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May 13th 2016 print

Peter Smith

Saving Women from Islam

Sure, people have the right to dress as they wish, within the bounds of decency, of course. And that's why the vile misogyny of imprisoning women in head-to-foot draperies must be banned: it is a foul and indecent assault on everything our society should stand for

burka banI’m changing my mind, and that doesn’t happen too often. In an article in the March 2011 issue of Quadrant (“Struggling with the Burka”) I argued from a classical liberal tradition that the way people dress in purely public situations — where no professional interactions are required — is a matter for them and certainly not for the law. I brought in John Stuart Mill (On Liberty), no less, to bolster this position.

I was taken to task in the following May issue by Babette Francis from Toorak, Victoria. In her letter, among other astute observations, she wrote that I arrived at my conclusion “from the comfortable perspective of a male, one moreover who has never had to live as a citizen of an Islamic country.” My reaction at the time was to think that she had misunderstood my position. After all weren’t we on the same side?

The tenor of my article was hardly pro-Islam and, accordingly, I had concluded that the only option available to Western societies was “to limit the size of Muslim populations through selective immigration policies.” But now I don’t think we were quite on the same side at all. I believe that I was on the wrong side when it came to the burka.

Let me be clear, I now believe that the Islamic face veil – the niqab – should be outlawed in all public places, as it is in France. Moreover, I believe that the Islamic head covering – the hijab – should be banned for teachers and students in all schools in receipt of any government funding. Would I extend this ban to other religious symbols? No, I wouldn’t, unless, say, Catholics, Anglicans, Buddhists or Hindus developed supremacist tendencies and turned particularly nasty.

I would discriminate unashamedly because the threat is unitary and dire. And a tolerant society to survive as a tolerant society must become intolerant of any fast-growing religious-cum-political ideology which preaches and practices intolerance. That shouldn’t be too hard to grasp even for human rights lawyers and Christian clerics. It will be too hard for left-wing political parties, which epitomise political harlotry by making common cause with almost anyone for a vote: Hence the British Muslim Labour MP who has now become Mayor of London despite a history of fraternising with extremists.

When Donald Trump said that he would impose a temporary ban on Muslim immigration – a policy supported by a majority of Americans in numbers of polls, by the way – he was damned by all sides of the political elite, including by the political elite across the Atlantic who took time out from destroying their own societies. But what is the option? Do Western societies lie down and accede to Muslim immigrants establishing an ever-growing spread of sharia compliant ghettos?

This isn’t about terrorism. Short of the use of weapons of mass destruction, that is trivial in the scheme of things. This is about not regressing to barbarism and ensuring the survival of the best civilisation that the world has, and probably ever can, come up with.

Western societies must do two things. The first is to severely restrict, if not stop, further Muslim immigration. And please don’t leave Western civilisation hostage to the notion that Islam will go through some benevolent revolution. It won’t happen. The second is to better integrate existing Muslim populations. And this brings me back to the niqab and hijab. They are both symbols of separation. They are surface phenomena, but they matter. They set a reverberating tone.

To paraphrase Polonius’s (Hamlet) dictum ‘clothes maketh the woman’. I am going to take a guess. A woman dressed smartly in modern gear will think differently about herself and her place in the world than if she is shrouded and cut off from the world. I would. I think differently about myself in a suit and tie than in a pair of overalls, never mind being dressed in the Islamic take on a female beehive suit.

It would go on from there hopefully, as more worldly and confident women rebel against patriarchal oppression; and undercut primitive beliefs predominantly kept alive by male imams, muftis, sheiks of Arabique, and Ayatollahs.

Sometimes tough love is needed. And in this case it finds expression in legally forcing Muslim girls and women, in prescribed circumstances and situations, to dispense with symbols of male and theological oppression. To quote Ms Francis again: “The burka is similar to requiring women to wear a ball and chain around their ankles when in public – a symbol of imprisonment and servitude.” It has no place in our society. And while we put up with it, the cancer of separate development will metastasize and spread.

Of course, the chance of any political will emerging on this matter is remote to non-existent. The political response to Trump’s policy has been to say that it is un-American; and (doubtfully) that it is unconstitutional. Apparently, we have been rendered powerless by our principles. Come and get us!

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [10]

  1. en passant says:

    Excellent!

  2. pgang says:

    As per my comment on the previous article on Islam and the Constitution, the next phase for secularism is totalitarianism. Either of two things are inevitable: secularism turns us into a society at war with ourselves, and/or we dissolve secularism into the oh-so-predictable solution of totalitarianism.

    • Jim Campbell says:

      It doesn’t have to be that way pgang. If secularism would be prepared to find the moral and spiritual base it once had it would be a game changer. But for that to happen the Church (clergy and laity) has to be more visible in the public space. Then again you don’t have to go the whole totalitarian way – benevolent dictatorship can work, viz Singapore.

      • pgang says:

        Completely agree Jim, but it will take divine intervention. Singapore has come down a different path altogether, and as much as your comment there is probably tongue in cheek I can’t see our postmodern future heading in that direction.

  3. Bran Dee says:

    So pleased that Peter and Babette Francis are now on the same page. That wonderful woman with such a sharp mind was born in northern India before Partition and she knows about Mussalmans and the relegation of women in that ideology.

    • Peter says:

      Bran, I don’t know Ms Francis but I was impressed with her letter at the time even though it has taken me five years to change my mind. If you are able to pass my blog onto her I would be grateful. Cheers Peter

  4. As posted earlier on this subject – I was once travelling on a train [in Brisbane] when one of the ‘tents with slits’ asked me if the next stop – Dutton Park – was the station for the PA hospital. After answering a polite ‘Yes’ and being thanked for it, I asked why she hid her face. When I received no reply I added politely and quietly that if she was so ashamed of her own face and had so little respect for it then it made/makes it very difficult for normal people to have any respect for her as an individual, or to have any respect for her religion. Again I received no reply.

    • Ian MacDougall says:

      Western societies must do two things. The first is to severely restrict, if not stop, further Muslim immigration. And please don’t leave Western civilisation hostage to the notion that Islam will go through some benevolent revolution. It won’t happen. The second is to better integrate existing Muslim populations. And this brings me back to the niqab and hijab. They are both symbols of separation. They are surface phenomena, but they matter. They set a reverberating tone.

      Agreed.
      BUT I think that there is a practical historical foundation for every religious taboo: eg avoiding pork because of parasite risk.
      The Arabs are originally a desert people, as well as being the originators of Islam. And the tent is a fairly practical garment for deserts and sandstorms. So yesterday’s practice conceivably morphs into today’s piety.
      Policing dress codes is what they do in Islamic countries. But how do we go about policing peoples’ dress without becoming authoritarian ourselves? Liberalism has to be the first priority, and that means fighting for peoples’ rights to wear fashions on does not personally approve of. So control immigration, but not clothing. (There is a philosophical literature on this.)
      Police borders, but not bourkers. (It must be as hot as downtown Bourke under one in summer anyway.)