Have recent measures by Western countries amounted to weaponizing hijabs? And do these measures lead to the slippery slope of fascism? Clarion Editor Meira Svirsky weighs in:
A good part of Europe – and even Canada — seems to have a problem with religious freedom. These countries also ascribe to a skewed view of the concept of separation of religion and state.
Cases in point: First, a decision coming out of Ireland where the garda (police) commissioner announced police officers will now be allowed to wear certain kinds of religious wear – specifically, hijabs for Muslim women (not burqas or niqabs [face veils], which the police rightly identified as security risks).
Second, a pending decision in Quebec to ban the wearing of any visible religious items for government employees.
The move in Ireland is welcome in terms of all citizens of Ireland being able to serve on the police force and not having to compromise their religious values (more on the hijab and religious values below). Yet, it is worth noting the reasons the new regulation was supported by the Garda Representative Association were not because of the absolute value of religious freedom but rather bigotry.
According to a report in The Irish Times, “The association called the lack of diversity ‘a ticking time bomb’ and said more recruitment is required to better reflect the Irish population and to prevent minority communities from becoming marginalized and turning to extremism” (my emphasis).
What the association is actually saying is that we should make accommodations for Muslims not because of our value of religious freedom, but because when Muslims feel left out, they become radicalized and can turn violent.
This is the same attitude noted by Egyptian-German scholar Hamed Abdel-Samad who recently called out the Left for being racist.
Abdel-Samad correctly noted that by setting different, lower expectations for Muslims living in the West, the Left is not defending the Muslim community but rather looking down on them as individuals and as a community.
“They look at a Muslim and say: He will never be like us. He cannot be expected to uphold human rights, to accept criticism, or to accept dissenting views. They view Muslims as barbaric savages,” said Abdel-Samad.
Ironically, this attitude panders to the extremists while trying to appease them (a policy with a history of abject failure). It gives them power to assert their agenda through intimidation and threats of violence.
Instead of expecting Muslims will turn radical and violent if they don’t get their way, the West needs to cease from tolerating Islamist violence under any and all circumstances and stop making excuses for it. All citizens need to be treated equally.
Unfortunately, principles aside, it is a reality that immigrant groups in Western countries are usually discriminated against when they arrive. Yet, in the U.S., largely due to America’s principles of equality under the law, religious freedom and the separation of religion and state, these groups are free to get down to the business of integrating into the country and becoming productive members of society — as such, they eventually earn the trust of Americans.
The American model of separation of religion and state is based on the premise that the state doesn’t favor one religion over the other. What it does not mean is that an individual can’t practice his or her religion in the public sphere (within the obvious bounds of not harming others).
Certain European countries (and soon Quebec) consistently fall short of giving religious freedom to all because their idea of this principle is to create “neutrality and equality” by prohibiting religious expressions in the public sphere.
Yet ironically, not only is this a form of religious discrimination, it also serves as fodder to Islamist extremists, who are then able to point to this discrimination and use it to sell their “us versus them (Muslims versus infidels)” ideology.
Some would argue — and with good cause — that hijabs are not religious symbols but rather political weapons:
“The fact is that while the Sikh turban, Jewish yarmulkes and the Catholic crucifix are definitely religious symbols, the hijab is not. Rather it is a political symbol that until the late 1970s was unheard of in Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia and Nigeria. It was the uniform of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world,” writes Tarek Fatah, who supports the proposed ban in Quebec.
While Fatah may be correct about the insidious historical development of the hijab, the garment has now evolved into religious symbol (or, at least, a religious identity marker). As such, governments have no place to ban it.
Moreover, banning all religious wear by government employees — including judges, prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and the like — does not assure “the neutrality of the state and its institutions,” as the Quebec law contends. Rather, it merely pushes whatever biases these officials have due to their religion under the radar – a much more dangerous place.
Let us be clear: The hijab is certainly not something for the West to celebrate and promote (as trendy feminists and their intersectional Leftist allies have done) because entire countries of women and girls — as well as many individual Muslims in the West and elsewhere — are forced to wear this garment against their will.
That is a different topic which needs to be addressed seriously. Yet, laws banning religious expression are fundamentally wrong and go against what should be an absolute human value; the freedom of religion.
Political battles should not be fought in a way that makes this freedom relative to any given political cause. It’s a slippery slope that takes us to a place where none of us wants to be. Ultimately, it leads us to the quintessential definition of fascism.