rights where taken by armed conflict.

    In both circumstances the population had to fight, so neither are inhernt rights at all.

    'We hold these truths to be self evidant' Does not equal 'And so do all humans the globe over'. Indeed it seems that many American citizens disagreed until the 60's came about and they were forced into reconising that what the Declaration says, is also true of the black man. So another example of rights being taken.

    Hahah indeed as Sikhs we know about the one absulote truth now don't we, all to the rest, well subjectiveity abounds.
     
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  9. spnadmin

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    Lee ji

    I don't think we are connecting at all on these points. The "bloodshed" was real. That is only more to the point that a implicit social contract had been broken. The story in each case was that consent of the governed had been breached by their rulers.

    Going back to one of my earlier comments. Muslim women in burqas are not breaking any laws, at least not until a law is passed requiring them to doff their coverings. Up until then they are abiding within the law. Some are citizens of Belgium and France as we speak. Today, tomorrow they are law-breakers over a point of religious expression. Yesterday they were not breaking any laws.

    That raises 2 questions of a practical and philosophical nature.

    1. What theory of justice makes a simple act of how we clothe ourselves legal today and illegal tomorrow?

    There is no principle of justice at work if the law can change on political whim. Only raw political might makes this kind of contradiction possible.

    2. When laws are based on political whim, we can call it social consensus if we like, as that also changes like the tides of the ocean.) But then are individuals protected by the law from the "tyranny of the majority?"

    The tryany of the majority is an important concept in any democratic system. Typically one argues that the law is there to protect individuals from group think in the larger polity. It does not seem to be happening in this case.
     
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    #8 spnadmin, May 7, 2010
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  10. spnadmin

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    No need for a Hah Hah!!!!!!!!

    The laws that took rights away from African Americans were supplanted by laws that prevent the taking of their rights. These new amendments to the US constitution did not give new rights to African Americans. Rather these were amendments that enforced the idea that their rights were inalienable as human beings. Slave laws and discrimination against blacks were local state laws found to be at odds with the Bill of Rights. The Civil War was fought, bloodier than WWI, WWII and the Vietnam conflict combined, to reinforce the idea of "inalienable" rights.

    But it is immaterial to argue that somehow I have missed an important breach of rights in US history.

    That does not change the fact that "inalienable" rights are not a fiction of law but a fundamental concept in many societies. Perhaps this idea is weaker in Europe compared to societies with a strong tie to Anglo traditions. Nonetheless the concept is found in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, and also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
     
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    #9 spnadmin, May 7, 2010
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  11. eropa234

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    Problems in France with Muslims a lot deeper. It started with taunting of Jews in schools that resulted in banning of all religious symbols in schools.

    There is very high percentage of Muslims on social assistance. Muslim women cannot find jobs in Burka many times its a convenient way to stay on social assistance. There are many other problems.
     
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  12. spnadmin

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    eropa ji

    Please go into more detail. This controversy, as you can probably see, worries me. I would appreciate knowing more about the cultural issues on the ground.
     
  13. eropa234

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    SSA Bibi Ji,

    Problems started around 2002 when many Muslims immigrants to France started to taunt Jews in high schools and it erupted in violence several times. Jewish kids will show up with their symbols and Muslims with their in schools.
    As a result the French banned all religious symbols from schools. Sikhs along with others ended up paying the price for it.

    In France and Netherlands there is high populations of Muslims from North Africa some from middle east. Very disproportionate population of Muslims is on Europe's generous social assistance families with average of six children. The French severley reduced the social assistance a few years ago that resulted in riots by Muslims. In Netherlands the Government refused to pay social assistance to women wearing veil as it hindered their odds of employment.

    Short back ground about veil: Prophet Mohammad was revealed that his wives must wear an over garment covering their bodies with the exception of eyes. Even though the revelation was for the wives of prophet only. All Muslims must follow the Sunna (saying an actions) of Prophet.
     
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    #12 eropa234, May 8, 2010
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  14. spnadmin

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    eropa ji

    Thank you - That puts some additional pieces of the puzzle together.
     
  15. eropa234

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    There are several good books on Jurist Prudence. When people are living together in a society there must be rules to follow. It is important how we view ourselves in a society i.e If I am a citizen of France I am not a minority as a French and If I view my self as a Sikh than I am a minority in that society. There is a fine line that separates my right to religion and infringement to your rights as a society.

    Laws are made primarily to protect the society, because we are all part of it, secondarily to protect an individual, in my opinion this is the best way to establish laws. We must look at the laws through both prisms to establish fairness or unfairness of laws and must accept if it protects society at large. Our constitution provides us protection from arrest and detention by the State but it also empowers authorities to arrest and detain an individual for "probable cause", a very low standard, in order to protect the society at large.

    You could have a driver's license without your photograph a few years ago now you can't.
     
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  16. spnadmin

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    eropa ji

    I don't disagree with you on this point. I only want to add that it is individuals who see it in their self-interest to create the laws that protect them.


    Heavy-handed king, dictator, or judge. Heavy-handed majority or block of voters. What is the difference if individuals are led by coercion rather than by reason?

    When those who are contracted to govern overstep their authority and tyrannize the individuals who put them in power, there is no justice. There is no "rule of law." In the case of this thread, when laws are crafted that permit a political majority to tyrannize individuals or minority groups, in the same way, there is no true "rule of law." Political whim then governs rather than principles of justice.
     
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  17. singh surjeet

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    burqa is a dress which symbolises the slavery of women.why donot muslim males hide their faces or bodies.in islam woman is inferior to muslim male.for example, witness given by two muslim women is equal to witness of one muslim male.so long as the world will allow burqa to continue in world,there cannot be complete democracy in this world and terrorism and religious intolerance will continue.
     
  18. Lee

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    Heh Narayonjot ji,

    No I think we are connecting fine, we merely disagree on a few points.

    I understand this concept of social contract, indeed it is one I firmly agree with yet, from what source does such things come from. Has such a contract always been there? I suppose that the concept of a social contract is nothing more than what the majority want, need or expect from their rulers.

    As such then how can a want, or a need or an expectation possibly be an inherent right?

    In out political system at the moment, well at least in the UK, I really can't speak for the rest of the world, there is a huge push towards what people see as fairness. we want a fairer voting system, we want a fair goverment, we all want to be treated fairly, and the best amongst us wish to see all of us treated fairly.

    Overall though this sense of fairness, is purly subjective. What I say is fair treatment, others may disagree. Yet in all of this, there is simply no evidance that sways me to belive that such rights as we humans have carbed out for ourselves are inherent at all.

    If we are stcuk with a bad goverment, we may well complain, or fight, or rebel. As is in our power to do, yet if faced with overwhelming strenght against our struggles, then we have no choice but to do as we are told.

    Rights are taken, by force or granted by noble rule. If you cannot keep your right, then how can it be one?

    To your points, but first, please do not mind the occasional hah hah's or Heh heh's, I assure you it is not mocking, nor does it signify that I feel I have somehow got one up on you. It is just how I talk, and means just that I am happy, or enjoying my talk, or similar.

    1. What theory of justice makes a simple act of how we clothe ourselves legal today and illegal tomorrow?

    Well you are correct, there is none, well none that I can think ofthat makes sense. Yet that is not really the issue. As I explianed in my first post, I think such laws emerging are nowt more than the effects of a troubled world. Time and time and time again we can see that amongst the first 'thoughts' of the 'people' of a country when hard times hit, is to find a scapegoat. Historicly this is the foreigner in our midst. I can see no reason why this will change this time around, and in fact I see plenty of evidance that it has not done so.


    2. When laws are based on political whim, we can call it social consensus if we like, as that also changes like the tides of the ocean.) But then are individuals protected by the law from the "tyranny of the majority?"


    Hahhah isn't another name for the tryany of the majority Demoncracy?

    It is true that you can't please all of the people all of the time. We are flawed creatures and our sociaties are not perfect for each law, some individuals aor groups are going to disgaree, and perhaps suffer as a consequance.

    I don't know the answer, I fear we are all in for a rought time for a little while yet, and those who find themselves in the minority will probably bare the brunt of it.
     
  19. spnadmin

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    Lee ji

    Thanks for your detailed reply. My answer to your question,
    2. When laws are based on political whim, we can call it social consensus if we like, as that also changes like the tides of the ocean.) But then are individuals protected by the law from the "tyranny of the majority?"
    is Yes and No.

    All democracies struggle with the dilemma of individual rights versus collective will. They do it in different ways through constitution and law. The struggle seems to be constant. In the US you gave already the example of slaves denied rights of life and liberty and the resulting bloody Civil War. Even after that, in the US we fight this battle on different topics, but in the courts. In India the battle is seen through issues like the Indian Marriage Act. Today in UK you have a hung parliament with one major political theme being divisions over proportional representation. The point I am making is that these differences within any democratic society are decided through law. Law depends, and typically has depended, on principles of justice.

    Let me give a different example from US history. During World War II Japanese citizens, even those US born, were shipped off to concentration camps for the duration of the war.. They lost all their property. Families were split apart. -They were felt to be "potentially dangerous." In the hysteria over national security principles of Justice under the US constitution were abandoned. Numerous constitutional standards protecting freedom of the person and ownership of property were violated.

    Again, then we have an example of "legal" one day and "illegal" the next day, all in an historical moment. It took decades for the US government to admit that the principles of justice that lie beneath the constitution and legal framework were seriously violated. But during that period of time few spoke out for fear of being imprisoned themselves. It remains a national disgrace in my opinion.

    Violations of legal principles undermine the rule of law itself. I am raising the same question here in relation to Burqa. Burqa has been deemed a threat to national security, and even to cultural unity. What legal principle in French or Belgian law makes it possible for burqa "legal"yesterday but "illegal" today? How are individual rights protected?

    (The claim that Mulsim women themselves are being protected by anti-burqa laws imho is a smokescreen.)
     
  20. Lee

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    Narayanjot ji,

    Yes in essance I think we agree. We are more or less saying the same thing but using differant words. Your 'justice that lie beneath the constitution and legal framework were seriously violated' sound suspicialy similar to my 'first 'thoughts' of the 'people' of a country when hard times hit, is to find a scapegoat'.

    It is I can only assume part of the 'human nature' we hear so much about, coupled with our species to still think along 'tribal' lines. I guess it makes it easy to demonise the 'enemy' of the 'tribe', now how to get us to realise that the human tribe spans the lenght and breadth of the globe, and that countries are rather meaningless and abitery ways to define who we are?

    I think where we may differ is in the questions of justice. You I gather hold to a belife in a form of natural morality, or that justice is objective and not subjective?

    Myself I go the other way. Morality is subjective, that is to say that each individuals sense of right and wrong can differ from each other. So then I must ask when you talk of justice whos justice do you mean?

    Do you mean my kind of justice which treats even the child molester as a human first and a criminal afterwards. Or perhaps my brothers sense of justice which would see the child molester stripped of his humanity and then killed for his crimes?

    I'm sure that you can see in the example that Justice, like all morality is not fixed.

    Bearing that in mind then, if the majority of French citizens say that such a law is just, then to their minds it must be so.

    Again let me add my personal feelings, I think such laws impinge on civil liberites, although I can understand the source of such feelings, and I feel rather helpless and know not what to do, except watch as I witness the same play over and over again.

    Greater minds than mine need to look at the issue, if I start to delve too deeply I fear I shall just start bawling.
     
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  21. spnadmin

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    Lee ji

    An interesting reply. There is a lot to ponder in it. Just don't start bawling whatever you do. We humans have a knack for digging a deep hole and falling into it. Have so done for centuries, yet we continue. Not without pain and suffering.

    No -- I would not characterize my view of natural justice as objective, but rather as "rational" in this sense: lawful actions need to follow logically from principles of justice rather than from the perceived need of the moment. Rational as opposed to intuitive. (I am not using "rational" in the sense of sane versus insane.)

    I too see the child molester as a human first and a criminal next. But if collective morality were not tempered by principles of justice it would be easier to condemn first and ask for evidence later when it is too late. Principles of justice in the Anglo system of justice place value in ideas like "innocent" til proved guilty, the right to bail, the right to a trial by jury, the right to cross-examine witnesses and evidence, to name a few. Likewise when considering political and social restraints like burqa, our system asks there be compelling evidence of a clear and present danger to society. To me that takes the subjectivity out of the equation. You are right on that score.

    I believe under the Napoleonic code which governs most of Europe, one presumed guilty and must prove one's innocence. That is a big difference. How does one prove innocence? How does one prove that one is not a threat to society?
     

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