Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Tabloids support the right to wear a cross to work, but not an Islamic veil -- which is reasonable

‘I know you don't believe me,’ tweets Dan Hodges, ‘But you're going to read this and say the words “Daniel Hannan, you're right”’.
No I’m not. Because Daniel Hannan is clearly wrong.

When I was a teenager I was a sucker for ‘a foolish consistency’ – the kind of argument which pushes an analogy to its ridiculous
logical extreme.
In my young-and-foolish days, I would often argue myself down blind alleys, until I had managed to blockade myself into some undeniably-logical but morally-dubious position.
I can remember being particularly embarrassed one time when I suddenly found myself advocating trial marriages ... at a Church brains trust.

Tabloids support the right to wear a cross to work, but not an Islamic veil – odd, that
In his recent article for the Telegraph, Daniel Hannan tells us that Ralph Waldo Emerson considered a foolish consistency ‘the hobgoblin of little minds’ … which I take as meaning that Emerson thought it a bad thing.
People prefer pragmatists such as Blair and Clinton, claims Mr Hannan, to politicians who remain ‘remorselessly steadfast’.
Indeed, as if you needed any further persuading, Mr Hannan then suggests, as examples of such ‘steadfast’ minds, Enoch Powell (famous for his racist ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968), and the American politician Ron Paul (according to one authority, the most conservative Congressman in America). Hardly, you might think, the most compelling examples of people-I-would-wish-to-emulate.

Most of all, you would have thought that Daniel Hannan might have noticed the clue in the term ‘foolish consistency’. It is a foolish idea to push ANY principle to its absolute logical extreme.
There is a truth in the saying that the punishment should fit the crime, but we don’t pull our children’s legs off when we find them mistreating a daddy-longlegs.
And God wants us to ‘love our enemies’, but that has to stop short of giving them our state secrets.
Etc. etc.
These are the kinds of arguments you usually grow out of as you leave adolescence.

Not so Daniel Hannan.
Despite the fact that the term calls itself foolish, despite the opprobrium of Emerson, and despite the dubious company of Powell and Paul, Hannan ploughs on with his theory regardless.
‘To those of us cursed with an Enochian insistence on logic’, he asserts, ‘either people should be given a dispensation when it comes to wearing religious insignia or they shouldn't. If citizens are given a special right to wear crosses at work, the same must apply to burqas, turbans and the rest.’
Any attempt to do otherwise, says Hannan, is to apply double standards. ‘The essence of a free society’, he asserts, ‘is the right to wear what you want’.

Have we the right to wear what we want?
It is, of course, utter nonsense. Society, through its laws, has just as much right to impose a code of dress as it has to impose laws of behaviour.
Arguing that ‘freedom’ is the right to dress as I want is as untenable as suggesting that I should be allowed to park where I want, defecate where I want, walk where I want, do what I want.
Would Mr Hannan allow someone to walk past a school playground wearing clothing that breached standards of decency?
Or would he allow parents to bind their daughter’s feet as they did in 19th-century China?
Of course not.

It is, therefore, indeed, a ‘foolish consistency’ to try to argue that we ought to support wearing the burqa because we allow people to wear a cross.
It is an argument akin to allowing Lewis Hamilton to speed through the Metro Centre at 70mph on the grounds that he usually drives much faster at Silverstone.
This is because the two ‘religious insignia’, in fact, have no affinity beyond the term 'religious insignia'. They have different denotations, different connotations, are of different size, are made of different materials, and are 'worn' in different ways.
They are a different case because they are different cases.

Strangely enough, I am not personally convinced that we should ban the burqa – I would at least acknowledge many valid arguments against doing so.
But I can tell you plainly that one such argument is NOT the fact that I am allowed to wear a cross on a chain discretely under my shirt.

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