Skip to main content

Christopher Hitchens is wrong about the French burqa ban -- but maybe for the right reasons

Christopher Hitchens almost makes sense with his defense of the French burqa ban:

The French legislators who seek to repudiate the wearing of the veil or the burqa—whether the garment covers "only" the face or the entire female body—are often described as seeking to impose a "ban." To the contrary, they are attempting to lift a ban: a ban on the right of women to choose their own dress, a ban on the right of women to disagree with male and clerical authority, and a ban on the right of all citizens to look one another in the face. The proposed law is in the best traditions of the French republic, which declares all citizens equal before the law and—no less important—equal in the face of one another.

Hitchens appeals to my humanist-slash-libertarian side here, briefly, by casting the proposed burqa ban as a blow for women, letting them cast off their subjugation by forcing them to remove the veil from their faces. But that's not what the proposal does -- at least, not entirely.

Instead, the proposed burqa ban substitutes one set of restrictive authority -- you will always hide your face! -- for another -- you will never hide your face! Women who are forced by husbands or male family members (or, more or less indirectly, by their co-religionists) to cover their faces are given no more choice in how they express themselves through dress than women who are forced by the state to make a precisely opposite decision. Either way, women are treated almost like playthings in the broader Culture Wars/Clash of Civilizations/War on Terror or what have you. It's not about letting them make their own choices; it's about deciding their choices for them in advance.

That's still not any kind of meaningful freedom.

Indeed, the New York Times story that serves as the basis of Hitchens' column hints at this a little bit:

Fewer than 2,000 women in France wear a version of the full veil, and many of them are French women who have converted to Islam. The full veil is seen here as a sign of a more fundamentalist Islam, known as Salafism, which the government is trying to undercut.

It is impossible to know the story of every French woman who converted to Islam and started wearing the veil, but it certainly seems as though many of those women freely made their choices. It's not a choice I would've made, nor would I have made it for them -- but that's not really the point point, isn't it?

There are, of course, separate questions about the veil and the public's right to safety in public places -- and that is a debate that deserves to be hashed out: It's certainly not a debate contained to France. But the feminist argument advanced by Hitchens -- and French President Nicholas Sarkozy -- rings hollow. You don't free women by making choices for them.

Comments

Notorious Ph.D. said…
Damn right, Joel.

(Sorry I have nothing more coherent to add. I just think you've got it just right.)
Tom Fry said…
Yes, Christopher Hitchens hasn't understood the liberal argues the way I have always thought he had.
AJUK said…
Going into a bank in a balaclava is also a free choice, isn't it?

Popular posts from this blog

Yoga

I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Interesting:
Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…