Liberté, égalité, burqanité
And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself (Gen 24:64f).The word rendered 'vail' derives from the Hebrew to 'wrap over'; the a-e vowel change occurred when the French 'voil(e)' entered the vernacular. Head (and possibly face) coverings are mentioned numerous times throughout the Old Testament and New. Of course, that was another place and another time: in today's more visual age, obsessed with exteriority and appearance, the face is inseparable from identity: it is a source and expression of the self.
As France today begins enforcement of its burqa ban, His Grace is reminded of his post from more than a year ago when UKIP came out in favour of such illiberal legislation. To save you the trouble of hyper-linking, it is reproduced here in its entirety:
There’s nothing British about banning the burqa
The UK Independence Party have called for a ban on burqas and niqabs – the Darth-Vader-like cloaks which some Muslims believe are ordained by Allah to cover women from head to toe because no part of their body may ever be seen by male eyes, other than those of their husbands, sons or dog.
UKIP declare that a mask which conceals most of the face is an affront British values.
It is difficult to know what UKIP are playing at with this announcement, for it is the most colossal distraction from their core raison d’être, which is to secure withdrawal from the ratchet claws of the European Union. One would think that advocating any other policy which may be a cause of division in their fragile ranks of coalition might be a sure path to self-destruction: UKIP have no divisive health policy, no divisive education policy and no divisive defence, transport, welfare or taxation policies: they simply wish for legislation on such matters to be made by a parliament made up of the directly-elected representatives of a sovereign people.
That is democracy. That is freedom.
And yet Lord Pearson evokes the call to freedom in his desire to ban burqas.
It has echoes of Geert Wilders’ notion of liberty, which begins with the banning of books.
Or of one book in particular.
There is no doubt that ‘everything Muslim’ is hot press across the length and breadth of European Christendom, but Islamism and Islamophobia have got nothing on Islamomania.
And Islamomania is what is driving the sorts of illiberal knee-jerk demands of Geert Wilders and Lord Pearson.
If this is an attempt to broaden UKIP’s appeal and address the concerns of disaffected white working-class voters (as The Times avers), UKIP will need to explain why they are pursuing a more ‘racist’ (actually religio-culturalist) policy than the BNP, for not even they have called for a total ban on burqas.
The BNP have said that such garments should be banned from schools. But no right-minded educator of any religion or none believes that the teaching and learning transaction would not be significantly impeded in a classroom populated by indistinguishable black cloaks.
Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council for Britain, told The Times: “UKIP is supposed to be proud of Britain’s traditions and values, which include freedom of speech, association and religion. The overwhelming majority of women who wear the burka do so out of a sense of religious duty. It is their interpretation of their religion. UKIP have no right to overrule that. It is nobody else’s business.”
And Cranmer agrees.
It is not a burqa which is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy, but the banning thereof. Unlike French laïcité, the United Kingdom has no tradition of the imposition of a hard Enlightenment-secularism. We have instead three centuries of progressive freedom of religion, and it was hard-won.
The proper operation of democracy begins with the people, and the collective is constituted of individuals, and these individuals must be free think, free to speak, free to associate and free to wear what they wish to wear within the limits of public decency.
If one wishes to ban the garments of those who wish to cover their faces for religious reasons, one will also need to ban the ghost costume worm by thousands of children at Hallowe’en.
In a free society, one must be at liberty to choose not to conform.
The liberty to conform only to the dress code and outward expression of religion as determined and defined by UKIP is no freedom at all: it is intolerance, oppression and tyranny; it is everything that UKIP professes to abhor about the EU.