OPINION

Liberalism and the burqa

One of the most common arguments put forward against recent steps by some European governments to ban the full-face veil, known as the niqab or burqa, is the small number of Muslim women who wear it. Lawfulness, however, is not based on numbers. It is illegal to kill another man, even if only a few people wish to do so.

Of course, there are more arguments against such a ban. Outlawing the burqa, opponents of the move say, is racist, intolerant and undemocratic. But it?s hard to miss the fact that the call for multicultural tolerance is coming from one of the least tolerant monocultural segments of society. Interestingly, defense of the burqa has also drawn support from misguided liberals and leftist multiculties ? who seem to forget that many women in Muslim countries are still beaten, stoned or disfigured by their menfolk for not covering their faces ? as well as some among the Christian right who are wary of losing their own ?sacred? rights and privileges.

Leaving security concerns and the demeaning of women aside, one question that needs to be answered is why a majority should be subject to the cultural whims of a minority. Doesn?t it make more sense for an immigrant to abide by the mores and values of the land where he or she has chosen to live rather than the other way around? And even though the West should not go down the oft-used reciprocity argument ?We must not allow Muslims to build mosques in Europe until they allow Christians to build their own churches in their countries? ? because a place like Sudan or Saudi Arabia cannot serve as standard for any modern European nation ? it seems fair, in fact it is crucial, to state that liberal states have no reason to give in to the yens of their culturally assertive minorities either. Yielding to one demand will naturally spawn further similar demands and the list is already too long: sex segregated swimming pools, the abolition of certain textbooks at schools, special medical treatment for women, calls for polygamy and forced marriages and so on (and, alas, we must not leave the defense of Enlightenment values to the extreme right).

Each time it gives in to segregationist demands, liberalism effectively gives up a chunk of itself. In going out of their way to accommodate these customs, liberal states are helping create a state within a state, a segregated society where people live in accordance with their own rules and values. For what does a woman clad in a full-face garment convey other than her willingness to separate herself from the rest of society? It?s like saying, ?I am not one of you; I do not belong here; you are impure.?

Living in an open society is all about freedom, transparency and interaction ? and the individuals who wish to participate in such a society ought to, at least, be identifiable.