Once again the discussion about head scarves reared its ugly head in Dutch politics. Jeanine Hennis (VVD) stated in an interview with De Pers (NL) that head scarves should be banned for state and/or city council employees in direct contact with the public.
Christian coalition party CDA reacted as if stung (NL), with MP Mirjam Sterk asking: ‘What problem is the VVD trying to solve’, adding that such a plan would work against the emancipation of (muslim) women.
Sterk is surprised a liberal (in the true sense of the word) like Hennis would want to infringe on a traditional freedom such as the freedom of religion. Hennis is arguing that freedom of religion is implicitly guaranteed by the freedoms of association and opinion. Legal guarantees of the freedom of religion are hence old-fashioned and obsolete.
This discussion has the usual suspects from the doctrinal liberal community out of the woodwork, arguing that in fact banning the head scarf means all religious symbols should be banned from public life. No crucifixes on the wall, no necklaces from which a cross or a start of David is suspended. But that is comparing apples to gooseberries, in that the rather in your face visibility of a head scarf does not even begin to compare in obnoxious presence to a modest necklace, often tucked under a shirt. Thus the controversy around head scarves is gleefully, if a bit cynically, abused to argue the secular liberal cause of freedom from religion, to argue that liberal secularism should be made the state religion. This is one aspect of the head scarve controversy that as tedious as it is predictable.
I find myself in the curious position of agreeing and disagreeing with both ladies. For starters I don’t think head scarves are a big issue, for reasons I will get to. So, it is worthwhile to learn what problem exactly Hennis is trying to solve with her suggestion. But I don’t agree that banning the head scarf for women working the counter at city hall is an unacceptable infringement of religious freedom. There is (still) a generally, if tacitly, accepted dress code in Dutch civilized society. Enforcing a ban on head scarves adheres to that dress code, just as much as the fact that t-shirts with over the top slogans are not allowed in city hall – citizen relations.
For a while it seemed the head scarf was slowly working itself into the unspoken dress code, accomodating young women from a certain religion to emancipate and take part in public life in a manner that (so it was argued) was most comfortable for them. But the curious phenomenon occurred that the louder the more dedicated elements in islam and the multicult pleaded special privileges for bearers of the head scarf, the more it was made a symbol of something not Dutch, of something anti-Dutch even. Muslims (and their multicult enablers) set themselves, their wives and their daughters apart from Dutch society, exactly by making such a big deal of the head scarf. Hence, it is quite natural and to be expected that the resistance against and even loathing of that particular symbol is building. This is a phenomenon that is evident around Europe. It seems that this resistance is the reason for the ban, even if this reason is left unspoken, for obvious reasons (well, obvious to those familiar with suffocating tenets of PC-ness).
The modern day head scarf has been made a symbol, by islamic supremacists, of islams subjugation of the West and the world at large. It really doesn’t matter if the head scarf is a traditional/cultural phenomenon or religiously mandated. Islamist say the scarf is mandatory for muslimas, hence it is a muslim symbol. But at the end of the day head scarves are a red herring. The fruitless and tediously predictable arguments for or against a head scarve ban are a convenient lightning rod, used to avoid dealing with the question that nobody in our current leadership wants to deal with: Islam, the West and their compatibility. The more time is spent on this fruitless argument, the less time and energy is devoted to dealing with the underlying issue: What, if any, is the place of islam in the West?
The head scarf is a minor issue, relative to the deeper one at the heart of the controversy. Which is why I can’t be bothered about it, safe from the annoyance this chain of repeat moves causes me. Ban them or don’t ban them, I really don’t care. All I wish is that finally we start to realize that head scarves are a symptom, not the disease. A ban of head scarves would thus be a case of treating the symptom, but do exactly nothing in curing the disease: The patient has a tumour of the brain. The growth causes severe headaches. Ignoring the cause, we try to cure the headaches by prescribing aspirin. And while this may alleviate the pain for a few hours, it will do nothing to remedy the underlying cause of the headaches: the tumour.
But we can only do this for so long. Tumours kill, after all.