Darwin Day, Religion, the Hijab

Happy Darwin Day. It’s appropriate, in a way, to have all these arguments about religion all over the place. It’s as if I’d planned it, but I didn’t. Nope – it was the result of a mutation, I think.

The one at Squiggly Wood I mean Crooked Timber goes on. And there’s another at Matthew Yglesias’ blog. Mostly, I must say, the arguments seem surprisingly feeble as well as repetitive. Why is that surprising – surely part of my point is how obviously shaky it all is. Yes but they’ve had all this time to come up with good arguments! Hundreds of years. But so much of it is just along the lines of ‘How dare you?’ or ‘Who are you to disagree with so many people?’ or ‘The Pope is the leader of millions of people and atheists are a tiny minority’ or ‘Science can’t answer questions about X’ or ‘Science is just another belief, exactly like religion, no difference at all, they’re exact equivalents’ or ‘Atheism is a belief in just the way theism is’ or ‘Religion is consoling so how dare you point out that it’s not true.’ None of this is very convincing or persuasive, is it. I want to say more about this – but later.

Meanwhile, there is more discussion of the hijab issue – not surprisingly, since the French MPs decided just a couple of days ago. There is one discussion at the ever-popular Twisty Sticks I mean Crooked Timber, and another at Fistful of Euros, and no doubt at many other places too, but I haven’t seen them – too busy making my own noise. (Soon everyone on the planet will be blogging and no one will be reading – a state of perfect equilibrium, or entropy, or reductio ad absurdum.) But the arguments on the ones I have seen seem to me irritatingly one-sided, or one-eyed. Everyone exclaiming about freedom and tolerance, and making all too little account of the many French-Muslim women who support the ban. Many don’t, but many do – why are the ones who do just discounted? I wonder.

And tolerance is such a shifty word. So shifty that I don’t use it any more, haven’t for years – since long before B&W. (Or maybe I never did use it, maybe it’s a few years ago that I became aware of that, and of the reasons.) Sure, tolerance is a good thing up to a point – but only up to a point. There are so many things I haven’t the smallest desire to be tolerant of. So the easy, feel-good use of the word is evasive, it seems to me. Tolerant of what, exactly? Of parents who impose fundamentalist Islamic views of women on their children? Are we so very sure that’s a good thing to be tolerant of? If so, I would recommend a read of Susan Moller Okin’s Is Multiculturalism Good for Women?

It’s also interesting that the fans of tolerance seem to be so unable even to hear the arguments of the other side. That of Rana on Crooked Timber, for example:

If you think wearing hijab is “way cool” you haven’t worn it. I did until the age of 18. There is no question in my mind that it is a symbol of “militant Islam” and a blatant manifestation of women’s second-class status. The Islamists are using us in their jihad against liberal, secular society (not to mention any moderate interpretation of Islam). Last summer I visited Cairo (my father’s hometown) and visited an exhibition of urban photos from various decades of the 20th century. What particularly struck me was the near total absence of headscarves into the Sixties. Not only among the bourgeoisie but in the working class areas of the city as well. Today it is ubiquitous, even on university campuses and in fashionable cafés. I asked an Egyptian friend of mine why this is so and she looked at me as if I were crazy. “In my neighbourhood any woman who doesn’t wear hijab is considered a prostitute.” Make no mistake, hijab represents the triumph of Islamism.

Or those of Phersu at Fistful of Euros:

I respect the Anglo-Saxon concept of multiculturalism and their lack of Secularization but it is not the French Republican principle of laïcité. I had this debate many times with Charles Taylor and other Communitarians who think our conception of modernity is obsolete because of globalization and I know I will not convince you. In the UK, there is still a State Religion (even if Charles wants to change that). In the US, every child has to swear allegiance to a Nation “Under God”. There is no “laïcité”, only Toleration of many Churches. In France, religion is supposed to be purely in the private sphere and the State protects the freedom of conscience against all religions. That is why no civil servant or minor students can show religious signs.

Multiculturalism and tolerance can often seem to work in only one direction, or in one direction further subdivided. Toward ‘Third World People’ but only if they take the approved view. For some reason, the approved view in this context is that there is absolutely nothing in favour of the French ban on conspicuous religious apparel, so any ‘Third World People’ who take another view are just kind of lightly jumped over as if they weren’t there. It’s interesting…

The Waiting Socialists are still scolding me about this, too:

Now that this pernicious attack on individual freedom and social tolerance, mainly for the benefit of Jacques Chirac, has come so very close to being enforced, we hope that other genuine secularists will think again about their support for it, or their failure to oppose it – which, regardless of the detailed reasons for their hesitation, amounts to much the same thing in practice.

But I’m afraid I still don’t agree with them. And the more comments I see from such as Rana and Phersu, the less I agree. So blogging can serve a purpose, after all.

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