Monday, November 13, 2006

Fundamentally illiberal

The Netherlands is famous for being a tolerant, liberal society. So it's a little startling to see that their government is apparently planning to ban the burka:

The Netherlands may become the first European country to ban Muslim face veils after its government pledged yesterday to outlaw the wearing in public spaces of the niqab, or veil, and the burka, or full-length cloak covering the head.

The right-leaning coalition said last night that it would look for a way to outlaw the wearing of all Muslim face veils. The grounds for a ban were laid last December when parliament voted in favour of a proposal to criminalise face coverings, as part of a security measure proposed by a far-right politician, Geert Wilders.

Rita Verdonk, the immigration minister, signalled that the government would now push for a total ban, even though the legislation would be likely to contravene Dutch religious freedom laws.

"The cabinet finds the wearing of a burka undesirable ... but cannot at present enforce a total ban," the Dutch news agency ANP quoted her as saying after a cabinet meeting.

This is a fundamentally illiberal move. No matter what you may think of Islam, veils, or burkas, what you wear is a vital part of freedom of expression, and in this case of religious expression - values fundamental to a liberal society. In a liberal society, it is simply assumed that (barring workplace safety issues, or balaclavas in banks), you can wear what you like in public. It is not the government's business to dictate fashion or tell you what you should wear, any more than it is their business to tell you what you should believe or what you can and cannot do in bed. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty

the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.

There is simply no such justification here. While burkas may be undesirable for all sorts of reasons, wearing a burka in and of itself does not directly threaten anyone. The proposed ban is nothing more than an act of outright religious discrimination - and one that sends a clear message to moderate Muslims that their faith is incompatible with the west. So much for winning hearts and minds...

As for why this is happening, the Dutch have an election in two weeks - and some of their politicians aren't above a bit of opportunistic immigrant-bashing to boost their chances.


Wearing burquas isn't new in Europe. Twenty years ago you saw a few women in burquas (and quite a lot in headscarfs) around the UK, at least.

I think the only difference was that in those days the Arabs were seen as "our friends" and were spending large amounts of money around the place. The rights of the burqua wearing women were never seen as an issue, funnily enough.

All that's changed is that a few muslims engage in terrorism and now people are scared and looking for payback.

Posted by Rich : 11/13/2006 01:04:00 PM

Which is of course Exactly What The Terrorists Want: a crackdown to squeeze out the middle and radicalise people even further.

Talleyrand is overused, I know, but it needs to be said: this is not just wrong - it is a mistake.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/13/2006 01:15:00 PM

The VVD Party to which Verdonk belongs is under poll pressure from the Wilders party (an off-shoot of the former Fortuyn party) on the right hand side of Dutch politics. So the illiberal pandering and posturing is no surprise. Good to see that the the SP (socialist party on the left of the Dutch Labour Party) is polling higher than the VVD at the moment!

Posted by Hans Versluys : 11/13/2006 01:54:00 PM

I doubt any "moderate" Muslims wear full burqas. It is only a small small proportion of Muslims who believe one has a religious onligation to do so.

If for example the Mongrel Mob declared their beliefs compel them to wear balaclavas in public, I doubt that would be found acceptable either.

Posted by David Farrar : 11/13/2006 02:04:00 PM

DPF: No, they don't. But at the same time, they are likely to feel that those with strong beliefs have a right to do so - and that is what will drive the radicalisation. There's an obvious comparison here with Christians - most don't wear overt crosses, but if the government tried to ban them, you could bet that even those who didn't would feel attacked by the move.

As for your second comment, I think you've been swimming in the sewer too long. Strong religious belief is not a crime, and fundamentalist Islam is no more a criminal enterprise than fundamentalist Christianity. I don't like either, but I at least understand that much.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/13/2006 02:36:00 PM

The Mongrel Mob is not a religion, nor is it a racial group, or even a political party. It's members already freely wear balaclava's or face scarves in public, especially when reported in the media. This is to conceal their identity, which every person has a right to do, because there are those who would do them harm or persecute them because of their associates.

Also they believe in wearing a patch or their colours identifying their affiliation in public, and I believe that Wanganui is trying to ban them from wearing them in public...

oooh, and look the BoRA buggers that up...

Personally, I wear, or don't wear whatever I like, and you can too.

Posted by Bloodrage : 11/13/2006 04:51:00 PM

Idiot - I am not sure one should give special rights to one group in society because they say it is a religious belief. I'd be equally against Scientology members being allowed to wear full metal helmets covering the face in public, if Lord Xenu commands them to do so. And there are probably more Scientology members as there are Muslims in Europe who beleive burqas must be worn in public.

Facial identification is a pretty fundamental part of western society, and I think it is far too easy from remote NZ to condemn the Netherlands who have to cope with the problems extreme Islam has brought with it. It does take a lot to change a liberal welcoming society to a fearful one - and the majority of the fault is not with the Dutch.

If a country doesn't have at least minimal integration of migrants into a country, then you get awful problems. Migration has been strongly supported in the past on the basis that the first generation of migrants may not integrate greatly, but the second generation is normally very well integrated (while still maintaining distinctive culture). But the problems being caused by communities who not only do not integrate at all, but are hostile to the values of their host country, and raise their children to not integrate also - well welcome to much of Europe today.

In a perfect world I agree, one should allow anyone to wear whatever they want in a western country. But this is not a perfect world and merely ignoring the problems of extreme Islam, or believing a policy of tolerance (which has been practised for 30 years or so and is a total failure in much of Europe) will somehow make everything ok.

Personally I believe the French have a better solution - only banning it at secular state schools. I might even vote against a public ban as being too intrusive against individual rights. But I would have sympathy and understanding for why such a measure is being proposed, and the very real fears and concerns the Dutch have for their society.

Posted by David Farrar : 11/13/2006 05:39:00 PM

I think both of you miss a vital point. All religious fundamentalism has one aspect in common... the repression of women. The burqua is a symbol of old and odious cultural outlooks that have NO place in a modern liberal society. Nor is sexism at this level something "legal" that we tolerate, indeed there are many laws and policies that we have in place to outlaw gender discrimination .

Being "liberal" is a fine thing, but not to be confused with indiscriminating.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/13/2006 06:33:00 PM

Winning hearts and minds is a completely non-existent proposition with the kind of Muslim loonies the Dutch are justifiably worried about. I agree you're right about banning the burqa being not only wrong but a mistake - but if they were to take Mill's remarks about self-preservation seriously, they'd stop importing medieval religious fundamentalists from the Third World immediately, and police the ones they've got pretty closely - in all seriousness.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 11/13/2006 06:51:00 PM

I always thought the hard part of believing in freedom was having to defend the rights of neo-Nazis to spout shite. Even if doing so always makes me feel nauseous.

If we can handle that, it's hardly mental gymnastics to see that somebody wearing a burqa on the street can be BOTH not to your liking, and entirely, necessarily legal. Compared with deciding where to draw the line on allowing people to preach hateful racism (a march? a website? etc), it's not a tough one at all, really. The burqa-ban is wrong.


Posted by Anonymous : 11/13/2006 08:22:00 PM

Redrag makes a good point, which is developed further in this piece by an Iranian socialist feminist, published on Scoop today. She argues that the veil is not a fashion choice, it's a symbol of women's subjugation and should be banned for underage girls.

Unfortunately, in the west the calls for banning are coming from the right, particularly the far right. Their reasoning has nothing to do with freedom for women and everything to do with forced assimilation and discrimination against a group because of the actions of a few.

John Stuart Mill was a feminist. I think he might have seen more in this issue than religious intolerance.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/13/2006 08:39:00 PM

To be blunt, the sudden concern with "facial identification" is a mask for simple Islamophobia. Nobody gave a rat's arse about this, until 9/11 and the upsurge in terrorism stoked the fires of prejudice and provided an excuse for every two-bit bigot to spew their hatred in public and push for the collective punishment and victimisation of Muslims. And I'm genuinely sad (though perhaps not surprised, given your political allegiances and National's own race-baiting and immigrant bashing habits) to see that you have joined them.

To point out the obvious: we will only win the war of ideas by showing that there is not a fundamental incompatibility between Islam and western society - that it is possible to be both Muslim and Dutch, Muslim and American, Muslim and British, and yes, Muslim and kiwi. Steps such as he one proposed by the Dutch government, or by the British government (where they're sacking people because of their religion) send a very clear message that we do not think that is possible. Score another one for the terrorists, then.

As for "integration" and "values", as I pointed out when Don Brash started spewing this bigotry, this isn't just about migrants. Western countries have plenty of domestic freaks who keep themselves apart and do not integrate, or who are explicitly "hostile to the values of their host country". In New Zealand, we have the Exclusive Brethren and our own local neo-nazis - but no-one suggests for a moment banning the headscarf, the white shirt, or the shaved head. And I think most of us would find the idea outrageous. The Dutch have their own freaks, but the same point applies: illiberalism and hate are tolerated - at least when done by White Christians.

Letting people wear what they want is not "special rights" - it is a basic right every single one of us takes for granted every day. Dictating to people what they may and may not wear is what the Taleban do. I thought our governments at least were better than that.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/13/2006 08:49:00 PM

If the issue were truly about facial identification, then I presume a ban on hoodies would be a far more useful social protection. Unless there's been a sudden upsurge in acts of violence committed by burqa-wearing Muslim women that I'm unaware of..

Posted by Anonymous : 11/13/2006 09:04:00 PM

Well said, I/S.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/13/2006 09:34:00 PM

Your claim that there were no concerns about integration of those of extreme Islamic faith into European countries until 9/11 is absolutely wrong. I know you like to hold 9/11 up as the big evil excuse everyone uses but in the Netherlands the death threats against Ali and murdering of the fil maker have been far bigger influences.

Your labelling of anyone who disagrees with your views as prejudice and bigotry just shows how hard it is to have a sane conversation about the problems of Islamism (seperate to Islam). Yes there are rabig anti-Muslims, but the problem is made just as bad by people like yourself who want us to pretend there is no problem at all, so long as we all act nice.

You state "we will only win the war of ideas by showing that there is not a fundamental incompatibility between Islam and western society - that it is possible to be both Muslim and Dutch, Muslim and American, Muslim and British, and yes, Muslim and kiwi."

Now putting aside your sneaky substitution of radical Islam or Islamism for all Islam (I do not believe Islam per se is incompatible, but I do beleive Islamism is), let me ask whether you think there is any responsibility at all on Muslims to also demonstrate there is no fundamental incompability. This is not a one sided obligation. Now I would say stoning homosexuals too death and executing women for defending themselves against rape is pretty incompatible with western society.

You seem to suggest that European Governments should do nothing to battle Islamism or radical Islam, for fear of alienating mainstream or moderate Muslims. Now on paper this sounds reasonable. But here's the problem - they tried that way for 20 years and it has been a disastrous failure. The tolerance didn't work. They had that in the Netherlands. There's a reason it has been rejected.

Now that is not to say that the underlying axiom is not true - one does need to be careful to not alienate mainstream Muslims, while battling Islamism. But the axiom is not an excuse to do nothing.

Finally referring back to the need for Islam and western liberal democracies to prove they can co-exist - again that takes actions from both sides. In NZ we are very fortunate that the leadership of the Islamic community has worked towards this end. But we are the rare exception to the norm in Europe.

Finally turning to your argument about whether we should desire immigrants to integrate into NZ society. Your reasoning that because a small proportion of home-grown NZers do not integrate, we should not desire this from immigrants. Sorry but that is the most intellectualy weak argument. It's like saying don't ban criminals from coning here, because we have local criminals.

Applying an integration test to future migration (integration, not assimiliation - they are quite different) is IMO the most important police a future Government can out into place. Yes even more so than tax cuts! And yes of course it will be bloody hard to define how we do it, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't try.

Posted by David Farrar : 11/13/2006 09:58:00 PM

David F, a suggestion:

Stoning homosexuals - banned. Wearing a veil - not banned.

Not really difficult to draw that line, is it?


Posted by Anonymous : 11/13/2006 10:14:00 PM

The Netherlands is not, and never has been, a 'liberal' country with regard to immigration; it's a country of rabid xenophobes. Seriously, look at their immigration law, it's utterly insane.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/13/2006 10:34:00 PM

Dutch embassies distribute DVDs to prospective immigrants showing gays kissing and women sunbathing topless at the beach to "warn" them what sort of society they will be emigrating to. That is an excellent ide NZ should copy (and Australia, to keep those intolerant Lebanese out of Cronulla)

Posted by Hans Versluys : 11/14/2006 12:32:00 PM

One thing no one has mentioned is what will happen, in a practical way, if the burka is banned. Women would be forced to stay inside their homes. With no burka, there would be literaly _no_ freedom of movement for these women.

They aren't going to shrug their collective sholders and stop covering their faces because of the moral weight of some secular law. It would just condemn women wearing the burka to be never seen in public.

Posted by Muerk : 11/15/2006 01:37:00 PM

Uroskin - I agree it is an excellent idea and I am keen to see something similiar here also.

Posted by David Farrar : 11/16/2006 12:09:00 AM

So do those think there should be a law against facial covering want to also ban:
- hoodies and sunglasses
- halloween masks
- furry animal costumes
- motorcyle helmets when not on a moving motorcycle

or are you purely after supressing relgious expression you don't like?

Posted by Rich : 11/17/2006 11:16:00 AM

I think those could be legitimate things to ban as they would be for entering a bank.
however personally have little opinion I jsut think they are things a country COULD legitimatly ban IF it placed enough value on facial recognition.

Posted by Genius : 11/17/2006 06:06:00 PM

I think DPF and Genius fail to understand that _anyone_ has the right to conceal their identity in public. I do _not_ have to identify myself to anyone, I can cover my face, and use a silly voice too, or even wear a bear suit if I wish. Of course some people will avoid you, which is probably sensible, or refuse to do business with you, or ask you to leave their property. They'll probably call the Police. That's within their rights too.

Only when asked by a warranted Police officer do you have to give your (correct) name and particulars.

Posted by Bloodrage : 11/17/2006 06:30:00 PM

It is not within someone's right to refuse to do business with someone who's wearing a burqa, however.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 11/17/2006 06:39:00 PM

Just because you assert that a right exists doesn't mean I need to buy into it. Rather like the right to carry a concealed weapon or the right not to pay tax.

And just because the law allows something now doesn't mean it SHOULD allow that thing.

Posted by Genius : 11/17/2006 07:47:00 PM

Genius, in New Zealand law is exclusive. It only prohibits unlawful things, hence all other things that are not specifically described as unlawful are allowed. It's perfectly lawful to wear dead fish for shoes, provided they were killed humanely. It's fine to commit suicide, but not to attempt it and fail.

Graeme Edgeler: Easy, don't do business because you don't like them, or because you think it would be a bad deal, or because the voices in your head told you not to. As long as you're not being discriminatory no one can make you do anything with anyone. Just ask the hordes of street kids who I refused to sell fast food to in the 90s (my usual reason was 'You smell like glue.'). That job ruined me for customer service forever.

Posted by Bloodrage : 11/18/2006 10:56:00 PM

well to be clear I don't propose stopping someone wearing a helmet in public without actually having already made that illegal (or making it legitimate for the person to be stopped) - that would just be confusing.

> or because the voices in your head told you not to. As long as you're not being discriminatory no one can make you do anything with anyone.

hmm would that defence really work in front of a court? (maybe it would)

Posted by Genius : 11/19/2006 08:25:00 AM