Phi Beta Cons

Ideas Need Cultural Basis


The case of the Muslim woman suing in federal court because a judge insisted she remove her full face veil during testimony in a lower court, and decided the case against her when she refused, is a good example of why teaching young people that America consists solely of ideas is not enough.  Of course we’re not teaching the ideas anyway, but in theory we’re supposed to teach that America has no cultural basis whatsoever and is defined solely by its founding ideals.  But this woman is suing on the grounds that her freedom of religion was violated, because the veil is an integral aspect of Islam for many Muslims.  Freedom of religion is indubitably one of the bedrock basics of American ideology.  It is not an absolute, however, and is qualified by our culture and customs.  We are a culture that holds women equal to men and that prizes face to face contact.  We see no reason for women to be shrouded or veiled.  Face to face contact is part of the way we judge a person’s uprightness and trustworthiness, and the judge declared that he could not assess the truthfulness of the woman’s testimony without seeing her face.  In many parts of the Mideast this is not so, and a woman’s unveiled face is considered an insult to a man.    
This lawsuit arises from the same locality in which the Islamic call to prayer is broadcast five times a day.  CAIR is demanding that the lower court judgment be withdrawn.  There are procedual grounds on which the federal lawsuit can be dismissed but it is more important in my opinion to defend our cultural integrity and to stand up against this kind of Muslim intimidation, the purpose of which is to use our ideas to destroy our culture. 
And we need to teach young people to defend the culture of which they are a part, something I learned when I had a composition class read Bertrand Russell’s criticism of the United states for prohibiting polygamy in his essay, “Individual Liberty and Public Control.”  No one in the class could think of a reason polygamy should be outlawed, especially if it were a matter of religious belief.


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