“Anti-Muslim, yes… but not fanatically so”

Birthe Rønn Hornbech, the Danish Minister for Integration has taken a commendable stance against attempts to legislate about people’s private use of religious symbols while executing public office. The backdrop of her argument is that the Danish People’s Party has made a campaign against judges wearing the Muslim veil, and in particular the burqa. Social Democrats have made similar calls, though they have been quick to uncall the calls. Instead they have wimpishly called for a ‘debate’ on the matter. The government – oh, ever so efficient – called for a ‘fast-working group’ to come up with suggestions on the matter.

The debate might be posed in terms of a ‘strict’ republicanism á la France where religious symbols are banned from public office altogether (neither Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim, nor Buddhist symbols are permitted) and a ‘liberal’ republicanism where such symbols are permitted, but where the executives of public office are promoted to it by merit and held to account by publicity of their decisions. The minister’s stance here is clearly in favour of the latter position which says that we ought to evaluate a public official in terms of the decisions she makes rather than the symbols and beliefs she privately carries. This assumes of course that citizens (say, children in school or defendants in a court case) can distinguish between public and private roles of the official.

I am personally clearly in favour of the ‘liberal’ position, and consider the former to be part of the less-benevolent heritage of the French Revolution. But the thing is this: Though the debate might be put in these terms (‘strict’ and ‘liberal’ republicanism), this does not seem to be the real issue in the Danish debate. It really is about how we can curb the representation (symbolically at least) of Islam without breaking the law.

Anyway, the reactions so far are the following:

The Danish People’s Party have called for the Prime Minister to call his integration minister to order. Interestingly, and honestly as always, the Vice Chairman of the Danish People’s Party Kristian Thulesen Dahl states that “in many ways we are anti-Muslim” … but at the same time he denies that they should be “fanatically” so.

Naser ‘the Democratic Muslim’ Khader, from the New Alliance throws up a couple of non sequiturs. He disagrees with the minister’s interpretation of what the recent court commission has stated, and then says: “whether it is wise or unwise to legislate on these matters [religious symbols, in particular the head scarf] is another issue entirely, but that it should be against our task as legislators is in my view misguided”. The minister’s core argument is that legislators OUGHT not legislate on such matters, and she advances reasons for holding this view. Khader offers nothing of the sort. Instead he states that the minister ‘lacks focus’ by calling the Danish People’s Party (and other parties in favour of legislating on this, mind you) anti-Muslim, while keeping up a dialogue with what in Khader’s view are bad Muslims – Hizb-ut Tahrir. (For the rest of us, Hizb-ut Tahrir is just another bunch of raging anti-liberals). In this way (in Khader’s mind that is) the minister ‘underestimates the danger posed by the Islamists’. What Khader does not see is that he is hanging out with the anti-liberal crowd.

Oh, and while I am writing this: The Government has now made a proposal for Parliament to legislate against judges carrying religious symbols.

My immediate reaction to this:

1) I sense for the umpteenth time the urge for our government (no, broader, by Parliament) to by all means “DO SOMETHING!!”, whether that doing has any relation to their stated purpose or not, whether that purpose is defensible or not, and whatever the practical consequences of the proposed regulation.

2) Oh no, I dare not ask; what comes next?

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