A Response to Stephen Evans of the NSS
My response to an article in the Huffington Post UK (2018-08-02) in which Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the National Secular Society, opposes the face-covering ban recently adopted by Denmark.
In an article published in the Huffington Post UK, Stephen Evans discusses the recent decision by the Danish government to ban face-coverings in public and asks the question “Do Burqa Bans Do More Harm Than Good?” He immediately answers it in the affirmative and then goes on to attempt to defend that conclusion.
First, the good news: Mr. Evans recognizes that accusations of racism directed against those who express concern over the growing influence of Islam are unacceptable. He also recognizes that “The right to manifest your beliefs isn’t absolute” because it is limited by the rights of others. Finally, he promotes “moving away from the laissez-faire approach of multiculturalism which has served to empower patriarchal community leaders; foster segregation; erode equality and freedom of speech; and undermine the principle of one law for all.” Excellent!
Now the bad news: Mr. Evans proceeds to take a position practically indistinguishable from that of radical multiculturalists and repeats several of their specious pseudo-arguments, while failing to recognize how wearing the Islamic veil, especially the full veil, compromises the rights of others in some contexts.
For example, he opines that “Surely such bans risk further alienating women already on the margins of mainstream society?” No, on the contrary, for those women who are pressured into wearing the veil by family or their religious community, such bans are liberating, giving them an excellent means of resisting that pressure. A failure to ban means abandoning them to their fate. As for those who choose to wear the veil, especially the full veil, completely of their own volition, such women have chosen to align themselves with the proselytizing religious fanatics who campaign to make the veil ubiquitous. That campaign must be resisted, not accommodated.
To say that bans on face-coverings discriminate against Muslim women is like saying that speed limits discriminate against those who drive fast cars, or that gun control legislation discriminates against those who use unregistered firearms. For one thing, Muslim women in general do not willingly adopt such accoutrements, but only the most fanatical and fundamentalist ones. Furthermore, speeders, unregistered gun users and niqab-wearers (i.e. who choose to wear it) are self-selecting; their behaviour makes them inevitable targets for legislation necessary to protect the public.
Worse, Mr. Evans even advances the preposterous symmetry argument, alleging that bans are somehow equivalent to imposing the veil, and asking “Should the state be playing that game, too?” Please, this is not a game. The situation is deadly serious. The false symmetry between imposing and banning is a cruel insult to all those women, in countries dominated by Muslim laws and mores, who have been harassed, detained, imprisoned, had acid thrown in their faces, or worse because they dared to defy the degrading obligation to wear the veil. There is simply no comparison with veil bans in countries such as France or Denmark.
I salute the courage and decisiveness of the Danish government. Their ban applies to all public places, a strong measure indeed. I personally would prefer a somewhat lesser measure, i.e. a ban on face-coverings in public services, applying to both public servants on duty and to users of those services. However the Danish solution is infinitely preferable to the complacency promoted by its critics.
The Danish law does not address the important issue of religious symbols other than face-coverings; e.g. Christian crucifixes, Islamic hijabs, Sikh turbans, etc. They should be banned for public servants on duty in order to protect the freedom of conscience of the general public. For example, allowing a police officer to wear a hijab or a visible crucifix while on duty is completely unacceptable, a gross violation of secularism and of the freedom of conscience of the public which has a right to a police service presenting a neutral image. Freedom of religion does not include the privilege of displaying partisan politico-religious advertising while one is on the job, working as a public employee.
Finally, at the end of his article, Mr. Evans finally admits, rather grudgingly it would appear, that there will “be some circumstances where a wearer should be expected to show their face.” He mentions security, identification and communication issues as possible justifications. These three criteria are certainly valid reasons to require showing the face, but they are not the most significant reasons why the Islamic full veil must be resisted. The issues of human dignity and women’s rights are more important.
The niqab and burqa are first and foremost propaganda tools, flags of an international extreme right-wing politico-religious movement which uses the veil as one major tool to spread its influence anywhere and everywhere it can. Islamists use veiled women just as dogs use their urine, to mark their territory. The niqab and burqa are also emblems, both practical and theoretical, of the degradation and enslavement of women; they constitute what are arguably the most egregious symbols of misogyny known to humanity. They are symbols of rape culture – holding women responsible for men’s libido. They express unequivocably that the wearer is chattel belonging to her husband, father or other male relative, and they similarly express the idea that any woman who does not wear the veil is basically a slut whose failure to cover herself means that she is available and easy.
Here in Quebec, the provincial government recently passed a law, the infamous Bill 62, which does almost exactly what Mr. Evans suggests, banning face-coverings in public services but allowing major exceptions. In practice, Bill 62’s ban only applies if one or more of those three criteria – security, identification and communication – can be shown to apply. All secularists here in Quebec, including the organization Atheist Freethinkers (LPA-AFT) which I represent, opposed the Bill because of this weakness, because it fails to recognize the key issues of human dignity and women’s rights, and because it does not even address the question of other religious symbols worn by public servants.
And yet, although totally inadequate, even Bill 62 met with ferocious opposition from Islamists and their radical multiculturalist allies, who claimed that it violated the rights of Muslim women, using specious arguments very similar to those put forward by Mr. Evans. The Bill was even challenged in court by the National Council for Canadian Muslims, shamefully supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who succeeded in having the ban suspended.
If we want to address the very real dangers which political Islam represents, we will need far more than the weak legislation proposed by Quebec and the irresponsible complacency shown by Mr. Evans and many others. Individuals and organisations who consider themselves secularist must stop pandering to fundamentalism. They must support a ban on all visible religious symbols worn by public servants while on duty. They must also support banning face-coverings in public services as well, including users too, not just employees. Then, and only then, will they have the credibility to criticize Denmark’s ban on face-coverings everywhere in public.