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Too tired even to say why you wear it, what it means, if it’s religious, why lots of people in secular countries have difficulty with it in certain settings… This writer is just too tired to do anything but lament her victimization by fools and bigots.

“It’s just a piece of cloth,” she writes, as if this vacuous statement settles the case. Clearly, for her and for others, it is far, far more than this. Look at the non-negotiable energy she brings to a mere bit of cloth. But she will not tell us what this enormous thing that the piece of cloth means is. If she would tell us, we could begin to talk.

It is part of who we are, the meaning it holds is for us. It is not intended as a symbol, protest, political expression or as a challenge to anyone else.

So it symbolizes for you nothing. Really? It is not a form of expression. Really? If the meaning it holds is for you, and if that meaning is non-problematic, why don’t you tell us what the meaning is? Obviously, a lot of secular people, citing your religion, take it to mean that God is displeased by women who do not hide themselves from men. Women, be modest! It is a modesty mandate, no? If that is not its meaning for you, you should let us know. Because everything we have come to understand about Muslim women covering themselves comes down to it being a response to a religious commandment to hide yourself from the sight of men. It says I am a chaste, modest woman. It is purity garb.

This submission to a religious mandate that reduces your visibility in the world of women and men speaks volumes to many secular women and men; it says that women are lesser beings, hopelessly seductive beings, defined by their seductive physicality that leads men astray. Your hijab says that we must put the welfare and freedom of men before that of women; for we can imagine a fairer, more logical, more egalitarian religion which mandates, let’s say, blinders for men lest they be led astray by their lusts, for after all they are their lusts. But you represent a less egalitarian religion, which says women bear responsibility for the reaction of men to them, and must be the ones who swathe themselves to remove their powers of seduction.

So take up every point in the above; if it is grossly mistaken, say so, and correct it.


Secular states often prefer, in the public and work setting, religious neutrality.

So what is neutrality? There is no objective answer because even deciding on what constitutes neutrality is by definition a non-neutral act.

No, religious neutrality is exactly what it says it is — Non-expressiveness in regard to any religion. No overt religious markers. There’s nothing relative here; it’s quite absolute. Unlike religious states, secular states are neutral in regard to religion, which means that all religious citizens of secular states may be subject to the same constraint on the wearing of religious clothing, jewelry, what have you. Of course in fact in most secular states, in most settings, no constraints on the wearing of religious items exists at all; but increasingly some of these places have been introducing some constraints.

We can certainly talk about why burqa bans and hijab restrictions are beginning to appear, but only if we can stipulate that the reasons involve something more complex than Islamophobia. I think that the burqa bans are pretty straightforward: There are obvious security issues; the entire shielding of the face and mouth constitutes a refusal to enter into the civic realm as an open, free, and equal individual; in educational settings, the burqa seriously impedes learning; to put a six year old child in a burqa is to impose radical invisibility and constraint on someone without any agency in the matter, etc. In the case of the hijab, it seems clear that its values of female fear of the male, or at least insistence on accommodating male lust and subsequent shrinking from full and equal physical presence in the world offends significant enough numbers of modern secular men and women that some real and negative consequences may ensue for commercial settings. Offended people may take their patronage elsewhere.

Let us by all means discuss whether these are contemptible responses to the primary Islamic meaning of the hijab, unworthy of the sort of judgment the EU court just handed down. One could argue that one ought not be upset at one’s six year old daughter seeing another six year old girl entirely covered in cloth; or one could argue that one is free to be upset, but not free to refuse to enter a store/restaurant where that little girl is playing behind the counter. You are living in a free country where people may freely express their belief about modesty and six year old girls; your task as a citizen of such a country is to tolerate this parental behavior.

But of course people are going to do what they want. Secular people might well – legitimately – care deeply about the formation of their female children into free and equal citizens of secular republics; they might legitimately regard visible female unfreedom as threatening to that formation. One might indeed begin to see a sort of boycott of spaces where the sight of unfree children and women is routine – a situation that the EU court is clearly responding to in its judgment.

It is not Islam, and it is not religion generally, to which these people are responding so negatively, I would argue. It is simply the sight of significantly unfree and unequal women and children that offends.

“While people with liberal values are highly tolerant of Muslims, such values are not predictive of support for the headscarf.” [Marc] Helbling hypothesizes this is because “people with liberal values are tolerant of immigrants in general but feel torn when it comes to religious practices that are perceived by some people as reflecting illiberal values.”

Again – by all means insist that hijabs are empowering and we seculars are getting it wrong, wrong, wrong. But realize that in making this claim you have a very high mountain to climb.

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