The politics of the increasingly popular far-right aims to tap into fears and hatred of difference and migrants. In the race to ban the niqab, which has come to symbolise all that the far right hate, the French government, and now European Court of Human Rights, are leading the charge to give away the rights that were born out of the wars that were the ultimate manifestation of the hatred of the other.

This comment, a response to the latest legal confirmation of a country’s burqa ban, touches on a couple of the big mistakes and elisions to which one has become familiar in this important cultural debate.

The most important elision involves the writer’s suggestion that burqa bans are about political and legal institutions forcing it on countries (“the French government, and now European Court of Human Rights”). Shelina Janmohamed fails to mention strong to overwhelming popular support for burqa bans in several European countries:

82 percent of [French] people polled approved of a ban, while 17 percent disapproved… Clear majorities also backed burqa bans in Germany, Britain and Spain..

Current details here.

The latest from one country, Norway, here. A detail from Norway:

Labour has previously been split down the middle on the issue. The Progress and Labour parties have a combined total of 84 representatives in Norway’s parliament and are thus missing one vote in order to secure a majority for a possible ban.

Janmohamed casts opposition to the burqa as a far right phenomenon. It is not. Certainly right-wingers tend to like the idea; but as the poll numbers suggest, it is a position attractive across the spectrum. For details, go here, here, and here. Discussion here.

Finally, related to that last point: The primary reason many on the left favor burqa bans in most if not all of the public realm is that, as Christopher Hitchens wrote in 2010:

[W]e have no assurance that Muslim women put on the burqa or don the veil as a matter of their own choice. A huge amount of evidence goes the other way.

That is, many people seem to see their position opposing the burqa having to do with protecting the rights of the women wearing them, not with responding in a panicky bigoted way to fear of the other. When I see a little girl in a burqa I don’t run off screaming with hatred and fear of difference. I feel solidarity with her as a young woman who deserves but isn’t getting the same democratic rights my daughter enjoys. As for adult women in burqas: My reading over many years about the response of people to fully veiled women reveals that the main response, rather than hatred or fear, is pity.

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