Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Yesterday I led a faculty-student forum on the French ban, and I was mildly surprised at the extent to which the students, religious and non-religious alike, took offense at the ban. (Those who defended it were outnumbered in the order of 10 to 1.) When it comes to discussing objective visions of morality, students' deeply entrenched devotion to value pluralism is a nearly insurmountable obstacle. But when it comes to issues of religious liberty, the students' worldview provides a formidable defense.
One obvious flaw in the French government's rationale was jumped on by students. Concern for religious minorities, especially Jewish students, is hardly well-served by seeking to make those students, along with the perceived instigators, invisible. Rather than embarking on an aggressive program of education or enforcement of the criminal law, France seems to be pretending that covering up religious identity will make it all go away. Obviously, religion-based persecution thrives even in the absence of religious garb. (As one student pointed out, when buses of Jewish students are pelted with rocks in Marseilles, it is highly doubtful that their yarmulkes are visible.)
In direct response to Paolo's post below, the ideology of certain Islamic extremists does not change my reaction. Such threats are best addressed through other measures. After all, if religious identity is allowed to flourish only in the absence of the majority's perception of a religion-driven threat, there's not much left to it. This goes back to my misgivings about hitching a particular conception of the moral anthropology to majority rule (below). It's entirely foreseeable that some jurisdictions would perceive certain Christian fundamentalist or Catholic groups as divisive and threatening to the social order, just as immigrant Muslims are perceived as threats in France today. If we justify the erasure of religious identity in France today, what is the limiting principle to foreclose its expansion tomorrow?