[lit-ideas] Re: Religion & Public Reason

  • From: Ed Farrell <ewf@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 12 Aug 2010 07:00:12 -0700

This is a good post, Phil.  Here's a view I read recently that
invokes some of your lines of argument but in the end concludes
a ban (of the burqa, in this case) is prudent and necessary.


Ed Farrell
Livermore, California

Wednesday, August 11, 2010, 11:05:09 AM, you wrote:

> Eric wrote:

> "To follow your non-serious strategy ..."

> I am not sure how my 'strategy' is non-serious.

> I am interested in the role religion plays in liberal democracies.  I
> was interested in Walter's post where he suggested, in a semi-serious
> fashion, that the Canadian government should make clear to new
> immigrants some of the limits Canada puts on religious beliefs.  I
> responded, in a serious manner, that it would be more consistent if
> the government ignored the religious beliefs of immigrants but rather
> made clear that all people in Canada are expected to obey the laws of
> the land.  I argued, humorlessly, that in liberal democracies,
> governments should be blind to religious beliefs but see only the
> general good and the manner in which laws contribute to this good.  In
> that same post, I pointed out the problematic nature of the French ban
> on the niqab, in that the French government seems to be involving
> itself in the religious beliefs of Muslims.

> In a decidedly non-serious reply, Eric commented on how costumes and
> disguises can become a threat to the public safety, suggesting that
> the niqab could be used to conceal a bomb.  This possibility leads
> Eric to the conclusion that women who wear the niqab might not be
> quite sane.  I replied, seriously, that there is a difference between
> wearing the niqab as a costume and wearing it from religious beliefs.
> I also pointed out that while some costumes include dangerous weapons,
> such as a Zorro costume, a niqab is only a piece of cloth and I don't
> see how that is a danger to anyone.

> It is possible that what Eric means is that the danger of the niqab
> lies in it being used to conceal something dangerous.  However, the
> idea that using a niqab in N. America to conceal a bomb is a
> non-serious one considering how conspicuous such an individual would
> be.  How many women wear the niqab in the U.S.?  I doubt the number is
> more than a thousand.  And how much attention would the niqab attract
> in public given the paranoia some Americans are now exhibiting towards
> anything Muslim?  Surely, if one wanted to deliver a bomb, a winter
> coat or over-sized sports jersey would effectively conceal the device
> and be inconspicuous.  If the issue Eric is raising is one of stopping
> people from concealing bombs on their persons, then it would make more
> sense to focus on people who wear over-sized clothing like winter
> coats and sports jerseys.

> But I would like to return to the issue of the relationship of
> religion to government.  It seems to me obvious that a law banning the
> wearing of the niqab is directed at religious beliefs.  If the issue
> is one of public security then the law would prohibit any clothing or
> accessories that could conceal a bomb or conceal one's identity.  That
> is, a legitimate law would apply to any citizen rather than a specific
> group.  The fact that Muslim women are specifically identified by, for
> example, the proposed French law, reduces the legitimacy of the law as
> a law.  Furthermore, the fact that a minority are singled out by
> virtue of their religious beliefs puts into question the nature of
> that democratic system.

> The virtue of a liberal democracy lies in the commitment to allowing
> individuals the liberty to pursue their own visions of the good.  It
> is understood that sometimes individual pursuits of the good may
> infringe on the pursuits of others, and so it is necessary to have
> laws that fairly constrain all individuals in order to allow for the
> maximum amount of liberty.  For this reason, most liberal democracies
> avoid giving advantage or disadvantage to particular religions,
> insofar as religions represent particular pursuits of the good.  Where
> the government has a legitimate role is when religious beliefs
> unreasonably interfere in the lives of others.  However, in order to
> maintain fairness, religions are restricted, not on the basis of their
> religious beliefs, but rather according to general laws.  So,
> returning to Walter's post, people in Canada are not allowed to kill,
> must identity themselves in order to drive, and must wear helmets when
> driving a motorcycle.  These laws do not consider why some people
> might kill, refuse to identify themselves or refuse to wear a helmet,
> but rather they give general constraints on all people in Canada in
> order to maximize the liberty of all people.  A law that constrains
> only a specific group for the sake of others cannot be considered a
> legitimate law.  For this reason, I think that the proposed French
> law, and any law that aims to punish Muslim women for wearing the
> niqab, lacks legitimacy.

> Having said this, I would like to distinguish between the issue of
> laws restricting the wearing of the niqab and the issue of wearing the
> niqab.  While I am opposed to any law that singles out Muslim women, I
> also believe that there are good reasons for arguing against the use
> of the niqab.  I just recently returned from Iran, where I was
> participating in a conference.  One of the speakers, a former Speaker
> of the Parliament, informed us that all Iranian women love to wear the
> hijab.  This is humorous for several reasons, including that it is the
> law so women don't have a choice and Iranian women don't even wait
> till the doors of the departing airplane are closed before they take
> their hijabs off.  It is this disconnect between how religious
> authorities see the practice of covering and how the covering is
> ordinarily practiced that suggests a problem.  It may be illiberal to
> ban the niqab, but I do think it is very much in the spirit of liberal
> democracies to argue that the Islamic practice of covering is socially
> unacceptable.

> Sincerely,

> Phil Enns
> Indonesia
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  ><(((º>¸. ·´¯`·.¸., . .·´¯`·.. ><(((º>
  Edward W. Farrell // ewf@xxxxxxxxxxx
  Plato for Research Management

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