Surrendering to the enemy

Let us imagine that a local scoutmaster is suspected of involvement in child abuse. It is just rumor, but the police are investigating. Let’s combine that with the fact that a few, very few, scoutmasters in other parts are actually guilty. So the state legislature decides to ban anyone from wearing scout uniforms in public. It is still okay in scout meetings, but not on the streets. How does that make sense? The vast majority involved with scouting are decent, honorable, people, trying to help youngsters. How does a measure aimed at these dedicated volunteers possibly help deal with the actual problem.

In fact, it is not only silly and misdirected, it is actually counterproductive. Because there are a few bad apples among those who volunteer for scouting, just as there are in every walk of life. But in this imaginary world in which the state legislature has decided to attack scouting with a grossly illiberal measure, the bad apples are safer, not exposed to greater risk.

Let us imagine you know a scoutmaster who is suspected of being one of those bad apples. There are rumors about him. But he says to you, “oh, that’s all just bigotry against scouts. Everyone hates us. Even the state legislature has banned our uniform. That’s the only reason people are saying those awful things about me”. It sounds reasonable and it allays your suspicions. But, though this is a great argument to protect those who are wrongly suspected, it can also be used to protect those who are actually guilty.

The French ban on the so-called “burkini” – an all over swimsuit worn by Muslim women – is just as badly thought out. Actually, it is even worse.

I posited here that real child abusers could use the bigotry to allay suspicion against them. But they could not use it to gain support from decent people for their position. Religious oppression actually does drive decent people to sympathize with Da’esh and al Qaeda. Those groups actively want to turn their cause into a conflict between Islam and the West. They tell Muslims that the West hates Islam and wants to destroy it. They position themselves as the defenders of innocent Muslims. So what do the French do? Try to prove them right.

The most extreme variation on the Muslim dress code – the burqa and niqab – is hard for outsiders to appreciate. The same can be said for orthodox Jewish women covering their hair with a wig. Both are very rare. Muslim women are more likely to wear the modest hijab or ordinary western clothes. It is also true that such dress codes are often oppressive of women. Sikhism is the only tradition I can think of in which the dress code is more restrictive for men than for women, whereas the reverse is often true. But you can’t counter oppression with oppression. There is a documented path that leads westernized liberal Muslims – such as  Hasna Aitboulahcen, Europe’s first female suicide bomber – to radicalization. That path is the burqa ban.

Da’esh’s first demand is that the West should treat it as the representative of Muslims and therefore declare war on Muslims. France has surrendered to that demand already.

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Quentin Langley lives in New York and London and teaches at the University of Bedfordshire Business School

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