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Integration & Politik

Reasons why a ban on the face-veil is self-defeating

The European Court of Justice has declared France’s ban on the face-veil to be legal, because apparently it endangers societal harmony. On the contrary: it is the ban itself which endangers it.

What can this ban be, other than emblematic politics? Created in an anti-Islamic environment in France, this law had the function of clientele politics. It was meant to encourage resentment against Muslims and Islam, because the Taliban-Burka is a symbol for the evil form of Islam, even though there is no theological basis for this form of veil in the Quran and the majority of Muslims disown it.

Here, the Burka represents ‘the other’ which is collectively discarded because it must be reined in. You can tell when a ban is in fact a demonstration of power in a fight about dominant culture. It is a way of marking one’s own territory: the message is, ‘not while we are here! We make the rules around here!’

Even if the Burka must be rejected by every reasonable and enlightened person – in which point we all agree – the question remains, what effect does a ban have? It is not what it claims to be: the ban neither encourages intercultural integration within society, not does it lead to more gender equality. On the contrary.

There are women who made a free choice to wear the Niqab

Among the discernibly small number of women who are addressed by this ban is a number of committed and convinced face-veil- wearers, just like the litigator. These women do not wear a Burka, but the so-called Niqab which is a face-veil not covering the eyes. They could explain convincingly that they wear the Niqab by choice. This may be hard to comprehend. Nevertheless, enlightenment and secularization include the individual’s right of self-determination and autonomy which cannot be restricted, as long as the rights of others are not violated.

Having a full view of my fellow-citizen’s face is not a legal right. Of course, there will be exceptions for security measures. But the right of self-determination and freedom of conscience is a product of such hard work and great value that a curtailment of it for the sake of a peripheral matter is extremely disproportionate.

Many Muslims in France have reacted to this ban with great unease. This is for the fear that this ban might open the gateway for more the curtailment of more religious rights. Especially in view of the fact that this ban does nothing in helping the women who are really being oppressed. Because those women, who are forced to wear a burka are now deprived of any chance of breaking out of their confinement as they will no longer have any contact with the social environment. Who, then, will profit from this ban?

Can we not bear any digression from the norm?

Shouldn’t a pluralistic and liberal society be able to tolerate the very few diversions from the norm

that show up at the edge of the circle? Be it the Punk with a full-body- tattoo or the freak with a hundred and one piercings – it is part of a liberal and democratic culture to tolerate it even if I cannot like it. Yes, a face-veil will seem strange to most people in Europe.

The primary reason given by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for accepting France’s ban is that it serves to protect prevailing norms of communal life.

By this logic it is the majority that stipulates as to how the minority must dress. Rainer Forst, a scholar of political science, rightly asks: “Are we living in a community in which the ‘house rules’ of a convention or some majority apply, or are we living in a society which actually feels committed to the principles of equality that are manifested by the civil rights, so much so that it can respect the minorities enough to let them be different?”

Majority’s Tyranny over Norms

The Burka-ban originates from a way of thinking which will ultimately lead to a tyranny of the majority over the norms. This is evidently the case in Germany where women who wear headscarves cannot teach in schools of some provinces while nuns can teach anywhere without being asked to remove their headdress. Why? Because they are excluded from this ban by a special clause.

Is it reconcilable with a universalistic legal philosophy to establish special clauses for some groups? How can such inequality be justified or explained? The majority of the German population believes that the Muslim headscarf symbolizes oppression of women’s freedom. Even though there are empirical studies which prove that these women in Germany wear the headscarf for religious reasons and see no violation of gender equality in this practice whatsoever.

Can a Headscarf Constitute a Violation of Democratic Principles?

Yet the external perception is sufficient in order to establish the unverifiable claim that the headscarf violates democratic principles. Is it not part of every good democratic education to question the mainstream critically? Yes, and it takes a lot of courage and confidence to make an autonomous choice of a garment which is perceived with such prejudice and stereotyped by the mainstream.

If the headscarf is worn as a tribute to God and an expression of the love for Him then the source of this brave freedom to remain faithful to one’s own conviction in the face of discrimination is clear.

Symbol politics and Pseudo-debates led by a firm timber-jack- kind of mentality present a ban as a solution for everything. They do not accept these women’s autonomy and advertise exclusion instead. What would really help?

Understanding that our religious politics must adjust to the pluralization of our country. Introducing the subject Islamic studies in schools and offering training programs for teachers of this new subject are measures which help convey an image of Islam which goes beyond the version of agitators. The ban on headscarves effects the exact opposite.

Consequences of this Islam-Debate

At this time there are still too few Muslim teachers who could contribute to successful integration

with a guidance of young Muslims to form an identity by qualified teaching (of Islam), thus leaving no ground for extremists to manipulate, mislead and cause disharmony. 90 per cent of the female university-students who are currently enrolled in the course for teaching Islamic science do wear a headscarf, which means they will not be able to start their career upon completion. The very young women who would be perfect to build a bridge over this huge abyss. But these very women are excluded by the state through bans and not only in public services but also in the private sector they face discrimination, as the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency of Germany laments.

These women are the living consequences of this Islam-debate: Resources that remain unused and qualities that are wasted, only because the difference is considered to be disturbing. Bans take the problem to the next level; they do not solve it. The social cohesion is not endangered by the Burka. It is in the Burka-ban where the repulsion of the mainstream society manifests itself. The stigmatization of the ‘backward’ minority serves to reassure the majority of its superiority.

This paternalistically derogatory attitude is what really endangers the social order, for it gives a boost to the extremists on both sides.