Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen drafted during the period was the precursor of the International Human Rights Law. This form of secularism has been followed so religiously in the later half of the century that it has become a religion by itself with its own set of presumptions and dogmas.Things now seems to have come to a full circle, like the mythical Ourobus that I so often allude to.
Now the cries emanating from France and echoing across the continent are not liberté, égalité,fraternité but something which goes against the very essence of individual liberty. As France's new legislation, banning wearing of burka, niqab in public place goes into force, it is both symptomatic as well as epidemic of xenophobia and intolerance sweeping across Europe. Netherlands,which recently asked immigrants to pass a difficult test on Dutch language and culture or face deportation, is now debating on a legislation to ban the burkha and niqab. Belgium already has a law banning garments that cover the face while town administrations in Italy have been fining veiled women on the local level. The respective governments of other European countries such as Denmark,Spain and Switzerland are already contemplating on bringing in similar legislation. Switzerland had a couple of years back displayed an unpredictably high level of Islamophobia in its citizenry during the Minaret Ban Controversy.
Those supporting the ban on facial veil have put on a number of argument none of which seems tenable. The argument that facial veil poses some kind of security threat may sound reasonable but only at the sound of it. Just how many major terrorist attacks across the world have involved burkha-clad operatives who escaped detection simply by wearing a burkha and carrying explosives inside ? As a matter of fact, the best disguise that the terrorists have used avoid to detection is by keeping an appearance that is indistinguishable from that of the common people. Let us not forget that the 9/11 hijackers were clean shaven, western educated youths and the explosives used in London bombing were kept in backpacks that students carry every day. Further, in cases of riots and robbery, rioters,robbers, burglars as a rule cover the face with masks,scarves or any piece of clothing. Burkha would be highly inconvenient a dress to wear when a great deal of agility and mobility is required.
Then, the people who put the second argument that the burkha and the niqab are symbols of enslavement of women need to get involved on personal levels rather than cracking the whip. Of course, there are sections of Muslim population where women are forced to wear by their menfolk in which case, any existing law against domestic violence can be applied by the authorities and against the errant husband,father or brother. However, that would constitute a small minority, most of the studies reveal that the majority of women wearing full face veil did so out of their own will and consider it as their inalienable right.
Why then would an enlightened society, enact such controversial laws which draw criticism from most humanitarian and human rights groups too ?
The answer lies in economics.
I was never good at economics, I still don't but I do understand that globalization, riding on the back of unimaginably fast communication technology has flattened the world. That and economic recession have weakened the level of control traditional nation-states had over their systems, leading to what John Robb calls hollow states where everyone is in competition with everyone else in the world. In a scenario as John paints in his blog or even one resembling it, populations of the Western nations are likely to be most hit. Citizens of welfare states, having developed a sense of entitlement on state provided facilities are unlikely to take it lying down, sharing it with immigrants only fuels resentment.
This is where the Right wing comes in, as did Hitler in war-ravaged Germany. It beats me why dimunitive, insecure men have been so successful in feeding on the people's discontent. Anyway, the current trend across Europe may be indicative of the economic factor more than the ideological differences.There is very little Sarkozy seeks to gain from banning the facial veil. Sure it will strengthen his position within his right wing constituency but I wonder how the fence-stitters would react after they realize the damage France's reputation has suffered.