From open values to burqa bans
Have Europeans lost the habit of tolerance?
Last year, the debate in Norway sparked by a police officer who wanted to wear the hijab as part of her uniform led to the Justice Minister having a breakdown and the burning of veils in the street. Across Europe there appears to be growing intolerance of religious symbols, and Islamic ones in particular.
Are democratic secular values really under so much threat from the tiny numbers of women who wear the full-face veil? What does the demand for bans tell us about contemporary European societies? As Europe faces increasing economic challenge, the energy put into this issue might seem misguided. Although opposition to the veil is often made in the name of women’s rights, some feminists argue it is wrong to focus on the symbols rather than the reality of women’s oppression. They suggest the best way to liberate women is to improve their standards of living, and encourage them to engage more in public life, not to shun them on the basis of their clothing choices.