It's not his Hijab

While debates rage in the USA about whether Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum is most fit to run this country, France is having its own problems concerning religious symbols in schools, specifically Muslim head scarves and Jewish skullcaps.

Now I know that this is a fundamental problem inherent in public schooling--somebody's not going to be happy, whether it's the religious or the anti-religious. However, for libertarianism to be relevant in the world it has to offer suggestions for what to do now, given the conditions we can't change (yet). Let's first examine the article.

The head of the panel, Bernard Stasi (insert pointless DDR joke here), on the recommendation:

The law, Stasi said, will not solve all the country's problems with its large, often poorly integrated immigrant community. But he said France cannot allow Muslims to undermine its core values, which include a strict separation of religion and state, equality between the sexes and freedom for all.

This can best be answered by Stasi's own countryman, the inestimable Frederic Bastiat:

Mr. de Lamartine once wrote to me thusly: "Your doctrine is only the half of my program. You have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity." I answered him: "The second half of your program will destroy the first."

Can policy really bring about equality by denying the free exercise of religion? A negative-rights man like myself would say of course not. Equal treatment is a fantasy in the first place, because no two people are ever treated exactly equally; but beyond that, equal treatment by the state ought to be equal allowance of individual practices. If you deny one group a choice that another group makes the way you want them to, where's the equality?

Further, says Stasi:

``There are indisputably Muslims or ... groups seeking to test the resistance of the Republic, that bear a grudge against the values of the Republic, that want France to no longer be France,'' Stasi said on France-Inter radio. ``We cannot tolerate that.''

I must assume that French Muslims did not leave their ancestral countries either because of religious persecution or with the intent to undermine French tolerance. I must assume they came to France for economic opportunities. Stasi, therefore, must be arguing against a strawman. A detestable practice, yet time-honored by politicians.

It gets worse. "One student told the commission that at their high school any Jew who wore a skullcap would be 'lynched.''' One student told the commission that? Why didn't they ask me? I could have given a counterargument. The philosophical basis for their recommendation being so weak, it appears they've had to use two logically lamentable but politically appealing tactics: the strawman, and the anecdote, which may be completely off-base. But now the damage is done. You don't support lynching--do you? Moreover, you don't believe that an individual is the best judge of how he ought to conduct himself, do you?

Last quote, the most important one:

``If you make me choose between breaking the law and breaking the Quran, I'll break the law,'' [a man] said, referring to the Muslim holy book. ``Today, they forbid us from wearing veils. Tomorrow, they'll forbid us from being Muslims.''

Ultimately, it boils down to this. The law is not omnipotent. Its power to solve problems is extremely limited, and more often than not, "solving" one "problem" creates other problems. Eventually, with Julian Sanchez's prescience in mind, it's not unthinkable that a solution so extreme--banning the practice of religion outright--could be implemented. I don't mean to be alarmist. It probably won't happen, but that's been said about all kinds of things.

Final thought: if it's ok for the French to ban the scarves, will it be ok in 50 years, when the Muslims are a majority, for them to require scarves? Because after all, the hijab is a shield. You don't support leaving women vulnerable--do you?

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