Excerpts from the best denunciation of the burqa I’ve so far read. It’s by Feisal G. Mohamed.

… Liberty of conscience limits human institutions so that they do not interfere with the sacrosanct relationship between the soul and God, and in its strict application allows a coerced soul to run its course into the abyss. In especially unappealing appeals to this kind of liberty, bigots of all varieties have claimed an entitlement to their views on grounds of tender conscience.

… The burqa controversy revolves around a central question: “Does this cultural practice performed in the name of religion inherently violate the principle of equality that democracies are obliged to defend?”

… Lockean religious toleration… expects religious observance … to conform to the aims of a democratic polity. We might see the French response to the burqa as an expression of that tradition. After a famously misguided initial attempt to do away with all Muslim headwear in schools and colleges, French legislators later settled down to an evaluation of the point at which headwear becomes an affront to gender equality, passing most recently a ban on the niqab, or face veil — which has also been barred from classrooms and dormitories at Cairo’s Al’Azhar University, the historical center of Muslim learning.

… Our various social formations — political, religious, social, familial — find their highest calling in deepening our bonds of fellow feeling. “Compelling state interest” has no inherent value; belief also has no inherent value. Political and religious positions must be measured against the purity of truths, rightly conceived as those principles enabling the richest possible lives for our fellow human beings.

So let us attempt such a measure. The kind of women’s fashion favored by the Taliban might legitimately be outlawed as an instrument of gender apartheid — though one must have strong reservations about the enforcement of such a law, which could create more divisiveness than it cures.

… [S]ome [religious] belief provides a deeply humane resistance to state power run amok. To belief of this kind there is no legitimate barrier.

Humane action is of course open to interpretation. But if we place it at the center of our aspirations, we will make decisions more salutary than those offered by the false choice between state interest and liberty of conscience. Whitman may have been the first post-secularist in seeing that political and religious institutions declaring certain bodies to be shameful denigrate all human dignity: every individual is a vibrant body electric deeply connected to all beings by an instinct of fellow feeling. Such living democracy shames the puerile self-interest of modern electoral politics, and the worn barbarisms lurking under the shroud of retrograde orthodoxy…

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