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Liberté, égalité, paternalisme

June 29th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Yglesias has a good point on the proposed French burqa ban:

[T]his sort of ban seems extremely unlikely to actually help anyone who’s genuinely in need of help. A woman whose husband and/or other male relations have enough power over her to force her into a burqa against her will is only going to be forced by those same men further underground by this sort of rule. The only kind of person who would be genuinely unveiled by this kind of legal measure would be someone with enough autonomy to be in a position to choose compliance with the law over compliance with tradition.

That reminds me that here, as with most forms of paternalistic legislation, there’s that tricky question of penalties. If the premise is that women who wear the burqa are being robbed of their agency and dignity—and that even those who protest that they wish to wear it are victims false consciousness—how is the ban supposed to be enforced? By fining or detaining or otherwise harassing the very women who, on this theory, are the most oppressed? By barring them access to public places, government buildings, maybe even courts and police stations? I suppose you could direct the penalties toward their male relations, but that hardly seems like a good way to reinforce the concept of the equal agency of women.  The only way this seems to actually work—and by “work” I mean “severely hamper religious freedom without still further harmful consequences”—is if it’s like smoking bans, where you see rapid norm changes and widespread compliance with very limited need for actual sanctions. Except there’s very little historical reason to expect it to go that way. After all, one of the reasons liberal democracies often carve out a special protected space for religous practice—and try to avoid burdening it even with facially neutral laws—is that serious believers often won’t comply even in the face of sever sanctions, and it’s bad for the legitimacy and stability of the secular state to set up an irreconcilable tension between civic and religious obligations. As a little thought experiment, picture the streets of the banlieues after the uploading of the first YouTube clip showing some overzealous official roughly unveiling a woman in violation of the ban.

Tags: Law · Nannyism · Obedience and Insubordination · Religion



3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 stephen // Jun 29, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    It seems to me that the ostensible motive, protecting women, is really a front. I think cultural preservation is the real goal, even if most supporters are unaware.

    Thats my theory anyway.

  • 2 Burka Brouhaha, En Francais « Around The Sphere // Jun 29, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    […] UPDATE: Julian Sanchez […]

  • 3 It’s Actually More Secular To Ban The Burqa « Daniel Strauss // Jul 1, 2009 at 1:02 am

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