Sunday, August 26, 2007

Preserving Secular Dominance

My buddy Jay posts his answer to an ethics test he just took: Multiculturalism vs the Will of the Community. The basic issue is a North African muslim immigrant family living in a small, otherwise homogeneous town. Their kid is constantly getting picked on in school: she stands out as different due to her religious dress (a modified school uniform every other student has to wear), and because of her religious practices, like running off to pray five times every day. Of course she's basically a good kid: the teacher gets along with her, as does the class' star pupil.

My take (admittedly after far less thought and time than Jay put into his) is that the kid should be put into the school uniform, at the very least. Uniforms are very symbolic things. If everyone has to wear one, but if one person is exempted due to religious reasons, that person - especially if they're already behaving oddly - stands out even more. Non-standard dress likely serves to intensify the scrutiny, criticism, and bullying.

Religion is a bullshit excuse here. "Hey, my religion - which was revealed to me last night after a heart-to-heart with God - says I have to wear a ten inch dildo around my neck to ward off evil spirits, and if you don't let me I'm taking you to a human rights tribunal!"

People using religion as a reason for flaunting rules everyone else has to keep has irked me for a long time, whether it's Sikhs who join the mounties or the army, and insist they be allowed to wear a turban with the uniform (the army's solution was to have military issue turbans on the official kit list, but never actually have it in inventory), or muslims forcing their daughters into hijabs while their sons are allowed to wear anything they please. We live, after all, in a secular society, one in which people are allowed absolute freedom of religion in exchange for the subordination of divine law to law made by committee. It's less exciting, but millennia of history seem to show it to be better than theocracy.

Allowing in immigrants is fine, indeed it's necessary and desirable. Allowing them to flout written and established law due to their religions is not, because that principle followed a little further out has ugly consequences. All memes are not created equal, after all: some are nice (new recipes are always good); some are useful or at least harmless (say, acupuncture or vegetarianism); and a few are barbarous relics with no place in a modern society. Multiculturalism should mean allowing the best in from all over the world, while rejecting the worst. Muslims themselves are attempting - in a shambolic sort of way - to harness the benefits of globalization (capital flows and technology) while screening out what they see as dangerous foreign influences (particularly lascivious Western fashions and lifestyles.) There's no reason Western countries shouldn't react the same way: we want your food, but you can leave the burqas and the honor killings back in the dark ages where they came from.

(I'll make an exception for this. Gotta be a google-bomb on 'burqa'.)

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