Secular sharia is not the answer: A response to my critics

By Jonathon Van Maren

So, a number of people have gotten quite prickly about my recent article on the public disrobing of female Muslim sunbathers in the name of “good morals” on French beaches by armed government employees. I’ve promised to respond to the objections, so here goes.

Objection One: The West has a duty to combat “creeping Sharia,” and permitting Muslim women to wear the clothing of their choice is to essentially accommodate Sharia law.

To be as charitable as possible, I assume this comment is meant to highlight a growing, unassimilated Muslim presence in many Western nations, something I’ve written about before and has been expounded on quite brilliantly by Mark Steyn in his book America Alone. But this is not, in fact, the issue at hand. For starters, governments banning articles of clothing is not a solution to a lack of assimilation. In fact, using the force of the state to ban articles of clothing is doing precisely what Sharia law does, which is dictate what women can and cannot wear. We are simply replacing one form of coercion with another.

Second of all, no matter how much one wants to avoid this point, choice of religious garb is a matter of religious freedom. Laws passed on the underlying principle that the state has the right to tell religious adherents what they can and cannot wear can (and generally will) be applied do anyone once we have given the state permission to do so. France, in banning the “burkini,” is not actually “defending Western values.” They are broadening the reach of totalitarian secularism, which is why they have passed similar laws stipulating that government employees have no right to wear crucifixes or Huguenot crosses. The idea that this move by the French is aimed at defending any residual Catholicism is simply unsupported by all of the facts available to us, and wouldn’t be a good justification even if it was.

Considering the fact that governments across the West have been using the power of the state to encroach on Christians rather than any other religious groups, I’m actually quite shocked by this reflexive desire by some Christians to give the state even more power to interfere in this way. The new secularism of the West is more hostile to Christianity in most cases, and we would do well to remember that. We would also do well to remember that we live in a democracy, not some pseudo-Christian monarchy of the past. You either accept that people have the right wear the religious garb of their choice, or you give up on the idea of religious freedom altogether. There is no middle road here.

Third, religious groups choose to abide by their own set of rules all the time, and in a free society they have the right to do so. This is at the core of the entire debate over Trinity Western University’s code of sexual conduct, which is coming under fire by secularists who are claiming that a group of Christians voluntarily committing themselves to a set of rules are somehow infringing on the rights of others. They are not. The Amish choose to live by a set of rules. The Sikhs choose to live by a set of rules. Christians choose to live by a set of rules. If Muslim women choose to commit themselves to a rule dictating modesty on the beach, that is their prerogative, and it is quite frankly repulsive that any Christian would endorse a scenario where armed men force a woman to take her clothes off on the beach because they disapprove of her choice in beachwear.

Objection Two: Women are forced to wear religious garb they have no desire to wear.

I’m sure this is true in some instances. It is also true, no matter how hard this is for those of us who do not understand such choices to realize, that some choose this way of life voluntarily. It is not the article of clothing that is the problem, it is the coercion that is the problem. That is why I support harsh penalties for anyone forcing a woman to wear clothing she does not want to, and am slightly bewildered that some people think the answer to this problem is to force women to wear less clothing than they want to. Both of these things are repulsive. This being the case, my critic’s example of women in Iran being forced to wear the headscarf actually misses my original point and confirms my current point. The problem in Iran is that the government forces women to wear something they do not want to. The problem in France is that the government is forcing some women to wear less than they want to. Both of these things are fascistic. My article was about police officers forcing sunbathers to take off some clothing, and pointing out that some Islamic governments force women to wear the burka isn’t relevant to my point. The only way my critic’s point can be valid is if he can somehow prove that every woman who dons Muslim religious garb—the headscarf, niqab, burka, or burkini—is being forced to do so. This cannot be proven, and can in fact be easily disproven.

Objection Three: Sharia law is more of a threat to Christian religious liberty than militant secularism is.

I honestly fail to see this looming threat of Sharia. Yes, there are growing populations of unassimilated immigrants in Western countries, and there are a host of problems associated with this. Yes, reckless immigration policies are being used by radical Islamist groups to infiltrate Western countries and perpetrate acts of terror. But does anyone actually believe that left-wing governments like that of Canada are on the verge of accepting a system of law that will thrust all women into burkas? Do they actually think that nations are increasingly inclined towards accepting Islamic law for the whole of society? Do they really suspect that over-enthusiastic multiculturalism and white guilt are on the verge of resulting in a ban on pig farms? Come on. Let’s address the challenges that Islamic terrorism and unassimilated immigrant populations pose without growing hysterical.

Building on that point, the idea that Sharia law is more of a threat to Christian religious freedom than secular state intervention is utterly unsubstantiated. Is it Muslims who are suing Christian bakeries for refusing to service gay weddings? Is it Muslims who are refusing to accept law students from Christian universities? Is it Muslims who are demanding that doctors assist in abortion and euthanasia? Is it Muslims who are demanding that children be subjected to radical sex education with no op-out option for parents? No. It is secular progressives. To obsess over the beachwear of Muslim women while there are very real threats to religious liberty is absurd and misguided.

Objection Four: Islamist terrorism is happening with increasing frequency across the West, and as the result Islamism must be confronted.

Right. And to reiterate, it is bizarre to think that banning articles of clothing does anything whatsoever to combat terrorism. These bans are empty and symbolic actions that do nothing to actually deal with the problem at hand–they are simply a weird attempt to give threatened people catharsis. All these wardrobe skirmishes really do is make people believe that something is being done about the very real problems I’ve mentioned earlier, when it reality it is simply police officers harassing a woman watching her children on the beach wearing more clothes than they think is “moral.”

My critic tries to again bring up a number of Islamic nations and point out that they do not permit religious freedom. Sure, granted. I’m a bit surprised to hear that my critic thinks we should be more like them by legislating what people are and are not allowed to wear. Religious freedom has always been a fundamentally Christian idea, and we abandon it at our peril. And no, there really is no such thing as “religious freedom for me but not for thee” unless we want to dispense with the pretence of such freedoms altogether. As for mentions of the religious practices that would include slavery or the burning of widows etc., those simply miss the point altogether. We already have laws to deal with such things, and to compare choice in swimwear to any of those is simply ridiculous.

Objection Five: Western culture is worth fighting for and preserving.

I’d have to differentiate there. Our Judeo-Christian values are worth fighting for and preserving, as are our democratic freedoms. The Western secularists my critic thinks we should be teaming up with have been hammering away at these for quite some time, in fact, and we have our work cut out for us as it is. But if he thinks that the state using armed men to disrobe Muslim women on a beach is defending Western culture, then I’d have to disagree. That part of our emerging culture—the totalitarian instinct to suppress what we don’t agree with—is not worth fighting for or preserving, and I’d be quite pleased to see it disappear, and even to hurry that along in some small way. So the question here is what sort of Western culture we’re talking about. Are we talking about the libertinism of exhibitionist parades, omnipresent pornography, and debauched entertainment, which is the most immediately recognizable “Western culture” to most other cultures at the moment? Or are we talking about the Judeo-Christian values our culture was founded on, built by men and women who would be absolutely appalled that modest swimwear is now considered an “offense to good morals?” The “Western culture” France has dispatched its cops to defend bears no resemblance to the culture Christians should seek to defend, but such is the result of terrorism: People end up reflexively defending strange positions out of fear.

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