I don’t like what you wear but I defend your right to wear it.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled this week that private companies can legally ban employees from wearing religious, political, or philosophical signs. I feel a bit uncomfortable about this ruling and here’s why. But first, let me say that I am atheist. I can’t think of anything I could wear that would fall into any of those categories so it doesn’t affect me in any way. I also view religions as somewhat ridiculous. Imagine someone tells you we ought to wear crocheted Marge Simpson hats in public because aliens say we must and it would be wrong to disobey them. We would, I hope, ask for proof that these aliens exist. Suppose this is their response. I’m going to copy and paste from my favourite philosopher again here, Peter Singer,

‘I have encountered these aliens in moments of deep despair, and they have entered into my head and my heart, and I love them and know I can trust them. Open your hearts to them, and you too will come to love them and see that they are right.’

The President of Good and Evil (pg 124)

The main determinant of what religion we are is what religion our parents are. Not many children brought up in Christian families become Islamic and not many children brought up in Islamic families become Christian. Despite my view of religion I still respect a person’s right to religious freedom. It’s possible to reject one or all religions *and* allow others to express religious freedom. That’s what being in a diverse society is all about: tolerance and acceptance.

We should not ban people from wearing head scarves or crosses or any other religious symbol if that’s what they want to do. A ban will ostracise those people further. People can also be quite contrary if you try to tell them what to do and how to behave. It’s far better to encourage reflection and critical thinking and then allow people to make their own decisions.

Another reason, and probably the most significant for me, is that a woman wearing a hijab or a Christian cross is not harming anyone by doing so. There’s no valid reason to ban something when it is completely harmless. We could even argue that it may be harmful to them by limiting job opportunities and the chance to engage fully with society.

There are also likely to be cultural aspects we don’t understand. Imagine you suddenly find yourself in a different country where it is considered normal for women to walk around topless. It feels strange and embarrassing for you to do that and so you continue to dress in the cultural norms you are used to. But local people tease and bully you; it’s hard to find employment and make friends but when you have been taught all your life not to bare your breasts in public it’s very difficult to change overnight.

Can we just be a bit more tolerant, please?

10 responses to “I don’t like what you wear but I defend your right to wear it.”

  1. Imagine a country where all women are forced to wear a hijab, and the consequences to those women if they refuse to.. or protest against it. Countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia.. those are the laws off the land… their culture.. For those women, seeing a symbol of their oppression as a symbol of ‘choice’ for some feminists, in n the west and the state of feminism, that does not seem to care about them, must be depressing?

    • Yes, I agree that forcing women to wear the hijab is a terrible violation of pretty basic rights and very oppressive towards women. I also know that some women (and even men) in these countries are trying to protest the hijab and I 100% support them.

      However we’re doing exactly what they do in those countries but in reverse when we say women cannot wear the hijab. I want to live in a society without rules about what women can and can’t wear. I value the freedom to wear whatever I want, no matter how ridiculous it may be. I would rather these women come to our society and see that women here can wear whatever they want. There are no enforced rules about dress and men do not tell us what to wear. Hopefully they will see this is a great improvement over what they have in their society and they will embrace it and over time ditch the hijab by choice. But the fact is we are not giving them that choice. This law is telling them they cannot wear what they want. This will very likely have the effect of making them embrace their religion and hijab even more strongly than before because people can be quite contrary.

    • I think that’s terrible and completely disagree with forcing women to wear a hijab. My argument is that I don’t want us to do the same thing but in reverse.

  2. I’m actually even all for letting women have the choice to wear a hijab, however they must be aware of the context worldwide. The thing that really concerns me, is some people are using/elevating the hijab as a symbol of choice! To me that seems to be perverse, when very many women do not have a choice (beyond, they can choose not to wear it, and then get beaten/punished, great choice /sarc)

    • Someone women in Britain do wear it by choice. I’ve heard women say they want to wear it. I think it’s pretty crazy but that’s what they say. It’s true that in those countries you mentioned they don’t have a choice.

  3. What’s the saying – I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more, if only they knew they were slaves” seriously how do you tell a child (ie my daughter) why girls wear it, and boys don’t.. (that’s not fair!) or on a beach, when we saw young girls 9 and under fully covered, when their brothers running around in shorts… If it is all for ‘modesty’ well women who are not ‘modest’ should be able to be treated no differently… and to a large extent, being modest, means potentially, doing as they are told, and not challenging male authority. not all cultures are equal.. Saudi Arabia, as an example, is just sick, and should be laughed out of existence.

    • Yes, I agree and would not want to wear it either. There is a little girl at the primary school my children attend who wears the hijab and I feel sorry for her since it is clearly something forced upon her. Adult women might say they wear it by choice but you cannot say the same for a child. I think it is a symbol of oppression and that men are not required to wear it makes it discriminatory. But I still think we should be accepting and use methods other than force to help them see that.

      I largely agree with this:

      John Stuart Mill, the great nineteenth-century liberal, thought that society should use criminal law only to prevent harm to others, but he did not think that the state had to be neutral vis-à-vis different cultures. On the contrary, he thought society has, and should use, the many means of education and persuasion available to it, in order to counter false beliefs and encourage people to find the best forms of living.
      Mill would argue that if we allow sufficient time for immigrants to be exposed to the influences of education and proximity to different ways of life, they will make good choices. Given how little confidence we can have in other options, that path remains worth trying.


      • I agree, but to even ask why, or talk about it, or just point a finger and laugh at men who say it is about ‘modesty’ – tends to get people labelled ‘islamophobic’.

  4. Ref: “Mill would argue that if we allow sufficient time for immigrants to be exposed to the influences of education and proximity to different ways of life, they will make good choices”

    well it works when numbers are low. BUT, if mass immigration, monoculture immigrant ghettoes form, self segregation and insisting on keeping their ways. Importing the worsts of their home culture, this has happened in a number of UK cities.. Interestingly a Pakistani friend of mine, says some of these communities in the UK, are more backward an old fashioned than Pakistan, as they tend to import brides/relatives from rural regions, where many of the communities originated, vs more modern Pakistan. As a woman, she married an English guy, yet male relations play around with English women, then settle down with a bride from back ‘home’ as a more suitable wife.. ie non westernised and obedient. bit of a shock to hear her say “bloody paki’s” once or twice about her own community (mainly the men) ! My first girlfriend was Indian(british born), and I remember her being in bits after being called a paki in the streets (the UK IS NOT like that anymore, I rarely here the word now)

    my kids for example have non English speaking as a 1st language grandparents and other relatives. but are NOT in a slovak/Italian/Spanish community where, brides are imported from ‘home’ country, some people only speak English poorly and they conside themselves Slovak British, for example.. or care, or know anything at all about politics in those countries. they are just British. As a country we sleep walked into this, it did not happen with communities of say Jamaican origin and just assumed everyone would become ‘british’ with respect to UK cultural values.

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