The mirror’s image, it tells me it’s home time… Why is Islam targeted for special criticism by pop-#atheism?

SecularPartyFollowing the revelation that the Secular Party is a racist ‘Ban the Burqa’ party in disguise, I cast my mind to the peculiar social phenomenon regarding pop-atheist critiques of Islam.  It runs something like this:

  1. Pop-atheist identifies an unpleasant aspect of Islam which has a direct comparison in non-Islamic society.
  2. Pop-atheist damns Islam for having the unpleasant aspect.
  3. Pop-atheist ignores non-Islamic counterpart.

On the Secular Party’s website, they declare:

We propose that certain cultural and religious practices that specifically and significantly limit the rights and freedoms of women in Australia be prohibited. This includes situations where women are forced or coerced into wearing garments such as burqas, and where the freedom of movement of women is limited or restricted. [Source]

Despite stating that freedoms are being curtailed in the name of ‘security’ and the ‘war on terror’, they also declare:

The Secular Party supports a ban on identity hiding-garments or other items, including burqas and motorcycle helmets, in public places where there are legitimate security and/or safety concerns, or where personal identification is required. The Secular Party supports the right of relevant officials to request that such items be removed. [Source: Ibid.]

They further declare:

The Secular Party believes that the religious indoctrination of children in schools violates the rights of the child. The requirement, whether by parents or schools, that children wear religious attire, is a form of indoctrination. The Secular Party therefore opposes this practice. It is the policy of the Secular Party that all forms of religious attire be prohibited in all schools. [Source: Ibid.]

By which they mean burqas.

The interesting part is the way that the — quite frankly — racist attack on burqas is justified.  Following yesterday’s post, the NSW Secular Party senate candidate, Christopher Owen, tried to argue that the important part wasn’t the reference to the burqa; the important part is the clause which modifies the attack on the burqa.

As we’re about to see, the argument is specious and akin to a person claiming that the ‘I’m not racist but…’ part of ‘I’m not racist, but I hate the Chinese’ proves that they’re not racist.  Further, while Owen was arguing with me on his ‘official’ Twitter, he was singing a different story on his personal Twitter:

Let’s start with the prohibition on burqas.  The ‘I’m not racist but…’ part of the prohibition is the ‘forced or coerced’ qualification.  So what counts as coercion?  We can look at it as a kind of spectrum.  On the one hand, there’s the woman who is tied down while men pull a burqa over her (never happens).  On the other hand, there’s the amnesiac woman who wakes up from a coma in a world with nobody in it who finds a burqa and, apropos nothing, decides to put on the burqa (never happens).  Between these two extremes is a whole lot of grey.

Reading between the lines, it’s clear that the Secular Party believes that women are coerced into wearing burqas.  It’s conceivable that they think there’s incredible social pressure on women to conform to particular standards of beauty or appropriate attire…

Oh, hey!  Islamic society is just like our society in that regard!  Isn’t that amazing?  Yet the Secular Party singled out the burqa for special comment, but didn’t say much about prohibiting ‘situations’ in which women were coerced into wearing makeup, skirts, and high heels.

Worse, this creates the situation where Islamic women are under the assumption that they need to demonstrate that they’re not being coerced into wearing the burqa.  It’s outright offensive and Islamophobic.

Similar problems occur under the policy that officials should have the right to ‘request’ that burqas be removed for ‘security’ reasons.  For the vast majority of Muslims in Australia, culturally sensitive requests of this kind have never been a difficulty.  The problem has been where the requests were not culturally sensitive, usually as a result of the clerk or whomever feeling ‘uncomfortable’ by the burqa.

So what is the point of this policy?  The Secular Party says elsewhere on its website that too many ‘rights’ have been taken away due to the ‘war on terror’, and yet here is the same party making a stink about the ‘right’ of officials to request people remove their burqa.  Either the party wants what is currently the case, or the party is seeking additional powers for ‘officials’.  Regardless, why raise the issue unless you’ve got a problem with the burqa?

And thus we get to the final of the anti-burqa triad.  Although it doesn’t mention which piece of religious attire it means, there aren’t too many other pieces of religious attire relevant to schools.  Do Jewish children wear yarmulkes?  If I wear an hilariously clever t-shirt saying ‘There is no God and religions are a lie’, does this count as religious attire?

Anyway, the justification for the ban on parents being able to dress their children how they want in public schools is that they don’t want indoctrination.  ‘We are restricting your freedoms to protect you from indoctrination.’

Indeed, all three policies would likely contravene of our international obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Targeting specific expressions of culture — even when you have cute little ‘I’m not racist but…’ clauses — is morally wrong.

It’s worrying that these policies aren’t a million miles from what the French government is doing:

France’s interior minister has defended a ban on wearing full-face veils in public after a police check on a Muslim woman was followed by two nights of rioting near Paris, exposing tensions in suburbs with many immigrants.

The 2010 law was brought in by the conservative former presidentNicolas Sarkozy and targets burqa and niqab veils that fully conceal the face, rather than the headscarf that is more common among French Muslim women.

A police check on a couple in the southwest suburb of Trappes provoked an angry confrontation that led overnight on Friday to a police station being surrounded by several hundred people, some hurling rocks. Another building was torched in several hours of street violence that led to six arrests.

“Police did their job perfectly,” the interior minister, Manuel Valls, told RTL radio.

“The law banning full-face veils is a law in the interests of women and against those values having nothing to do with our traditions and values. It must be enforced everywhere,” he said. [Source: ‘France’s niqab and burqa ban defended by minister, despite riots in Trappes’, The Guardian 23 July 2013]

Perhaps the easiest way to show this exceptionalism is to look at its most extreme expression within the New Atheist crowd: the odious racist, Pat Condell.  Here is his rant against multiculturalism (if you can stomach it):

The important claim here is that if you consume halal meat, you are participating in animal cruelty.  First off, the claim is not necessarily true and there are ways to reconcile animal welfare with ritual killing.

But more importantly, check out the rage towards Muslims for daring to kill animals inhumanely while not acknowledging — in any way, shape, or form — that the vast majority of animal welfare problems are more relevant to the meat production industry generally rather than Islam specifically.

And this is what we see reflected in the policies of the Secular Party.  Rage towards the burqa for representing anti-feminist coercion, for being a security threat, and for being a form of indoctrination, without acknowledging that these problems are more relevant to social issues generally rather than Islam specifically.

The Secular Party’s policies are racism in a suit and tie.  Little more.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

One thought on “The mirror’s image, it tells me it’s home time… Why is Islam targeted for special criticism by pop-#atheism?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: