Yes - a burqa ban is the politics of symbolism. Yes - a burqa ban will not prevent any terrorist attacks. Yes - for a liberal constitutional state, the mere fact of contemplating a burqa ban is a sign of illiberality. Yes - there are not many who wear a burqa in Germany - but so what? And yes - it bothers many people, but not all that bothers many people must be banned. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière was right about that.
Yet a burqa ban makes sense - and is also politically beneficial. It shows that an open society will not accept just anything. It shows that the liberal constitutional state is resolved to take steps against the enemies of liberality. It shows that the symbolism of the burqa has been interpreted correctly. The burqa is not a sign of religious life, or even religiosity; otherwise, women from Morocco to Pakistan would all wear the burqa. They do not, although the Moroccans are just as religious as the Libyans, Egyptians, Iranians, or Pakistanis.
No, the burqa is a symbol of a fundamentalist Islam, a Wahhabi interpretation - of "IS," of the Taliban, of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The burqa is not a sign of popular piety, or of religious daily life.
Tolerating the intolerant
The objection could be made that in a religiously indifferent country, like Germany, there is freedom of religion - for all faiths. But how far does this tolerance go? Does it include also the mutilation of young girls in Islamic countries? The man's violent dominion over the woman? The total lack of self-determination for women? Are we acquiescing to all this just because we want to be religiously tolerant?
The burqa imprisons women. It is intended to do this; it wants to do this. It robs the woman of her right to a self-sufficient and self-assured place in society. As a garment, it contradicts human dignity and any concept of equality.
Therefore, society must ask the question: how far do we want to go to accommodate radical forms of Islam? How far liberal tolerance? The dispute over the burqa ban is in fact eminently political. And at its core is the issue of how we should deal with the enemies of an open society.
For a free society it is necessary and beneficial to draw a clear dividing line. And that means the burqa should be banned in Germany. Just like polygamy, child marriage, and female genital mutilation - in the name of religion. That means politicians must say no. The lawyers will have to deal with the rest.
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