Beyond the Veil

Kenan Malik in Padaemonium:

ScreenHunter_336 Sep. 22 15.38‘Cultural values that oppress and diminish women have no place in our society’, wrote the journalistAlison Pearson last week. I agree. The values embodied in the burqa and the niqab, the belief that women should be hidden from view for reasons of modesty or religious belief, should be trashed wherever they appear. But such values can be challenged, and new ones crafted, not top down through state prohibitions, as Pearson and others suggest, but only bottom up through social engagement. That is why, from the other side of the debate, Tariq Modood’s insistence that people should be ‘required’ to show respect towards different cultural mores, and that public arrangements be adapted to accommodate them, is also so problematic; it is an approach that eviscerates both civil society and the idea of freedom. The corollary to the right to wear the burqa is the right, indeed in my eyes the obligation, to challenge the practice of wearing it.

It is not just in the controversy over the burqa, but much more broadly in our discussions about culture and values, that the obsession with the state, and with bans and prohibitions, and the failure to nourish civil society, or even to grasp its importance, damages social life. If we want to get beyond the veil, in the sense both of moving the debate on, and of ridding the world of such medievalism, we need to think less about state proscriptions, and more about the cultivation and the transformation of civil society.

More here.