Criticize the Burka, but Don’t Ban It

Aug. 10 2018

The former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson recently found himself censured by members of his own party for a newspaper column he wrote opposing Denmark’s decision to outlaw the burka, in which, however, he also stated that the garment—which covers the face entirely except for the eyes—is “oppressive” and that “it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes.” Sohrab Ahmari comments:

[M]ore than most of the dullards who rise to the higher echelons in Europe, [Johnson] has his finger on the popular pulse. He knows that anxiety over the burka courses through the whole European body politic.

Few native Europeans dare voice it honestly. If a former top diplomat is raked over the intersectionality coals for doing so, imagine what would happen to Average Joe. But the anxiety is real enough. And it is legitimate, because the sight of the burka in the public square crystallizes the sense that European immigration and assimilation policy has gone horribly wrong. Concluding that this is so isn’t tantamount to hatred. Constantly bottling up anxiety, moreover, is no less unhealthy for a collective psyche than it is for the individual. . . .

I never got accustomed to the burka. But it was an encounter that I had no choice but to tolerate. I was born and raised in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Muslim veiling was thus not alien to me. Imagine, then, the discomfort of the plumber or electrician from London’s more blue-collar precincts. Now add to that cultural discomfort a prohibition against expressing any discomfort, enforced on pain of social ostracism and joblessness. It’s a recipe for populist backlash.

Does all this mean that I would support a blanket ban against the full-face veil? Probably not. As much as I fret about the incohesive society bred by the burka’s presence in Europe, I also worry about the Continent’s high-handed secular progressivism. I wouldn’t want to give state agents the right to regulate religious practices in Europe, because I’m sure that those agents would go out of their way to target faithful Jews and Christians, not least to shield themselves from the same charge of Islamophobia that they casually hurl at the likes of Johnson.

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More about: Boris Johnson, Denmark, European Islam, Politics & Current Affairs, Religious Freedom, United Kingdom

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria