Oppression Is Oppression
In the August 16 edition of NR, Claire Berlinski called for the banning of the burqa in order to solve the problem of “gender apartheid and the subjugation and abuse of women throughout the Muslim world.” How can removing a symptom cure the disease?
Ivan M. Lang
As a sympathetic reader of your generally fine journal, it pains me to write in complaint about Claire Berlinski’s argument in “Ban the Burqa.” She abandons the core conservative principle of religious liberty in the name of a politically expedient but ill-conceived reaction to a current political moment.
On what grounds does Berlinski say we should ban the burqa? Ostensibly, because women who remain uncovered will become increasingly harassed by Muslim men. But do we ban miniskirts because a few men might respond boorishly, and, even fewer, aggressively? No. And why? Because to do so is coercive and reduces the liberty of the woman in question.
I thought conservatives were not only for religious liberty but against governmental social engineering. Apparently not at National Review.
Berlinski may assume that the burqa reduces the liberty of Muslim women, but what of those who choose to wear it as an expression of their faith? She broaches but eschews this very topic. If it is wrong for Muslim men to coerce Muslim women, why is it fine for the government to do so?
Berlinski advances the wrong solution to an identified problem. If Europe is worried about the dominance of Muslim immigrants, its governments should rethink their politically correct ideologies and start reducing the number of visas to their countries. They can debate in the public sphere and try to show why secularism, Christianity, or some other belief system is better. But coercion by the government is simply not the answer.
National Review should be resistant to governmental restrictions on religious expression. With a few twists of words and some backing by the leftists who control our social-science departments, one could easily advocate governmental intervention in other practices or communities. Beware the law of unintended consequences.
Claire Berlinski replies: I thank Mr. Lang and Mr. Antonin for contributing to this discussion. To Mr. Lang: I didn’t argue that banning the burqa would solve the problem of gender apartheid in the Islamic world. To Mr. Antonin: I did not write that it was “fine” for the government to coerce Muslim women. I wrote that it was an outrage against religious freedom and religious expression. I moreover said that it was discriminatory, persecutory, and incompatible with the Enlightenment traditions of the West. I fully appreciate your arguments and find them compelling. But the arguments in favor of banning the thing seem to me, on balance and from experience, more compelling still. There are no good solutions to this problem. There are only less bad ones.