Veiled Contempt


God bless The Guardian, where opinions that look silly but turn out to be plenty revealing are never in short supply. For example, this column by Naima Bouteldja on anti-Muslim veil legislation in the Netherlands starts out hitting 10 on the Hyperbolemeter.

The Dutch government… in the run-up to tomorrow's general election announced plans to ban the wearing of the burka and face veil in public. By doing so, it has raised what is becoming a Europe-wide campaign to a new level of authoritarianism. Naima Azough, a Dutch Green MP, points out that the ban would apply to fewer than 100 women. "This didn't come from public pressure," she says, "but was initiated by the immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, whose Liberal-Conservative party is scrambling for far-right votes." The result will simply reinforce the perception of Muslims that they will never be accepted in Dutch society.

But Bouteldja has an interesting point I haven't seen in American or European media recently. For all of the ink it commands, the veil issue doesn't actually affect many people.

France provided the political laboratory. In April 2003, the headscarf row came out of nowhere; within a year it had been outlawed in state schools. No serious demands to ban the headscarf had ever come from teaching bodies, students or the public. It simply wasn't seen as a problem before April 2003: of the 10 million students in French state schools, only 1,250 wore the headscarf.

In 2003, three French papers (Le Monde, Libération and Le Figaro) published 1,284 articles on the subject. By contrast, the hotly contested plan to reform social security—a genuine national debate that brought tens of thousands on to the streets—registered only 478 times.

That isn't to say that French-Muslim tensions are a media invention—if you want to believe that, I have a few thousand burned out cars to sell you. But is the "veil issue" a creation of media hype? That would say a lot about European angst about Islam, and impotence in the way their policymakers attempt to confront it.

NEXT: The Future of Unnatural Family Planning

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  1. Could veil-wearing Muslims be the sexual predators of Europe in terms of scoring cheap political points?

  2. That’s got to be a new record: 34 more articles about a problem than there were people who actually had it.

  3. Of the 10 million students, how many are muslim? If it’s a million, that’s only 1.3%, which is not an issue.

    Do any non-muslim students wear scarves?

    Do do-rags count as scarves?

    What about wearing a hospital mask over your face, will that be banned?

  4. Unfortunately, the policies are still a tyranny of the majority, no matter how small the disenfranchised minority.

  5. John Kobylt (KABC, Dec 11 1999) has a universal theory of headgear-based cultural discomfort

  6. I think FinFangFoom’s idea about veils and political points is right on the money.

    The Dutch veil ban concerns a very particular kind of veil which is exceedingly rare, and it would probably hit a few hundred people at most. It is very typical for these sorts of proposals to be either outright illegal, which gives politicians the opportunity to safely retreat and mumble “I guess the constitution won’t let us ban the use of foreign languages on public streets”, or utterly irrelevant, as in “let’s ban a type of veil worn by all of a few hundred people in the entire country”. If they are in neither of those two categories, they are often just plain mean-spirited schemes based on the idea that unless you annoy hapless Turkish janitors with mandatory examinations of their knowledge of “Dutch values”, next thing you know they’ll blow up parliament. Somehow, all of this is to make immigrants realize in an instant of enlightenment that Holland is a paradise of liberty, they were wrong all along about cooking all that smelly food, and if they eat more cabbage and potatoes maybe someday they will be part of it.

  7. The Dutch law is rather anti-libertarian, but so is making your females cover up every square inch of their skin, regardless of the temperature. Ya gotta admit, it’s a nice way of saying “If you’re going to come here you can’t bring your Dark Age values into public.”
    I have a hard time objecting to that.

  8. Sometimes I find myself wondering why people, when seeing the state of the Muslim world today, actually convert to the religion. I mean, honestly, looking at the state of nigh-every Muslim nation right now, who in their right mind would look at that and say to himself, “Yes, that’s something I want to be a part of.”

    Then, recently, a friend pointed out: “You know, there’s plenty of guys out there who like the whole idea of forcing their women to comply to their every whim.”

    Ah, I said. Mystery solved!

  9. Edward Bernays, considered by many to be the founder of modern public relations, wrote a small little book titled “Propaganda”, which I highly recommend to anyone trying to understand how politics works.

    I was reminded of this bit:

    “The political leader must be a creator of circumstances, not only a creature of mechanical processes of stereotyping and rubber stamping.”

    By use of mass media and an intelligent strategy, a ruler should “create circumstances which would make his contention dramatic and self-evident.”

    “In whatever ways he dramatized the issue, the attention of the public would be attracted to the question before he addressed them personally. Then, when he spoke to his millions of listeners on the radio, he would not be seeking to force an argument down the throats of a public thinking of other things and annoyed by another demand on its attention; on the contrary, he would be answering the spontaneous questions and expressing the emotional demands of a public already keyed to a certain pitch of interest in the subject. ”

    I believe the term is “Engineering Consent”

  10. jkp,

    What about female converts?

  11. I work with a (un-burqa’d) Dutch girl at work, who says that everyone in the Netherlands sees this as the baldly political ploy that it is. The bill was introduced into a parliament that is ending its term, um, today. So for this to go anywhere, it will have to be re-introduced from scratch in Jan or Feb, when they meet next.

    Right-wing governments do this Islam-baiting all over the continent. Here in Denmark, where less that 2% of the population are immigrants, much less Muslims, you constantly hear politicians talk about how ‘Sharia law will reign in Denmark,’ ‘they want to take over,’ etc.

    Thank God American politicans never do this, huh?

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