Not That Again

Damn – it’s one of those days. Horrible sectarian fights breeding violence everywhere you look. What a disgusting world. Schoolchildren and teachers held hostage by Chechen rebels, mosques burned and people injured in Nepal after a group of Nepalese workers are murdered by Islamic militants, two French journalists held hostage by more Islamic militants and threatened with death because of a French law against wearing conspicuous religious symbols in schools. It’s hard not to think that a good deal more secularism would be a helpful vitamin for a lot of people.

It pains me to say it but I don’t agree with Normblog on this issue. At least, not with the way he states it. I think it’s reasonable to disagree about the ban, because there clearly are irreconcilable tensions in it. It feels like a violation of rights, an interference with basic freedom, to both sides. But I think it’s less reasonable to come down on one side or the other by denying those tensions. So I don’t think this is right: ‘The law forbidding it is an unjust and illiberal one, preventing people from affirming their identity in ways that don’t harm others.’ But there is a claim that the presence of the hijab in the classroom does harm others. That’s the whole point. So it’s too easy just to say that it doesn’t.

No doubt I err in the other direction. But I do at least realize that people who want to wear the nasty thing (now stop that) feel unfairly treated.

I do think the hijab a nasty thing though. Very. So I do think that talking about ‘preventing people from affirming their identity’ is a too-emollient way of referring to it. If some people wanted to wear slave-chains, or signs proclaiming them Untouchables, or yellow stars or striped concentration camp uniforms to school, should that be called ‘affirming their identity,’ especially when people in the same ‘group’ found that very identity-affirmation profoundly degrading and subordinating? The whole problem with the hijab is that it does far more than merely affirm the ‘identity’ of the person who wears it. To some extent that’s potentially true of any clothes. I have to say, I’m damn glad that I went to school in the 19th century so that I didn’t have to be surrounded with girls poking their stomachs and buttocks out of their pants all day. They look stupid and kind of pathetic, and I think I would have felt stupid and pathetic by association. (Therefore I think school dress codes are a good thing on the whole, and that is after all all the French law is – a school dress code.) But it’s more true of the hijab because of its history, especially its recent history – because of its connection with Islamism and violence against women. That’s one reason it’s not an exact equivalent of crosses – because people don’t get beaten for not wearing crosses (as far as I know anyway). Furthermore, both sexes wear crosses. They’re just not a badge of subordination in the way the hijab is (even though of course a lot of Muslim women don’t see the hijab as a badge of subordination – but on the other hand a lot do).

I damn well hope those two journalists don’t get murdered as a result of the law though. But no doubt they will. That seems to be the way things fall out these days.

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