Tag Archives: Islam

Barbara Kay: Niqab case a welcome ruling

Human rights is the great issue of our day, and yet weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) made a significant ruling that flew under the radar of North American pundits: The court upheld France’s ban on the wearing of the niqab in public.

The controversial law was effected by Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in 2010 as a counter-measure to the symbolic Islamization represented by the niqab’s 2000-some wearers (out of five million Muslims). In 2011 a 24-year old French woman known only by the initials SAS initiated the ECHR case, arguing that the ban violated her freedom of religion and expression.

The ECHR ruled that the ban “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.” And, to be more precise, the court found that concealment of the face breaches the “right of others to live in a space of socialization which [makes] living together easier.”


I welcome the ruling. The ECHR cut to the heart of the issue: If social reciprocity – or the possibility for social reciprocity – is not the default condition reigning in the public forum, then there exists a state of social inequality. If my face is visible to my fellow citizens, but some citizens’ faces are not visible to me, psychological tension is bound to colour relations between our two groups. Free people show their faces to each other, and the burden of accommodation must be assigned with a view to optimal trust in shared spaces, not the individual right to create social barriers.

As the ruling opens the door to other countries in the EU to impose a similar ban, predictable protest by human rights groups ensued. “’How do you liberate women by criminalizing their clothing?’ asked Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.”

Along with many other pundits, Chakrabarti here muddies the issue in his use of the word “clothing” to describe the niqab.

The niqab is not clothing; it is a mask. When a mask is removed, a person is still clothed. If you subtract those masks worn to protect the face from cold or germs, and those collaboratively agreed-to for specific entertainment purposes, you are left with masks that seek to conceal one’s identity, that deliberately de-personalize the face behind them. In such cases, no good motivation prevails, and no good social consequence ensues. The ECHR made the right decision.

The Hustings


Tom Stringham: Endless war in Palestine

A barrage of Israeli missiles in Gaza has cast the light of our attention once again on the scene of endless carnage in the Middle East. Once again, Hamas has smuggled rockets into Gaza and launched them at Israeli cities, stirring a response by the Israeli Air Force. Once again, a lasting peace appears impossible.

Westerners are troubled by the tangible animosity between the Jewish state and many of its Arab neighbors, and by the strange asymmetry of the ongoing conflict. Israel has the power to destroy Hamas, but not the will, while Hamas has the will but not the means to destroy Israel. The asymmetry of animus gives Hamas the ability to start conflicts, much to our regret, while the lopsidedness of power allows Israel to end them, to our general disapproval.

Hamas understands the strategy of Israel and its allies reasonably well. Its leaders know that Israel will not utterly wipe the regime out of power or attempt a brazen occupation of Gaza in the near future, if for no other reason than that liberal democratic Israel depends too much on the support of public opinion, both within and without the Jewish state.

Gazan rockets will awaken exactly the response from the Israelis Hamas intends them to awaken: hundreds of civilian casualties in Gaza, which will understandably stir the sympathies of the international public. These sympathies are Hamas’ best chance of meaningfully weakening Israel.

But while Hamas has a cynical perceptiveness of Israel and the West, the West generally does not understand Hamas, in the way that civilization often misreads sophisticated barbarity. The material goals of liberal democratic polities—peace, order, good government, and so on—are not ends for Hamas, and they may not even be means. The end, as always, is immaterial and beyond this world. For the Islamist, the existence and stunning success of a Jewish state in the heart of the Muslim world is not just humiliating but theologically disturbing. The salvation of the region’s Muslims is in the destruction of that state.

This is why the regime would not be appeased even if Israel emptied its national treasury for the Arabs, or handed over half its land, and why negotiations will continue failing in the coming decades. The only scenarios involving eventual peace are all stark: either the destruction of Israel, the destruction of Arab Gaza (and likely the West Bank), or an incalculably costly worldwide reformation of Islam.

The Hustings


Tom Stringham: Iraq and Syria were destined for failure

War appears to have broken out afresh in Iraq as armed rebels make their way toward the capital. Regional and international observers are caught off guard, but a conflict of this kind is predictable, almost inevitable, when viewed through the lens of religion.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, has made a name for itself with its quick conquest of western Iraq. Following the fall of Mosul and Tikrit this week, 500,000 Iraqis, many of them Shia Muslims, have fled the region west of the Tigris River. Now ISIS, whose aims are the indiscriminate destruction of Shiites and the establishment of an authoritarian Islamic state, threatens to win the second successful capture of the city of Baghdad in just over a decade.

The word for ISIS rebels, before their unexpected coalescence and territorial aggrandizement, was “insurgents”. By 2011, the United States had nearly eradicated the insurgents, then known as ISI, after killing their leaders and shoring up the Iraqi defense. But after the American departure, and in the midst of the horrifying Syrian civil war, the movement was resurrected. Now it numbers 10,000 and controls a region the size of Jordan.

“Security concerns” don’t begin to capture the regional mood. Bumbling Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been caught flat-footed by the stunning geopolitical upheaval. The US-trained troops in the military are deserting their posts after brutal threats from ISIS conquerors. The United States thus far has committed nothing tangible to a defense of the Maliki regime. In the most peculiar turn of events yet, Iran is bidding for Baghdad’s rescue with an offer of 10,000 troops.

Commentators are asking: How do a few thousand rebels undo, in a matter of weeks, the effect of a decade’s worth of American blood and treasure? Why is Iran coming to the aid of the country against which it waged a bitter war from 1980 to 1988? And what force is animating these brutal Islamist rebels?

By taking a step back from the immediate conflict to view the centuries-long scene we have the answer, which is obvious to anyone who has ever felt the soul-transforming power of religion for good or evil. Sunni and Shia Islam are irreconcilable in the hearts of their adherents. Political attempts to unite them, whether they are named Iraq or Syria, and whether they are enforced by superpowers or not, are ultimately doomed.


Geoffrey Wale: The virtues of Geert Wilders

Freedom of conscience and expression have been matters of life and death in the history of Western civilization. In the present, freedom of conscience continues to carry a high price, as Geert Wilders, a controversial Dutch centre-right politician and populist, who is best known for his opposition to Islam, can attest. In the Dutch Parliament he once said:

Islam is the Trojan Horse in Europe. If we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time. One century ago, there were approximately 50 Muslims in the Netherlands. Today, there are about 1 million Muslims in this country. Where will it end? We are heading for the end of European and Dutch civilization as we know it. Where is our Prime Minister in all this? In reply to my questions in the House he said, without batting an eyelid, that there is no question of our country being Islamified.

Wilders is leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, which holds a small number of seats in the Dutch and European Parliaments. He is an intelligent and shrewd politician, so he should not be discounted as a crackpot.

It is his stand on religion—he comes from a Catholic family, but rejected Catholicism when he came of age—and Islam in particular, that carries a heavy price. Unfortunately, in the 21st century there are elements in the Islamic world who call for the assassination of those whom they accuse of defaming their religious beliefs. Wilders lives under police protection, receiving no shortage of death threats.

Wilders also faced legal challenges from civil authorities in the Netherlands. In 2009, he was put on trial in Amsterdam, facing charges for inciting hatred against Muslims. He was acquitted of these charges in 2011. In pursuing these legal actions, the Dutch government was trying to get Wilders to recant—that is, to end his criticism of Islam. Wilders shows no indication of backing down of such criticism.

The freedoms of thought and of expression are cornerstones of Western Civilization. While I find his views extreme and do not agree with them, the fact is that Wilders has shown his willingness to pay the price, in risking his life and going to trial, for standing up for his right to freedom of conscience. These are qualities that I admire in him.

The Hustings


Cody Boutilier: The Muslims of Russia

I’ve met dozens of Muslims, of several ethnicities, on my Russian travels. My encounters with them have left me better informed about Islamic culture. When I studied in Moscow, I regularly went to a corner liquor store for groceries, and met a female Azerbaijani cashier there. She didn’t wear a headscarf, but told me this did not shield her from ethnic slurs by dipsomaniac regulars. Towards the end of my stay I met a Kyrgyz cabbie. The only anti-American Muslim I’ve met in Russia, he called Obama’s Cairo speech a farce. I took a few trips to the famous People’s Friendship University of Russia – a surviving relic of Soviet internationalism. There I met a young, headscarf-clad Daghestani woman who was studying linguistics. She lived with her family on Moscow’s outskirts, and went home by the commuter train (elektrichka) each night. I asked her if she was ever afraid, and she replied that her strong belief in God helped her cope with her fear. This was the most moving, powerful expression of faith I’ve ever heard.

In 2012 I journeyed to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. I visited the famous Qol Sharif Mosque, a gorgeous, Saudi-funded edifice in the city kremlin. When I told a Tatar convenience store cashier that I was American, she asked if I was from Texas, where she was moving in two weeks. Traveling to Kislovodsk in the Caucasus, I met a Chechen woman who was visiting family in Grozny. She said she’d have to wear a headscarf upon disembarking, as the Putin-backed Kadyrov had implemented sharia law. Returning to Moscow, I met a thuggish Chechen, who expressed his umbrage with a fellow passenger’s criticism of Kadyrov. I had a long conversation with a Tajik shawarma chef in St. Petersburg – migrant workers from Central Asia have been among the warmest, kindest people I met in Russia.

On my last journey to Russia, I met an Iraqi Kurd who was studying civil engineering in Chelyabinsk. He was grateful for the American intervention, and said he prayed for peace for all sects of Iraq. On the banks of a Chelyabinsk reservoir I met an Uzbek woman who sold shashlik. She was disappointed that her young son, who was obsessed with America, wasn’t there to meet me.

I’ve had countless delightful encounters with ethnic Russians as well, but meeting people from ethnic minorities was particularly enriching.

The Hustings