République française has banned the burqa. Along with the face-covering veil (the niqab), the burqa is the garment with which Muslim women conceal their bodies from head to toe. More accurately, it is the instrument by which their bodies are concealed. In fundamentalist Muslim communities, the burqa is not worn by a woman’s free choice. It is imposed, a product of cultural submission that reflects the subordinate status — in a real sense, the chattel status — to which women are consigned in Islamist ideology.
The new French burqa law was announced this week. Not a social debate: a law. Western societies are running out of gas for the same reason Western economies are sputtering: They are over-lawyered and, hence, hyper-regulated. We’re incapable of comprehending public controversy through anything but the most legalistic prism, particularly when individual liberty is implicated.
Thus we have the tyranny of the lowest common denominator. The tune is called by that rarest of creatures: the woman living in the West who wears the burqa because she wants to wear the burqa. Of course there are such women. Some are merely eccentric, but most burqa volunteers are affirming a civilizational chasm. In Islam, the concept of “freedom” is nearly the opposite of what the non-Muslim West takes it to mean; it is perfect submission to Allah. That is the only life choice the voluntarily shrouded woman makes, and the burqa is emblematic of all the doctrinal subjugation that necessarily follows.
Bully for her. But what about the other women who don the burqa? What about the women who are extorted into cloaking themselves under pressure from a culture characterized by arranged marriages and honor killings? These women are pressured to submit because others have submitted. They are “captive women behind bars,” as French president Nicolas Sarkozy describes
them, making a metaphor of the grilled visor the burqa places across women’s eyes. These women and girls are in France, but they are not free. They are “shut out from social life and robbed of any identity,” as Sarkozy puts it, and the burqa is their moving prison, enveloping every step. It extends the republic’s 750 zones urbaines sensibles, “sensitive urban areas” — Islamic enclaves over which the French state has effectively ceded sovereignty to sharia authorities.
This is a social problem, not a legal one. Law is the steel by which a body politic reinforces its vibrant, pre-existing mores. It is not a device for creating mores or for bringing to heel those who are at war with the body politic. Indeed, for Islamists seeking to destroy the West, the law is a weapon in their arsenal — the device by which they hamstring a self-consciously law-worshipping society. For a dying society, though, a law, like the burqa law, is about as useful as a band-aid.
Islamist ideologues are ascendant because they are moving what they are proud to call their “civilizational jihad” against the West from the battlefield, where they know they cannot win, to our institutions, where the scales tip in the Islamists’ favor. They are culturally confident. We, on the other hand, are ambivalent about whether our culture deserves to survive. No law can solve that problem.
France is trying its burqa ban nonetheless. The United States, by contrast, seeks to impose social cohesion by capitulating to sharia at the expense of the First Amendment. That is the latest twist in the brouhaha over the Ground Zero mosque.
Last weekend, at the crater formerly known as the World Trade Center, protester Derek Fenton was photographed burning pages from a Koran, following through on an obscure Florida pastor’s threat to torch Islam’s holy book. Fenton, it turned out, was an 11-year employee of the New Jersey Transit Authority, which promptly fired him when the photos went public. Continue to page 2 of Andrew C McCarthy's article in the National Review