After a controversial ban on Islamic headscarves in schools in 2004, the French government now goes further in banning the wearing of the full-body burka by adult women in public spaces generally. The ban raises important questions regarding constitutional politics, liberal political theory, identity formation and the legitimate social expectations of majority cultures. Seemingly clear answers in multicultural liberalism are complicated by the informing French principle of laïcité, through which the French state seeks to legitimize what would otherwise appear to serious, even incomprehensible, breaches of minority religious and cultural freedoms. However, nuanced theoretical arguments are overwhelmed by the trivial nature of the threat to French legal, political, and civic culture. One argument is that social opprobrium ought to be left to respond to an issue which must ultimately be characterized as de minimis. Should that not happen then the burka ban, together with the earlier headscarf ban, will likely come to be seen in retrospect as incremental steps in a progression of repressive policies. In all likelihood these policies will end badly, not only for Muslim minorities in Europe, but for the legitimacy and integrity of modern European liberal values as well.


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pp. 1032-1061
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