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New Limits on Religious Freedom
Illustration by Amanda Duffy

David Johnston, author of Earth, Empire and Sacred Text, Christine Schirrmacher, a scholar with the Institute of Islamic Studies of the Evangelical Alliance in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and Joseph Cumming, director of the reconciliation program at Yale Divinity School, discuss whether Christians should support laws that ban Muslim women from wearing the face veil in public.

Christians Should Oppose the Muslim Face Veil Ban

David Johnston

Recent efforts in Europe to ban the face veil (the niqab or burqa) are not so much concerned with women's rights and security as they are with obtaining votes from an electorate that is increasingly xenophobic and anxious about national identity.

Indeed, it's a convenient tactic for politicians to unite people from the Right (concerned with the "threat of Islam") and the Left (moved by issues of gender equality and secularism) in order to draw attention away from pressing social and economic issues.

First, let's clear away some false problems. The specter of "Eurabia" is a no-show. Studies point to the decline of Muslim birthrates in ways that parallel other populations worldwide. Also, over the centuries Islamic jurists never agreed on the specifics of modest dress for women. Local cultures determined what women wore. The face covering is mostly a recent invention, and, in fact, a rarity, even if numbers seem to be growing. Some sources put the number of women wearing it in all of Europe at 2,000.

The wider issue is that worries over identity have been exacerbated by globalization and a wave of religious revivalism across the board. France has by far the highest percentage of Muslims in Europe (8.3 percent, more than double the UK's ...

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New Limits on Religious Freedom
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November 2010

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