Stirrings In The Dar-al-Harb?

In a heartening development, the lower house of France’s parliament has voted 335 to 1 to ban the burqa. The measure, which is overwhelmingly supported by the French people, will go to the Senat in September.

Reaction was swift, and predictable.

“A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab in public as an expression of their identity or beliefs,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe.

Amnesty International’s “expert on discrimination” is, of course, spouting nonsense. Given that rights are nothing more than human conventions in the first place, such a ban would not violate this alleged “right”, but would, rather, simply make clear that in France, the homeland of an ancient Western people with a magnificent and deeply beloved culture to protect, this particular “right” simply does not exist. No, if there is a “right” to be considered here, it is the right — which has even been explicitly declared by the United Nations — of an indigenous people to preserve its cultural integrity.

It is gratifying to see that the French, along with much of Europe, are beginning to understand that like any living organism, a culture without the ability to “discriminate” between self and other, between symbiont and pathogen, cannot survive. Perhaps as time goes by all of Europe and the West will become “experts on discrimination” too — expert enough, that is, to discriminate between what nourishes their culture and what destroys it from within. (The Ummah, of course, are already experts in this — as shown, for example, by the warm reception given to expressions of the Christian and Jewish faiths in Saudi Arabia.)

Meanwhile, here in New York, the controversy over the Cordoba House continues. (The Cordoba House, for those of you who don’t know, is the suggestively named giant mosque that is being built, as John Derbyshire put it, ” just a stone’s throw — or, to modify the metaphor slightly, an airline passenger’s body-part trajectory — from Ground Zero”.) We are assured that the institution (whose name, curiously, is that of a region of Europe subjugated by Muslims during the Umayyad Caliphate), will be a monument to multiculturalism, a temple of tolerance, a Pharos of fellow-feeling: fully in accord with, and dedicated to nothing other than the promotion of, the ennobling liberal ideals of Diversity and Inclusiveness.

Of course, of course. How could anyone doubt that? But just to be on the safe side, a group called the Former Muslims United has sent the “man behind the mosque”, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a copy of a document they’ve put together, by the signing of which Muslim good-will ambassadors may express, in harmony with the Western spirit of religious tolerance and individual freedom that this mosque will so radiantly embody, their dissociation from the atavistic (and thoroughly intolerant) Islamic convention of mandatory execution of apostates.

Curiously, there has been no response, but that’s probably due to how busy they are, getting ready for the mosque’s eagerly awaited Grand Opening — on September 11th, 2011.

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  1. I can’t agree with you on this one, Malcolm. Decency apart, I do not like the idea of politicians telling me how I should or should not dress. Personally, I am frequently ‘offended’, because it makes me feel ill, by fat cows waddling down my High Street with their naked bellies hanging over their jeans and their bum cracks visible from behind – to say nothing of the usual gallery of ghastly tattoos and studs. Given a choice I much prefer a burqua!

    However, for security reasons I think it is reasonable that women wearing a burqua should be denied entry to public (ie, government) buildings for security reasons unless suitable security measures are in place. Equally, I think private owners of premises have every right to refuse entry to anyone because they object to their dress. Maitre d’s of swank restaurants always used to keep a collection of ties for ‘gentlemen’ who turned up without wearing one so as not to have to turn them away. These days, no-one seems to wear a tie with a suit – and I’d ban them, too, if I had my way!

    (Totters off into the sunset muttering about things not being the same as when I was a boy … yadda – yadda …)

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 3:04 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    That is a principled objection, David, and one that tugs at me also.

    This is a case where two competing interests must be weighed — absolute freedom in matters of dress, and resistance to the spread of an alien, highly infectious, and, from a cultural standpoint, potentially lethal meme.

    Would that the French hadn’t had to make this painful choice in the first place; it needn’t have come to this.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink
  3. JK says

    Just curious Mr. Duff, that bit about ‘security reasons’?

    Would you consider it acceptable for an eye-slitted photo ID to be presented as sufficient identification? Provided I suppose, the burqua-clad personage requesting entrance to the government secured building had precisely matching eye-slits?

    And what about driving automobiles? Unlike Saudi Arabia, France doesn’t prohibit women drivers – shouldn’t other French drivers expect a minimal hope the woman driver alongside them can see clearly enough to parallel park at the embassy?

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 8:37 am | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    The statement that “rights are nothing more than human conventions” is, at best, arguable. On the other side of the argument are Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom believe that there are certain inalienable rights which exist independent of human convention.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Sure, it’s arguable. I’m with Bentham on this one, though, stilts and all.

    And for Jefferson to ground his assertion, he had to postulate a source for these independently existing rights. To do so, he invoked the “Creator”: an entity that, if memory serves, you don’t believe in any more than I do.

    So where do these inalienable rights come from, then, if not human convention?

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    I’m with Thomas Hobbes on this one: there are certain rights which are a priori and are grounded in natural law.

    For example, individuals have the natural right of equality under the law, regardless of whether they live here or in Stalinist Russia. These rights exist regardless of whether or not they are recognized by a given society’s human conventions.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    And, like Bentham, I deny that such rights exist except by human convention. Can you demonstrate that I am wrong? Can you explain just how these rights are supposed to arise?

    Also, can you explain why the alleged “right” to the burqa trumps the right of a society to maintain standards of appearance and behavior? Is there an absolute “natural right” to run around the streets naked, or to lead women on a leash?

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm, the problem is that experience shows that if you give those Washington/Westminster rascals an inch they’ll take a mile and charge you for two!

    ‘JK’, the security issue is serious. In this day and age, anyone in a burqua is a *potential* threat, as any Israeli will tell you. As for driving, I have no idea whether or not the burqua obstructs vision. I remember that ‘over here’ years ago there was a fuss and furore when crash helmets were made mandatory for bikers and the turban-wearing Sikhs kicked up about it. I can’t remember how that was settled. And mention of bikers’ helmets makes me wonder how restricted their vision is compared to a burqua.

    ‘Uni-eye’ (if I might so call him, to save time) raises a more fundamental point. If a ‘right’ is inalienable, one is forced to ask from whence it came or from whom it is bestowed? One might *claim* that it comes from here, or there, with full authority which none may deny, but I might just shoot you anyway! I think Malcolm has it correctly when he describes it as a human convention.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Time they gave the locals an inch for a change, David; they’ve been giving the outsiders a mile for too long.

    And they’ll charge for two no matter what.

    (By the way, the “One-Eyed Man”‘s name is Peter; he’s one of my oldest friends, though you’d never know it from reading these pages. He is also binocular. I think the reference has to do with the kingdom of the blind…)

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one eyed man is King.

    Hobbes answers that question by drawing a distinction between the law of the jungle (or, more properly, absence of law in the jungle) and civil society, finding that rights such as due process and equality under the law are (or ought to be) intrinsic to the legitimacy of the latter.

    As you know, I believe that if the Hasidic and the Amish can wear their religious uniforms, then Muslim women should be able to do the same thing. The basic idea of all three groups is that people dress and look alike, in modest and unflattering apparel. It is not for the State to decide whose religious costume should be allowed and whose shouldn’t. I believe in a wide berth for individual freedom, and dressing according to one’s desire certainly fits within that realm. However, I don’t think it is a “natural right,” or at least one on a par with freedom of speech or the right to habeas corpus. I am disinclined to rehash this argument, so that is my last word on the subject.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  11. JK says

    Perform an experiment David. Place a motorcycle helmet on your head then swivel your neck – you should notice the helmet, being independently held to your head and not your neck, doesn’t impede vision.

    Next (I’m supposing you don’t have a burgua lying around – scissors required) place a hooded sweatshirt on backwards – sit back in a comfy chair, repeat swivel as above.

    As for whether Sikhs or Hillbillies should be required to wear helmets? I’m inclined to a utilitarian view, (admitting relativism) if a head injury occurs – don’t require me to pay for your stitches.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    As Bentham understood (and David Duff, above): in a state of Nature there is nothing to prevent my abrogating whatever “rights” you may think you have.

    To assert the existence of a set of “natural rights”, then, is just to present an intuitively populated “wish-list” of what one thinks an enlightened society ought to ordain as legal entitlements.

    From Bentham’s Critique of the Doctrine of Inalienable, Natural Rights:

    How stands the truth of things? That there are no such things as natural rights — no such things as rights anterior to the establishment of government — no such things as natural rights opposed to, in contradistinction to, legal: that the expression is merely figurative; that when used, in the moment you attempt to give it a literal meaning it leads to error, and to that sort of error that leads to mischief — to the extremity of mischief.

    We know what it is for men to live without government — and living without government, to live without rights: we know what it is for men to live without government, for we see instances of such a way of life — we see it in many savage nations, or rather races of mankind; for instance, among the savages of New South Wales, whose way of living is so well known to us: no habit of obedience, and thence no government — no government, and thence no laws — no laws, and thence no such things as rights — no security — no property: –liberty, as against regular controul, the controul of laws and government –perfect; but as against all irregular controul, the mandates of stronger individuals, none. In this state, at a time earlier than the commencement of historv — in this same state, judging from analogy, we the inhabitants of the part of the globe we call Europe, were; — no government, consequently no rights: no rights, consequently no property — no legal security — no legal liberty: security not more than belongs to beasts — forecast and sense of insecurity keener — consequently in point of happiness below the level of the brutal race.

    In proportion to the want of happiness resulting from the want of rights, a reason exists for wishing that there were such things as rights. But reasons for wishing there were such things as rights, are not rights; — a reason for wishing that a certain right were established, is not that right — want is not supply — hunger is not bread.

    But, Peter, your last makes it unclear whether you do in fact think of the “right” at issue here as “inalienable’ or not (your first comment made it seem that you thought it was, but I may have misread you). And if this is a matter of human convention, then the point is the French feel (rightly, in my view) that the burqa is not on a par with the clothing of the Amish, for a number of good reasons.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  13. the one eyed man says

    I don’t think that wearing a burqa is among the inalienable rights, which in my view are encompassed by the Bill of Rights and Amendments 13-16 and 19.

    I think the French are wrong, and more than a little silly, for banning the burqa. For the country which coined the phrase laissez faire, to specify what can and cannot be worn is like the dictator in Woody Allen’s “Bananas” who decreed a law where everyone had to wear clean underwear. In order for the state to make sure the law is being obeyed, you have to wear it on the outside.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Peter, you are neglecting the broader point here. There is more to this legislation than the burqa per se, as offensive as that garment is to European sensibilities: the real purpose of this is to create an inhospitable environment for the expansion of fundamentalist Islam.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    I realize that, but I also believe that freedom of religion is an inalienable right.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    Ah, well, there’s the rub. I think the French realize, rightly, that unchecked expansion of fundamentalist Islam in their society would transform their indigenous culture beyond all recognition. So they must balance the principle of absolute freedom of religion (which principle is itself a feature of their own culture, and one that is conspicuously absent in Islam) against their own survival.

    In other words, in order to endure as a distinct culture, they must make a discrimination between what enriches their society, and what poisons it. Tolerance is an admirable principle, but simply to apply the principle without limit, no matter what the consequences, is suicidal folly. Why must the French tolerate, unto their own cultural destruction, the expansion of a totalizing religious/political ideology that is explicitly antithetical to the very principle of tolerance itself?

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  17. the one eyed man says

    Well, I don’t buy the argument that the rise of fundamentalist Islam threatens the survival of French culture. If the culture of Proust, Sartre, and Gauloises can’t stand up to a few thousand women in burqas, then there’s not much there to begin with. However, I don’t think that is the case. I recognize that we are irreconcilably opposed on this issue.

    One of the reasons why America is a great country is that it allows Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan to preach “death to the white man.” It even allows Nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois, in an event which would likely incite the resident Jewish population. I think that is the right place to draw the line: any religious activity, short of active collaboration to commit a crime, is a human right.

    In times of economic stress, people invariably blame the most vulnerable among them as the cause of their misery. You see it here with Mexican immigrants and in France with Muslims. Earlier targets were blacks, Jews, Chinese, and lots of others. (Cue Tom Lehrer and “National Brotherhood Week.”) This is an opportunity for the French to say: we don’t like you, go home. I think it’s ugly and regrettable, but it’s a constant throughout human history.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m out the door and will be off the grid for a while, so this is my last comment on the subject.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    Well, of course the “few thousand women” aren’t themselves the problem, as I pointed out above. What this measure seeks to confront is the rapid and unchecked demographic expansion of an incompatible, utterly alien, and generally hostile subculture — a memetic, cultural and ideological “invasive species” whose accelerating growth in the fertile soil of Western liberal society threatens to overwhelm its ecosystem.

    As for French culture, to say that maybe “there wasn’t much there to begin with” is obviously flippant; we all know there is plenty there, of enormous worth. (And even if not, what matters is how the French, not you, feel about the value of their own culture.) But to imagine that the continuing Islamization of France would not have enormously destructive effects on the cohesiveness and distinctive character of French society is simply to deny an unpleasant reality for the sake of ideological purity. The admirable principle of absolute tolerance can, if exploited by a cunning foe, be a fatal weakness. Must the French, or any Western nation, place this principle above all else, following it even unto their own cultural ruin?

    I share your (and David’s) aversion to limitations of liberty, and agree that this legislation is distasteful, but I agree also with the overwhelming majority of French people that their culture is in peril. (A far better way to have dealt with the problem would have been not to have allowed so much Muslim immigration in the first place.)

    And you are quite right: the French, and much of Europe, are beginning to say that they don’t like Islam, and would like it to go home. But it is hard for me to see on what basis you can criticize them for saying that, because what Islam says, loud and clear, is: we like your country just fine, and expect to be allowed to come and live in it, and enjoy its wealth — but we don’t like your culture one little bit, and we are going to do everything we can to transform it into our own.

    Why should any nation have to put up with that? Why should the French be expected to “like” fundamentalist Islam? After all, it certainly doesn’t “like” them. Why shouldn’t they want it to “go home”?

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  19. bob koepp says

    None of the “bad things” attributed to the burqua are intrinsic to that item of apparel, so I think the French ought to enforce their laws against “bad things” and leave burquas alone. As for French culture being in peril, you bet it is. One leg (at least) of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” just took a hit.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  20. Malcolm says

    I disagree. The concealment of the face imposed by the burqa is a “bad thing” in and of itself.

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  21. Chris G says

    When I think about the topless French ladies on the Cote d’Azur and then think about beach burqas, sniff sniff, I get sad.

    Viva La France!

    Posted July 14, 2010 at 11:44 pm | Permalink