The New York Times reports on French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to introduce
a bill in May to ban the wearing of the full veil in public places in France
from streets, markets and shops, according to his spokesman, Luc Chatel.
Sarkozy intends the bill, a follow up to the 2004 ban on conspicuous signs of religious affiliation in public schools, to supersede
An earlier proposal from a panel of the National Assembly [that] suggested a bill banning the full veil in public places belonging to the state, like schools and public buildings, and in areas where facial recognition is vital for security reasons: airports, banks and even public transport.
As I have suggested, here, here and here, I think the National Assembly has offered a reasoned, sensible approach. Sarkozy overreaches, beyond what can be justified in a liberal society, and the error could have long-term negative consequences. Sarkozy has already been warned by France’s Council of State, the chief administrative authority in France, that such a total ban would have no legal basis.
The Times also reports that Belgium too is planning to vote on a bill that mandates a fine and brief jail term for anyone wearing the full veil without police permission.
The danger is this. Many European nations are facing the threat of a significant and growing immigrant population not only resistant to assimilation, but hostile to the values of the cultures they have entered. On one hand are politically correct, even sometimes themselves illiberal social elements ideologically committed to denying the nature of the problem. On the other are predictable xenophobic and racialist forces driven to excessive reaction. The best and surest way to meet the challenge is by upholding liberal values, clearly understood, that in themselves properly contain the illiberal values and practices of unsympathetic immigrant Muslim populations. The National Assembly’s proposal does this. If Sarkozy’s overreach is struck down by French courts, the product of his effort, rather than a discrete effective measure in a broader, successful policy, may be the impression of France’s own illiberalism and an intellectually floundering response.
In opposing illiberalism, liberalism needs to perceive clearly what it, itself, is.