On July 14, the French parliament voted to ban the burqa in public places, causing much anguish amongst Muslims, Leftists, and even some conservatives, especially libertarians. Regardless of the political filter through which they viewed the new law, its detractors all claimed that a free society cannot ban clothes without infringing on its citizens’ human rights. (Never mind, of course, that “free” European societies, with their obsessive, nanny-state bureaucracies and profound limitations on speech, routinely infringe on their citizens’ human rights. That is a post for another day.)
An opinion in Forbes, written by an analyst at the libertarian Reason Foundation, is a good representative example. After first proving her liberal chops (I was once made to dress modestly in Hindu India, and I think women shouldn’t be forced to do so), Shikha Dalmia runs through a laundry list of problems she has with the bill.
I’m willing to concede right now that all the facts Dalmia cites are absolutely correct, including her claims that burqas aren’t worn by that many women in France, so that they’re not really a threat to French society; that it’s not true that that many women are being forced to wear burqas against their will, especially because, in a free society, we should assume that the women want to wear tents; and that the burqa isn’t really a slap in the face to French public secularism, but is simply a way for free women to express their religion through dress. And so on, and so on.
Dalmia’s concluding paragraph pretty much spells it out, both her view and the view of all others opposed to the new French law:
This is a profoundly anti-liberal and anti-secular idea. Indeed, if the French and [Christopher] Hitchens [an enthusiastic supporter of the new French law] were serious about either secularism or liberalism, instead of asking Muslim women to shed the burqa, they would be shedding their own proselytizing prejudice against it.
There’s nothing new in what Dalmia, or her pro-burqa fellow travelers have to say. As you may recall, we heard precisely the same arguments when the Swiss voted to ban minarets. Then too, we were treated to arguments claiming that banning buildings is antithetical a free society; that it’s an improper hostility that the non-religious were expressing towards the religious; that it unfairly infringed upon Muslim civil rights, and yada, yada, yada. Again, those who oppose the ban, even as they concede that Islam’s practitioners pose problems within a free society, still can’t believe that a “mere” building is a reason for people to get their knickers in a twist.
The above arguments, whether about burqas or buildings, might be good arguments if they were about the buildings or clothing of any other religion but Islam. Islam as a religion, however, is sui generis. Unlike all other religions, which are focused in one way or another on bringing individuals closer to God (or Gods), Islam’s predicate is Jihad or, in plain English, conquest.
The historic truth, whether or not one wants to acknowledge it is that, from the moment Mohamed began articulating his faith, it was inextricably intertwined with conquest. For that reason, Islam, as a faith, cares not whether the people brought within its fold actually believe the faith. It is enough that, having come under the control of an Islamic government (and do remember that mosque and government are one and the same) they follow its forms.
This is why Islam, as a religion, is entirely comfortable with and, indeed, encourages, both forced conversions and the death penalty for apostates. Faith as we understand it — meaning a belief in and commitment to a God — is irrelevant. Instead, submission is everything. It’s fine if you submit at the point of the sword and, if you refuse to submit, it’s fine if that same sword summarily executes you. While Islam may be dressed up in the trappings of monotheism, and while I don’t doubt that there are millions of genuinely spiritual Muslims around the world, the religion’s primary — and explicit — goal is conquest of both geographical territory and human bodies.
Because Islamic religious trappings are not about man’s relationship to God but, instead, are about man’s relationship to the Islamic state, every Islamic procedure or practice, whether it’s abstaining from alcohol, ritual foot washing, burqas or minarets is, in essence, a body count. The number of burqa clad women in any given society is the equivalent of a Western census. If you can get all of your women to wear the burqa and then, through rape and acid-throwing intimidation, get all of their women to wear the burqa, you’ve won. Who cares that the women so clad are not closer to Allah? It’s enough that they’ve been submitted, willingly or not, to Islam. There is no faith involved, just force and a numbers game.
The same holds true for those minarets. When Islamists conquer a country, the first thing they do is build their minarets — and, significantly, they build their minarets to be higher than any existing structures in the conquered territory. In other words, the minarets do not simply represent houses of worship in which the faithful can gather. Instead, they are about proving Islam’s dominance. This is true whether Islam conquers a territory through war or just through building permits.
(Incidentally, the same line of reasoning holds true for foot baths on college campuses, pit toilets at modern British shopping malls, demands that taxi passengers discard their alcohol and seeing eye dogs, ukases on pig images in work places, vanishing British flags, etc. None of these causes célèbres in the unending litany of Muslim demands for accommodation represents any single Muslim’s personal spiritual experience. Each represents an attempt to control the greater, non-Muslim culture.)
It would be foolish to deny, of course, that the burqas and the buildings serve a dual purpose, one of which is religious expression. For the devout Muslim woman, a burqa is a necessary part of her attire, just as the devout Orthodox Jewish woman would never appear outside her home without a wig. Likewise, in a free society, no one wants to deny people the right to build a house of worship, whether it’s a mosque, church or temple.
If this religious devotion was the sole reason behind Muslim clothing and building imperatives, I too would be up in arms about the strictures in France and Switzerland. However, the sad fact is that, because the burqas and buildings are not only symbols of faith, but are also actively, and predominantly, used as weapons of war, any society that wishes to remain free of the totalitariansim that is Islam must, sadly, trample on some religious expression.
Only by recognizing that Islam uses as weapons symbols that we, children of the Enlightenment, view as freely expressed signs of a personal faith, can we preserve our liberties and lay claim to true religious freedom. Switzerland and France have taken this step towards understanding why the Islamic religion is different from all other religions. It’s time that the rest of us do so to.