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January 21, 2004
Le Taliban, C'est Nous

Does anyone remember the stories of Taliban-led Afghanistan, where kites were outlawed and officials roamed the streets looking for men with no beards? Apparently the French remember them all to well and are about to adopt some of the same tactics:

France’s plan to bar religious symbols from state schools took a further confusing turn by Wednesday after the education minister said a proposed ban on Muslim veils could also outlaw beards and bandannas if they were judged to be a sign of faith. ...

Education Minister Luc Ferry made the surprising statement about disciplining bearded students on Tuesday in a National Assembly legal committee hearing about the draft law on the ban due to be debated next month. Discussing the plan to remove Islamic headscarves from state schools, he told a communist deputy who asked about a pupil with a beard, “As soon as it becomes a religious sign and the code is apparent, it would fall under this law.”

When this new law was first proposed banning headscarves, yarmulkes, and ostentatious crucifixes, a wave of disbelief and ridicule crashed across the blogosphere, until some pundits tried to tell us that we didn't understand the subtleties of French culture and secularism. France, we were told, had freed itself from all bonds of religious inflexibility because of events like the Dreyfus affair, and the secularism that France enforced was a necessity for their forward progress over the past century. Americans were cautioned not to apply North American standards to a uniquely French problem.

Well, unfortunately, this is the result of trying to stifle legitimate freedom of expression and religion; you make yourself into the thought police as you free yourself from all bonds of common sense. French police will be tasked with determining whether a beard is meant as a religious symbol, as opposed to a cultural symbol, or just a disinclination to shave. I'd like to see the guidelines on that process; I suspect it will rely on racial profiling. What happens when a beard is discovered, to the dismay and outrage of the French authorities? Will police have razors to shave off offending whiskers, or simply arrest the criminals and take them to the hair stylist? Even if this particular interpretation of the law is rejected, the law is still so broad that the police can literally decide on the spot if a certain item of clothing is too ostentatiously religious and force the wearer to remove it, or face prosecution.

The French may believe that they are upholding the principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité, but they are turning themselves into a Western Taliban in order to maintain only the patina of cultural freedom. Is this a serious partner for multiculturalism, peace, and freedom? I think not, and I find it curious that the people who are most enraged over Bush's "failure" to convince France to join the war in Iraq are the same people who accuse the Administration of attempting to create the same exact atmosphere here as we're seeing in France.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 21, 2004 12:32 PM

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