The French secular model of laïcité—which aims to mark a formal separation of church and state—is a core republican value of the French state and some segments of French society. However, it is often poorly or only partially understood, both domestically and abroad. In its original formulation, laïcité was not designed to eliminate religion from areas outside the jurisdiction and purview of the state, nor to uphold a specific faith over another. Rather, it was supposed to dissipate religious practices from the operations of the secular French state. In public or private matters outside the functioning of the state, laïcité should be no threat to freedom of religion. But in practice, recent instrumentalizations of this model have attempted to contain people of minority religious faiths or coerce them into a closed secularism. Such rampant abuses of laïcité threaten and sometimes violate religious freedom, ultimately undermining pluralism and social stability.
The target of the new law is the burqa and niqab but, already the Danish People’s Party have turned their attention to the head scarf, launching a new poster campaign that tells women to “throw of the headscarf and become part of Denmark.” Given the rise in religious apathy and intolerance towards religion generally, who knows what will come next; tomorrow the cross or the yarmulke could be the next target. This is why it is important now, more than ever, for all freedom-loving people to come together, to stand together and oppose this unnecessary, counterproductive and hypocritical law.
Securitization is not simply state prevention of foreign political violence. It is also increasingly aimed at Islamic religious practices like the burqa which are interpreted as signs of political radicalism. One of the unexpected consequences of such a situation has been to grant governments greater means to control religions in general. As such, it is a very serious threat to religious freedom and democracy across Europe.
Theatrics aside, Ahmari missed a critical opportunity to engage in a constructive debate about the niqab and the limits of religious liberty and pluralism in the public square. Instead he turned to seemingly more pressing issues: the bullying and silencing of free and honest debate in Europe by progressive liberals. “Does liberal opinion permit Europeans to discuss the burka openly, honestly, and fearlessly?” he asks. “The answer is almost certainly ‘no,’ judging by the furious reaction that greeted Boris Johnson’s recent remarks,” he answers. The Johnson controversy, Ahmari would have us believe, has little if anything to do with “Islamophobia,” anti-Muslim bigotry, or the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs. It has everything to do with “a prohibition against expressing any discomfort, enforced on pain of social ostracism and joblessness” by “illiberal liberalism.” A prohibition that is “a recipe for populist backlash.”
By: Pasquale Annicchino
Federica Mogherini, the former Italian minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, is now the new EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Her appointment may be of particular interest to those who closely monitor the development of initiatives on religious freedom within the context of international affairs.