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France, Canada and other countries have introduced hijab bans - bans on essential Islamic dress that hijab-practicing Muslim women cannot appear in public without.

Adding to this the proposed values of personal freedoms in the West versus what most people in the West would agree to be a backward state, why is there a hypocrisy of standards in the view of the West regarding Islamic dress, and specifically hijab?

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    There is no general hijab ban in France, although there is a ban against certain forms of hijab that has been criticised on the grounds you suggest. It isn't a very popular or widespread view however.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 17 at 16:36
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    Could you add a link outlining the differences between niqab burqa and hijabs? No need to go into religious or cultural details, just a basic visual representations of all 3. People may be discussing 1 rather than the other, but not defining those terms is going to lead to confusion. an embedded image would be even better. Sep 17 at 17:41
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    I would like to suggest an improvement to the question. As currently written, it suggests that there is no concern in the West (an imprecise term, but one that I take to mean countries of primarily European descent in this context) about restrictions on Islamic dress. However, perhaps less would be a more accurate phrase? For instance, as the article says, no less a personage than the PM of Canada spoke out against a niqab/burka restriction passed in his own country, by his own party.
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 19 at 22:23
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    This question should be retitled - there is no "European policy". There are French and Canadian laws, but France != Europe, although France is in Europe.
    – Aaron F
    Sep 20 at 18:42
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    It's worth noting that the Quebec (not Canada, Quebec is a province in Canada) rule is about "religious symbols and attire", not Islamic dress. It's not just Muslims that are targeted/offended by this, but Jews who wear Kippahs (aka yarmulkes) and Catholics who wear a cross. It's also worth noting that the law included an invocation of the Notwithstanding clause (section 33 of the charter of rights and freedoms) that recognizes that it is an infringement of rights and imposes a 5 year sunset on the rule
    – Flydog57
    Sep 20 at 21:44

14 Answers 14

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According to western moral values, the two examples are not similar.

There is the belief in many western countries that certain clothing is degrading for people who have to wear it, specifically the niqab. As mentioned by Italian Philosophers 4 Monica, there is a difference between a hijab and a niqab. The difference may be lost in translation when such legislation is debated, either accidentally from cultural unfamiliarity or deliberately to stoke emotions.

So laws which require that kind of clothing are seen as bad, and laws which ban it are less bad. Or possibly good. The thing with freedom of choice is that choices have social consequences, and people might be pressured by the society around them into choices they wouldn't make in a vacuum.

So there are laws to prevent people from getting pressured. To give a slightly different example, there are countries where one can say how one voted, but one isn't allowed to take a picture of the ballot to prove how one voted. Because even if it were freely done by some, the mere possibility of this choice would allow others to be pressured into it. Another example are the bans of assisted suicide in many countries. While arguably people have the right to a self-determined death, the abuse potential is just too great...

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    I see very little abuse potential for allowing somebody to wear what they want too. Sep 17 at 22:33
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    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica, the problem is that people who don't want to cover their face might come under social pressure from a vocal minority of the comnunity. The rest of the Western society finds that kind of pressure problematic. An admittedly drastic way around that is banning face covers. Because it is drastic, such bans are controversial. But in the Western social matrix, they are less controversial than requiring face covers.
    – o.m.
    Sep 18 at 7:16
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Sep 18 at 16:22
  • This answer takes an acceptable approach however actual hijab (not niqab) bans actually apply; e.g. France has worked to "ban girls under 18 from wearing the hijab in public" and "prevent mothers from wearing hijabs on their children’s school trips and would ban the “burkini,” a full-body swimsuit": time.com/6049226/france-hijab-ban Can you add a response to this to your answer? Sep 19 at 2:17
  • @AhmedTawfik, see my second paragraph. Westerners are not familiar with the distinctions, someone says "ban this" and the image in the mind of the audience is fuzzy.
    – o.m.
    Sep 19 at 8:38
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One it's face both laws seem similar -- requirements on what women can wear. But when examined there are many differences:

  • The French law allows women a great range in clothing, whereas the Afghan law much more strongly limits free choice -- no exposed skin or hair except a small part of the face.

  • Part of the French ban (the 2004 "school headscarf ban" is a prohibition on all conspicuous religious symbols worn in schools, whereas the Afghanistan law favors one particular religion (a hijab is a religious garment worn by Muslim women).

  • One law is ostensibly feminist whereas the other is the opposite. Along with a required hijab for women goes a lack of access to education and limited ability to work or travel outside the home. Banning them is seen as promoting equality for women by rejecting those accompanying practices that may be forced on young girls by an insular community.

  • Requiring the face to be visible has some practical use as regards security concerns.

  • The French law is new, controversial among the French and likely to be changed back -- essentially they also see the law as a bit hypocritical. Whereas debate in the Taliban seems primarily on whether to require a burka -- a more extreme full-body covering generally felt to be hot and smelly.

  • Perhaps the largest difference is in the penalties. In France it's either a warning, a fine of at most $40 US dollars, or having to attend a class. The Taliban legal system isn't as uniform or well codified, but typical penalties range from vigorous corporal punishment to summary execution.

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    @AhmedTawfik I added a reference to the particular school dress law in point 2. You should be able to see that particular law is "all conspicuous religious symbols" in school. You should also be able to find mention of how Sikh's, who have had more time, had been able to adapt. Let me know if I'm reading that incorrectly. I'm not sure how "remove dress" is effectively different from my opening "requirements on what women can wear". It seems more inflammatory -- as if we're forcing Muslim girls to wear fewer cloths than their non-Muslim classmates. Sep 19 at 3:05
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    @AhmedTawfik so you think parents should be allowed to send their kids to school wearing chastity belts or bondage gear, because otherwise, you are "forcing them to remove dress"? I mean, it's a technically correct description, but comes loaded with a ton of cultural and religious baggage. Sep 19 at 6:30
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    @AhmedTawfik: " My question argues that the hijab is not just a religious symbol, but is an essential item of clothing for Muslim women" => this feel contradictory to me; you argue it is not a religious symbol, yet that it is essential for religious purposes. I wonder if "symbol" is the key issue. The French law does not use "symbol" to mean what the religion considers a symbol, but "symbol" as in "clearly denotes the religion", and the hijab or niqab clearly denote the Muslim religion. Sep 19 at 13:52
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    @AhmedTawfik aren't you being judgmental (and thus, hypocritical) to imply that there is no religious group for which chastity belts are "essential clothing"? Sep 19 at 19:08
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    @AhmedTawfik Indeed the hijab serves a practical purpose (the niqab and burqa more so): To remove women from public life. This is not acceptable in any flavor of Western culture.
    – user39890
    Sep 20 at 14:47
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+1 Probably the well-known tendency of people to see faults in others that they do not see in themselves. France's, and subsequently Quebec's - not Canada's - , curbing of Islamic dress is often talked about but not all that strongly criticized.

In fact, in a recent Federals leader's debate in Canada, the host's questions directed at the Quebec candidate made the news when it was felt she was too pushy in condemning discriminatory Quebec laws or proposed laws, one of which is Bill 21.

In the preamble to a question last Thursday to Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, debate moderator Shachi Kurl said: “You deny that Quebec has problems with racism, yet you defend legislation, such as bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones and allophones.”

Bill 96 is a language law reform currently before the Quebec legislature, while Bill 21 refers to the secularism law that came into effect in 2019 and bars certain government employees, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

(note that Quebec is strongly shielded from Federal constitutional challenges on those bills by the Notwithstanding Clause, which is basically an opt-out clause protecting provincial prerogatives).

So, good question, asking for some reflection. As William says, Islamophobia has definitely been on the rise, for a considerable amount of time.

However... the Taliban dress code is not to be taken in isolation from other measures, such as limiting women's right to work (yet to be reversed), access to education (separate but equal has a tendency to miss the second). And the Taliban's previous stint in the 90s included extensive violence and unpleasantness, while there are reports of summary executions. Nor is the imposition of the Taliban's dress code a clear return to Afghan "traditional dress". Finally, as 1 commenter has noted, in some conservative Muslim countries, penalties for "fashion infringements" have resulted in considerable legal punishment. Which is a bit ridiculous, isn't it?

As regrettable as the French and Quebec approach is, there are strong legal protections against Muslims being discriminated against, as well as women. If Afghanistan had only its dress code to be worried about, everyone would be much more relaxed in covering its news.

Also, while many Westerners rather amusingly criticize Muslim dress code that would been Western dress code 80 years or more ago ("well-behaved" women did not go out without a shawl or a hat), things like the niqab are considered extremely controlling, by women, for feminist, not Islamophobic, reasons.

Hijab/niqab What's the difference?

From wikimedia, the one on the left is a hijab, basically a big shawl. Women wearing hijabs in BC, Canada often use much smaller ones than this one, with less or no shoulder coverage and often wear Western clothes otherwise. The niqab however covers the mouth and most of the face. Considerably less common, actual niqabs worn here tend to be "grimmer" in nature than this particular picture, all black, with mostly the eyes showing, less cheekbones and forehead. Full body black robes too. Other people have also provided links, with perhaps more representative niqabs. And certainly more representative of the Taliban's version which is required to be black, with a full robe and black gloves.

enter image description here

Muslim doctrine for the niqab isn't all that clear either, making it seem more like coercion than a straight out religious obligation, at least to Westerners:

According to the majority of Muslim scholars and Islamic schools of thought, face veiling is not a requirement of Islam; however a minority of Muslim scholars, particularly among the Sunni Salafi and Wahhabism movement, assert that women are required to cover their faces in public.

In short, while many Westerners don't think much of the idea of banning shawls, the niqab gets a lot more pushback because we feel women should be not be controlled compelled to wear clothing that men would refuse to wear due to discomfort. And most of us have a really hard time understanding why someone would choose to wear one and believing they are not being pressured by their family or husband. There is also the question of public safety and identity: asking people to show their face for identity papers or on drivers licenses is not unreasonable.

But... the acceptance of dress regulations targeting normal Muslim fashion, like shawls (hijabs), like modest swimsuits, IF a woman chooses it freely, is a stain on liberal* Western values.

* in the classical meaning of liberal, like Locke.

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  • I dislike the Wikipedia article quoted as it tries to pin niqab on the "Wahhabi Salafis" as many people like to simplistically do with any perceived "extreme" part of Islam. However, I suppose it is a good example of how the West's perception of niqab is like that.
    – The Z
    Sep 20 at 0:14
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    I'm not sure the glamorous fashion photo from this answer would count as niqab in the countries where it's traditional. These images demonstrate the difference better: pbs.twimg.com/media/C66d_D6WsAUQWD_.jpg shoutoutuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/… Also this set of photographs show the transition: images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5bd733c834c4e296e8e53fd4/… womeninislamjournal.com/articles/2018/11/6/…
    – Ark-kun
    Sep 20 at 5:30
  • Currently this answer looks really good as it provides an in-depth and balanced explanation, dealing with both sides of the question (Afghan and Western perspectives). 👍 Sep 20 at 13:53
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    @Ark-kun true, but I did not set out to get glamorous. BBC has several cartoon-style images detailing hijab vs burqa vs niqab. But I wanted a permissible license to embed it directly. Also, freely available niqab images tend to show only the "worse" niqabs. I did not want to emotionally influence the discussion by showing the typical niqab, but rather strictly what a niqab is supposed to be like. While I explicitly noted that actual niqabs tend to be worse. If you find a cartoon-style depiction with creative commons type licensing, lemme know, Sep 20 at 18:12
  • @Ark-kun ok, so what is the license on your shoutoutuk.org or pbs one? I can replace mine if they fit. Please provide link. Sep 20 at 18:23
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(note: as requested by the tag, I am laying out the arguments I have seen. They do not necessarily represent my personal opinion.)

If you follow the arguments that were laid down in the discussions leading up to the various laws mentioned, you will see the reasoning quite clearly, though there are several different arguments brought forth by different people.

  • One argument sees these garments as a symbol of extremist/political Islam, an ideology responsible for dozens of terror attacks and hundreds of dead in Europe, hundreds of attacks and many thousands of dead globally. In this view, wearing such a symbolic piece of clothing is comparable to wearing a Nazi uniform or swastika - an affront to the victims of these ideologies. (in fact, wearing a Nazi uniform is a crime in Germany)
  • One argument considers the context of the clothing and origins, and argues that outside western countries, these dress-codes are commonly enforced, against the will of women, and a tool of oppression. Some proponents argue that even in the west, many women are forced by their family and while having no legal obligation to wear such clothes, very well are under social pressure to do so. Making it illegal gives these women a good argument to not wear the clothes, they already don't want to wear.
  • A similar argument states that in a free country, people should be free to wear whatever clothing they want. Strict dresscodes are a violation of this basic freedom. Note that none of the laws prescribe a specific clothing. There is a difference between laws that tell you what to do (limiting your freedom of choice to nothing) and laws that tell you what not to do (limiting your freedom of choice in minimally invasive ways). So by this argument, outlawing an otherwise enforced dresscode opens up a freedom that otherwise would not exist.
  • A big-picture argument sees this as one of many battles in a war between western culture and islamic expansion. Many of the proponents of head-covering bans are also against more Mosques, against Sharia courts, against ritual slaughter of animals and other "islamic" customs.
  • A more specific argument is often heard (even by those not agreeing to any of the above ones) when it comes to women in official positions - government offices, lawyers, judges, policewomen, etc. and states that such an obvious display of religious affiliation violates the separation of church and state by associating an official function with a religious conviction. This argument says that while acting as a representative of the state, people should not overtly display their religious, political or other beliefs. The muslim head coverings are the most common and most obvious such displays (e.g. those christians who choose to wear a piece of clothing to indicate their religious belief typically pick something like a necklace with a cross, easily hidden under clothes and even if not much less visible). Many (but not all) proponents of this argument do not single out muslim women, but argue for banning all religious symbols in this context. For example, there was a decade-long political fight in Germany to ban christian crosses from classrooms of public schools.

why is there a hypocrisy of standards in the view of the West regarding Islamic dress, and specifically hijab?

If western countries would enforce their own specific dresscode on women (i.e. telling them exactly what to wear), while decrying islamic dresscodes, that would be hypocritical.

But that is not the case. Even if you disagree with all of the arguments above, there is a qualitative difference between prescriptive and proscriptive rules.

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    There are also practical and safety aspects of this. If you wanted to enter a bank wearing a completely face-covering ski mask, they won't let you. In public places, unless there is a costume party, you are expected to not hide your identity. Wearing a completely face-covering mask, no matter if it has anything to do with religion or not, would allow people to trespass or commit various offenses much more freely.
    – vsz
    Sep 18 at 14:59
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    @divibisan : if I meet people I know, while they wear medical masks, I can still recognize them. But if they were wearing a full veil, concealing everything, it would be a different story.
    – vsz
    Sep 18 at 16:06
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    There are multiple fallacies here. 1. Wearing a swastika is not an essential part of any faith; and it's a political symbol, not a religious one. 2. Activities of extremists don't represent the perspective of the mainstream of any ideology. 3. Proposing that a law that tells you what not to do opens up more freedom is another fallacy, as each law can be represented as its opposite: "You can only wear clothing that reveals your hair" thus intentionally limiting freedom, and, the argument here is essential freedoms. Sep 19 at 2:52
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    @AhmedTawfik to 1: you might have noticed I wrote "ideology", not "religion". They're both ideologies. to 2: I said symbol, not representation. The Swastika used to be a common symbol for different purposes (check en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika) but today it is associated with fascism. to 3: Please read up on proscriptive vs. prescriptive laws, there is a lot of literature on that among legal scholars, but they all agree that these are two distinct categories.
    – Tom
    Sep 19 at 6:08
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    @AhmedTawfik I avoid the word "islamophobia" because more often than not it is used simply as a verbal hammer to beat down any criticism of Islam. That is not unique to this topic, racism and sexism are also words that express a real problem but are often used overly broad and as a dialectic tool instead of their actual meaning. I believe my 4th point expresses what you mean (cultural conflict, including fear of islamic expansion) without using loaded words.
    – Tom
    Sep 19 at 12:58
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+50

The dismissive answer is: Democracies are rife with contradictions, both deliberate and accidental, so why should views of head scarves be an exception?

The honest, short answer is deceptively simple: Islamophobia.

That islamophobia is on the rise is well documented. (e.g. this aggregation of studies, notably 2008 and 2010)

Important to this discussion, which helps to contextualize (thought not excuse) the French policy which seems to be the inciting issue for your question, is the combination of two things provided by the sources linked above.

  1. From the 2008 Germany/France/UK study Gallup cites, one of the interesting pieces of data is the extent to which it is the headscarf itself that is received by those prejudiced against Muslims as a threat signal. According to the 2008 data in the Gallup report, to these individuals, that garment identifies the wearer as devout, and part of the islamophobia definitional belief set includes that Islam is a religion of violence and extremism.

Thus, under this combination, "someone wearing the hijab is essentially making the deliberate choice to wear the uniform of a violent group". Because the hijab activates the fear in such a specific way, it also becomes the direct target of policy action.

  1. Headscarves are also seen as a sort of deliberate self-differentiation - a visible sign of 'otherness' and therefore a proud and publicly displayed refusal to become 'one of us.' This gets associated with various sentiments of disloyalty and so even if someone doesn't inhabit the extreme position of believing that Muslims are out to kill them, they are still likely to view displays of 'foreign' culture as inherently anti-patriotic.

There's some grounds for this, given in the APA's examination linked first in this answer: Muslim women who desire to wear the hijab self-describe it as a gesture of religious pride.

Someone expressing pride in something viewed as suspect to be a member of automatically translates that suspicion onto the person making the expression.

The French ban, in particular, basically boils down to a "you should be proud to be French, dress like it."

There is a final consideration worth discussing, though judging how sincere this justification is I will leave as an exercise for the reader: Religious practices that meaningfully endanger the public are routinely found to be subject to bans. This is why, to use an extreme example, one cannot commit murder under the auspices of religious freedom by claiming that your religion requires human sacrifice.

Face coverings inhibit visual identification of the wearer, which has a number of legitimate implications for security matters.

Again, whether or not these implications rise to a degree sufficient to warrant an exception to religious freedom is it's own, separate debate. For now, anyway, France has decided that it does.

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    (+1) To be fair, there has always been attempts in France to deny the ban even has anything to do with Islam specifically or even religion in general. I don't think it's plausible and there is certainly a growing Islamophobia but it's a little more complicated than "you should be proud to be French, dress like it."
    – Relaxed
    Sep 17 at 16:41
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    "Face coverings inhibit visual identification of the wearer, which has a number of legitimate implications for security matters" A hilarious argument in the time of the pandemic and mask mandates.
    – Fizz
    Sep 17 at 22:17
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    It's anti-liberty, but more of fascism or communism, to force people to expose their faces (men or women) simply to identify them. The government can do so in specific scenarios, such as entering high-security facilities. The government must not take it as a reason to outright ban people from covering their faces. So this reason doesn't make sense, and contradicts the Western principles.
    – caveman
    Sep 18 at 12:38
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    @AhmedTawfik MariNe Le Pen isnt representative of French mentality and politics, even if she got many votes during the last elections. The constitution, human rights, and the separation of church and state are important and taken seriously in France. Just playing the islamophobia card is too simplistic an answer for your question. Sep 19 at 21:05
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    @Fizz While I find that the argument is often used as pseudo-argument to hide the actual reasons, the mask mandates are also not a good counter-argument: Masks serve a specific purpose and it's easy to see that one weighs their benefit higher than any such potential negative identification aspect. Same goes for motorcycle helmets etc. You are supposed to wear them while driving and not wear them, e.g. in a bank (laws might differ per country, just talking about the general social expectation therefore to avoid nitpicker arguments). Sep 20 at 9:10
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If I understood your question correctly, what you call hypocrisy of standards is linked to the paradox of tolerance:

The paradox of tolerance states that if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant.

You don't have to agree with it, but I think it's the justification for the bans on face covering in some western countries: it's okay to be intolerant against practices which are considered intolerant (e.g. against women in the above case).

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    Can you please explain how giving people the choice to wear something is considered intolerant? Sep 18 at 16:12
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    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica: I think the argument is that the social pressure can be so strong in some cases that the women don't really have a choice. If your whole family, neighboorhood and religious authority expect you to do something, it's not really a choice anymore if you comply, even willingly. You're correct, though : as usual, this law cannot be perfect, and it also applies to people who would like to wear a veil even without any external pressure to do so. Sep 18 at 16:44
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    It's a type 1/2 error situation. There are certainly people who would choose to wear such an outfit, but it seems clear that for the vast majority it isn't actually a choice. In this case, France decided it would rather commit the error of banning it for the small minority of people would actually want to wear it than commit the error of allowing the majority to be subjugated and functionally left without an actual choice.
    – eps
    Sep 18 at 17:10
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    Banning something essential (still talking about the hijab here) because a few are being pressured into it? Although the intentions may seem appropriate, the action definitely isn't! Now, instead of a few being pressured into it, everyone is forced out of it! Sounds like there're additional motivations to it. Anyway, welcome to politics SE, Eric. :) Sep 19 at 11:58
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    @AhmedTawfik: You keep repeating "essential" in your comments, but... is it? I have had Muslim classmates and the women in their family live perfectly fine without; certainly they didn't consider it essential. Sep 19 at 13:56
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I would challenge the frame of the question: many in the West are concerned about these hijab bans. Attitudes towards religious freedom, as well as free speech, are both far more absolutist in the US than in some other Western democracies, and in the US such a law would be both extremely unpopular, and unconstitutional.

Indeed, your exact point was made in a letter to the editor to the NYT all the way back in 2011:

"What do the French and the Taliban have in common? They both force women to dress a certain way.

Restricting the right to wear a niqab, or any other type of nonrevealing clothing, infringes on freedoms of religion, conscience and thought. These are the same freedoms that some terrorist organizations restrict. The anti-niqab law is an infraction of the right of Muslim women to observe their religious beliefs.

I, as a Muslim American, appreciate America’s tradition of proudly protecting and promoting the right to practice and display one’s religion however one chooses. It makes me proud to be an American."

There are reasons for this cultural difference, of course. In France there is an accepted principle of Laïcité, which calls for explicit secularism in the public sphere. Technically that principle is similar to the "separation of church and state" practiced in the US, but in practice it is far more restrictive, disallowing even simple things like cross necklaces in public schools.

The reasons for this difference in attitude are many, but just look at history: in France the Catholic church often had an authoritarian control over civil society that the Republics rebelled against, whereas many influential religious minorities in America immigrated to avoid persecution for their beliefs. The circumstances of the former lead to perhaps an overreaction against religion, and those of the latter perhaps an overreaction against government control over religion.

All that aside, as an American myself, I'm strongly opposed to these attempts to regulate women's clothing; not only are they opposite to principles of religious freedom, they are opposite to personal freedom! If a woman can walk around topless in NY, why shouldn't she be able to wear a veil?

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  • I think more such examples can be found. As a German, I remember discussions surrounding the idea of banning certain public employees from wearing headscarves (Kopftuchverbot). Looking from extremely far away, the conservative CDU/CSU were in favour of such a ban while there were arguments for and against advanced by most of the other parties. Since this was a couple of days ago, I can't recall if any of the other parties had a majority position. I would be surprised if there weren't similar discussions in France.
    – Jan
    Sep 22 at 10:23
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To put in a simple manner, secularism in the West is divided in two groups/forms, Anglo-based secularism, followed by countries such as UK, USA, Canada, Australia, etc. and French-based laïcité. Secularism is based on freedom of religion, and laïcité is based on freedom from religion. This is why the hijab bans are in countries such as France and Switzerland, and only in Quebec in Canada. This also explains the ban on religious symbols in public schools and their use by public servants in France. Meanwhile, the hijab laws are based on Islamic laws which are based on Islam and thus biased towards Islamist practices.

Another major reason is that all the laws in the west have been introduced through democratic processes, which in the eyes of the west gives them much more legitimacy, than the Islamist laws of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Taliban.

A more cynical perspective is that since France and other laïcité nations are much closer geopolitically and culturally to the rest of the West, it attracts less condemnation.

Another given reason for these laws is that this laws are "liberation" from Islamist misogyny, since according to their proponents, hijabs and niqabs are misogynistic parts of Orthodox Islam and must be curtailed.

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  • The article that you point out suggests that laicite ought to be distinguished from anti-clericalism which is the interpretation you have run with. Sep 23 at 5:16
  • @MoziburUllah the article was edited in by someone else, i'll find and add in a better definition in a bit. Thanks for pointing out. Edit: Its the wikipedia article, so it doesn't take a side, and mentions how while proponents say it isnt anti-clericalism, critics disagree and say it is.
    – JERRY_XLII
    Sep 24 at 11:39
  • Good edit by @JJJ tho, I could never be bothered to enter in accents.
    – JERRY_XLII
    Sep 24 at 11:43
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I take strong issue with at least two of the three main premises of the question, which seem to be as follows:

  1. France and Canada and unnamed other countries have banned the wearing of the hijab, and are representative of the "West" in their attitudes toward "hijab-practicing" Muslims.

  2. Wearing the hijab is an essential part of "hijab-practicing" Muslims' lives.

  3. The "West" criticises the incoming Taliban government of Afghanistan for its brutal suppression of women's rights while turning a blind eye to France and Canada and the other unnamed "Western" nations' abrogation of "hijab-practicing" Muslims' rights.

From this you conclude that the "West" is hypocritical, and by inference imply that the "West" should not criticise the Taliban for how its policies affect women and girls in Afghanistan.

Premises 1) and 3) are flawed. Premise 2) is debatable for Islam in general, but if we limit discussion only to Muslims who believe the premise (of which you seem to be one), it is simply tautological and we can grant it for the purposes of this discussion.

Firstly, French policy is not precisely synonymous with "European" policy and French Canadian policy is not precisely synonymous with "Western" (or even broader Canadian) policy; in Germany or the USA or the non-French parts of Canada, for example, any such bans are simply unthinkable on constitutional and cultural grounds, respectively. There are many many European countries with growing Muslim populations which are not considering such measures; even Orban's Hungary hasn't threatened to do so, as far as I am aware.1

Secondly, the policies specifically in France and Canada which motivated the question have been heavily criticised by French and Canadian citizens, respectively, along with other "Western" commentators, often on the grounds that such policies are chauvinistic and hypocritical and antithetical to the very values of liberty and pluralism which such policies were ostensibly enacted to uphold. In particular there are fierce debates over precisely your point that these bans might

in the worst case limit the ability for women to leave their homes

for cases in which women feel compelled (be it from inner conviction or familial and communal social pressure) to nevertheless wear the more conservative versions of the hijab or even more restrictive clothing in public. Many progressive people believe these bans have the danger of limiting female participation in broader secular society rather than enhancing it.

So these two major premises seem to fail; the policies are local and limited in scope, the policies in question are quite controversial in countries and regions where they are not in force, and they are hardly uncontroversial in the countries and regions in which they are in force.

There is a deeper premise in the question which I feel is worthy of discussion, and which I believe strikes at the very heart of your question. Namely that the "West" and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan (or Islamic theocracies more broadly) are on more-or-less equal footing when it comes to the rights of their citizens and the scope of their policies. Therefore when the "West" criticises one aspect of fundamentalist Islamic theocracy while also pursuing policies designed to limit the freedom of certain expressions of Islam, those criticisms can be dismissed on grounds of hypocrisy.

This is false.

The "West", by and large, is characterised by democratic and open societies in which citizens are free to assemble and express their individual opinions, regardless of whether those opinions agree with the policies of their governments. Citizens of "Western" nations can work in public to try and change policies through democratic means, and if those citizens can convince enough of their fellows, those policies will one day change. Citizens and residents are free to publicly practice whatever religion they wish, or no religion at all, as long as their practice of their religion does not unduly impinge upon the general welfare. This caveat is generally quite narrow, and allows hundreds of millions of people to openly practice tens of thousands of different kinds of religions within these societies.

Afghanistan under the Taliban, and Islamic theocracies more generally, are quite distinct from this mode of governance and citizenship. In Islamic theocracies generally, and under the Taliban in particular, citizens are not free to express opinions contrary to the prevailing government policy; they are not free to publicly practice a religion which is not one of a very small number of variants of officially-recognised faiths; and they are not allowed to conduct themselves in ways which religious authorities disapprove of, whether or not the citizen is a member of the religion shared by the authorities.

France and Germany each have over two thousand mosques within their borders. Canada has more than 90, and America has yet again over two thousand. The "West" has, collectively, thousands more well-attended mosques and millions of Muslim residents. These Muslim communities have been given safe harbour and have been protected under the general laws afforded every citizen for more than a century, and in the last half-decade those communities have been enlarged by millions of refugees which the "West" has admitted to broad acclaim by the citizenry.

The Taliban, by contrast, does not allow the public practice of any religion other than certain kinds of Islam. There are no functioning churches in Afghanistan, no Buddhist temples, no Hindu shrines. It is a totalitarian regime which sets a strict code of conduct upon everyone in the country, under threat of harsh corporal punishment and death, enforced by roving gangs of young men empowered to police the behaviour of their fellow citizens in accordance with the guidelines of a narrow interpretation of a single religion.

You are free to travel to France and advocate publicly for the reversal of the French policy on Islamic dress without any reasonable fear of organised reprisal from the government or from French citizens. While the Taliban rules Afghanistan, you will never be free to travel to Afghanistan and advocate publicly against the Taliban policy on Islamic dress without grave fear for your life.

That is the difference at the root of the "hypocrisy" in the "West" criticising the Taliban even though some "Western" nations have policies which make life marginally more inconvenient for a certain percentage of certain Muslim communities within them. The "West" is simply operating in a different moral universe to the Taliban, a universe in which a policy that negatively impacts a certain percentage of a certain minority is deeply controversial and debated and may yet one day be overturned.

In that moral universe, there is no hypocrisy in a society looking at a totalitarian regime in which one risks dismemberment and death for practicing a minority religion at all and judging them more harshly than that society judges itself.


1 Both Ahmed Tawfik and Jan pointed out sources (in English and German, respectively) which contradict the stricken portions of my answer above. I freely accept the correction; it simply is the case that many European states (especially Western European ones) have contemplated and enforced limited restrictions on Islamic dress.

I will note, however, that both of these sources actually support the thrust of my argument more than they detract from it. The English article, which I assume everyone reading this answer will be able to understand, details how controversial these various measures are within the countries where they've been debated or enacted. The German article focuses on Germany and gives more detail, but from what I have read, the two articles agree.

For example, the then-President of Germany himself, Johannes Rau, publicly commented that he would not want a France-style Germany-wide headscarf ban, stating

I fear that a headscarf ban will be the first step on the road to a laicistic state, which will prohibit religious signs and symbols in the public sphere. I don't want to see that happen. That is not my vision of our country, with its centuries of Christian influence.

It is the case that several German states nevertheless instituted such bans in limited context for certain public employees (most especially for teachers), but it remains generally the case that Muslim women can wear whatever they like in public outside of these jobs. Further, as shown by then-President Rau's comments, these limited measures were and are hardly uncontroversial. Note that it is also illegal for drivers in Germany to wear anything covering their face and eyes while driving, which is justified on public-safety grounds. (Whether this justification is warranted or not, I have long since learned that attempting to talk a German out of a public-safety measure is a bit like attempting to negotiate with the tide.)

Sticking with Germany, where I live and with whose culture and language I am the most familiar (though clearly not perfectly so!) on the European continent, there are and have been many public debates over religious symbols worn in public. Here is one such debate published within the last two weeks by ZDF, a German public broadcaster, in which six people discuss the issue openly on a publicly-funded stage. This debate includes three women and four men (including the moderator). One woman is a Muslim arguing against bans while wearing a hijab, and another woman (who I suspect is an ex-Muslim) is arguing for them; she also heads an organisation for promoting secularism amongst migrants.

If one searches for "Kopftuchdebatte" ("Head-scarf debate") on YouTube or Google more broadly, one can find dozens of discussions similar to the one above, undertaken in print or on video, with one or more people speaking their mind about this issue in public, without fear of reprisal from the government. Such open debates are a feature of "Western" life, and I would be very surprised if they have not occurred in every single country listed in the English Wikipedia article Ahmed linked to.

Now, let's seriously consider what would happen to any group of people comparable to those in that ZDF video, from the producers to the moderator to the participants, if they had attempted to have the exact same conversation in Tehran, or in Jeddah, or lately in Kabul. Let's consider what would happen to the women who wished to travel public roads to reach the debate venue and have their images appear on television without wearing Islamic dress.

Every single one of them would participate in such a discussion at the risk of their lives. The women who did not deign to wear Islamic dress would have been lucky to even make it to the venue before being abducted or arrested and, in the very best case, interrogated about their age and marital status before either being returned to their male guardians or being auctioned off to a man in an arranged marriage.

In Europe, by contrast, Muslims and non-Muslims alike can and do openly advocate for the reversal of these policies. If they can convince enough of their fellow citizens of their case, and those citizens elect or convince their representatives in government, those policies will be changed.

So, to reiterate, I believe the question is not well-posed. The "West" is indeed concerned with European policy on limiting Islamic (and other religious) dress worn in public, as exemplified by the existence of many vigorous public discussions over this issue. Therefore the question's assumption that the "West" is "unconcerned" about such policy is simply factually incorrect.

Secondly, as others have pointed out, the policies between Europe and Afghanistan are not very similar, except on the most abstract philosophical grounds that they involve regulating how women dress in certain circumstances. Asserting a deeper similarity papers over vast differences in the policies themselves, as well as the differences in civil society, culture, and law under which the disparate policies were enacted, are enforced, and might be overturned.

The hypocrisy presupposed by the question, then, does not exist.

19
  • You list what you interpret as three premises in the question. The first one you mention is wrong, they never said that. The poster said that the west doesn’t criticize France and Canada, not that France and Canada characterize the west. And you never really disprove the third premise of the second premise. Also, can you please provide a significant example of progressives who believe that wearing a head covering prevents you from participating well in society. Sep 20 at 15:07
  • 1
    Also, this answer is clearly a straw man. The question asker never said that they are morally equal, only that they both have policies forcing you to wear stuff. You trying to prove that they are not morally equal does not answer the question. Sep 20 at 15:12
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    Edak Singh, a premise is usually not explicitly stated; the question has no force at all unless one assumes that the policies in question are representative of those of the West --- otherwise failing to criticise them would be selective blindness, not hypocrisy. Also, clearly from the wording, I mean that progressives believe banning the head coverings prevents hijabis' participation in society.
    – S. G.
    Sep 20 at 15:13
  • 2
    Edak Singh, there are over three million Muslims in France and over two thousand mosques. There are over a million Muslims in Canada, and mosques in every major city and many minor ones. These mosques are well-attended, and these Muslims practice their faith regularly, in public. Certain modes of expression are restricted in certain contexts; that does not falsify their general freedom of religion.
    – S. G.
    Sep 20 at 15:17
  • 2
    As I said in my answer, the charge of hypocrisy hinges upon a certain moral equivalence. The standards are not the same. Standard A is "a highly contentious policy in which you will be fined for certain kinds of expression in certain limited contexts". Standard B is "you will risk state-sanctioned sexual violence and execution by a gang of young men if you show your calves in public".
    – S. G.
    Sep 20 at 15:28
3

All the potential political background aside, there is a fundamental qualitative difference between Banning a particular thing and requiring a particular thing:

  • Banning one piece of item removes one option from a huge list of choices (in the example: also many that are fine with the beliefs of most Muslims)
  • Requiring one particular attire removes all but one (or a small very narrow set of) option

That's quite a difference in practical terms. I'm leaving away other arguments on purpose nor am I explicitly agreeing or disagreeing with either of the two, I just want to highlight this aspect that is often overlooked because politics is evaluated binary only form ideological angles (and that is a necessary evaluation too). Actual politics is terribly gray and therefore practical impact matters, too.

3
  • And most if not all western countries require women to cover their breasts, but do not require the same from men.
    – gerrit
    Sep 20 at 10:04
  • I've already posted about the essential purpose of the hijab for hijab-practicing women, of which there are millions of. Your answer's argument doesn't take that into account. Sep 20 at 14:19
  • @AhmedTawfik which is in line with modern western culture, (female) breasts are considered private, heads are not. That's a cultural axiom therefore logical that laws treat both differently on that angle. But indeed, the answer leaves out a whole bunch of topics indeed and explicitly says so. Sep 21 at 11:05
2

I have only observed the situation in France in passing and I have almost no idea what the situation is in Canada or elsewhere in the western world. However, I did witness the situation in Germany where there was a big discussion (Kopftuchstreit, litereally dispute concerning headscarves) in the first decade of this millenium and multiple attempts at banning the wearing of female muslim headwear (Kopftuchverbot) have been made in various parts of the country for various situations.

However, instead of going into a history lesson of all the different occasions when this topic was brought up and a secondary law lesson to outline which restrictions have been proposed and or implemented at which point in time (and what the outcome was), I decided to focus on challenging the question's frame slightly by showing how widespread arguments against such policies from within the country were and are.

Note that most of these bans were aimed at headscarves that cover the hair entirely but leave most of the face visible. By extension, such a ban would necessarily also apply to less revealing face coverings e.g. with only the eyes remaining visible.

My first internet search used the terms gegen Kopftuchverbot (against headscarf ban). Among the top results were:

I then decided to check the positions of the various parties by searching Kopftuchverbot and the party names. (I excluded the extreme-right AfD despite them sitting in parliament. Their position is sufficiently clear.)

The debate, of course, runs deeped and by trying to find only a few sources for each party (ideally not all relating to the same current event) I am necessarily omitting important details. Nevertheless the general trend is that the conservative parties approve banning muslim headwear in many situations while parties on the left tend to oppose such bans. The liberal party is, probably obviously, somewhere in the middle, advocating the greatest possible individual freedom.

For the record, another angle to this is the question whether the government can require a crucifix to be hung on the wall of every classroom as was the law in Bavaria until during my time at school. Highlighting the various arguments that were used at the time and how they tie in to the headscarf discussion would expand this already long answer over every reasonable margin.

1

It's an us vs. them mentality where the "us" side believes "them" should also do as they do, because "us" is "better" (quotation marks because what's better is ill-defined).

In other words, because Western men and women think Western-style clothing is better and can't imagine anyone would actually want to wear Islamic dress, hence they criticize the Taliban for forcing women to wear Islamic dress.

You can see a historical parallel in the numerous traditional societies in which women went topless until the arrival of Western colonizers, who this time can't imagine anyone would actually want to be topless and so forced women to wear clothes.

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  • 6
    We've had a number of cases here where women won cases about showing their breasts. It is not custom, and it might get you turfed out as per dress code in many private locals, but it is not heavily sanctioned. Maybe it might even evolve into normal everyday fashion. Now, what do you think would happen if a woman showed her breasts in Afghanistan? Care to speculate? Sep 18 at 17:09
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Again I'll replace some words in your comment to get the Western version: "Now, what do you think would happen if a woman showed her vagina in whatever Western country you're in? Care to speculate?" You are still not presenting a convincing argument - in Western countries you cannot show your genitals; in Afghanistan you cannot show your Awrah. Penalties apply in both cases.
    – Allure
    Sep 18 at 17:10
  • 6
    Probably not beatings and years of jail. Just speculating. Sep 18 at 17:10
  • 4
    Yes, I am. Stonings, beatings and jail times are not fines. Sep 18 at 17:13
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    I am downvoting this answer because it broadly implies that the only reason anyone (or at least "Western" individuals) would dislike the Taliban obligating citizens to wear a certain kind of clothing is not being able to understand why someone would voluntarily wear that clothing.
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 19 at 22:27
-2

The moral motivation of Colonialism was colloquially called, 'the white mans burden'. Neocolonialism could similarly called 'the white womans burden'.

Just as the moral justification for Colonialism was critiqued as being simply a figleaf for the colonial empires of Europe; one can just as easily argue that the feminist moral motivation for Neo-colonialism is also just a figleaf for the imperial ambitions of the United States. Especially when one recalls that the Afghanistan had strong protection for the rights of women after the communist PDPA (People Democratic Party of Afghanistan) seized power in a coup d'etat. But of course they were communist, and so a represensible and 'evil' state in the eyes of the USA and all the other states that lined up behind the anti-communist crusade of the USA.

One could call this hypocrisy.

The hijab has become a symbol of Islam in the West. However, Islam does not explicitly call for a hijab to be worn. It merely asks that women and men be modest in their dress. This is just as true in the West - a century ago - if one looks at womens dress, they are dressed head to toe. And even now, seeing a woman in a bikini walking down the streets of London would be a startling sight.

Given that there is a tiny minority of women who wear the full hijab in the West, what the hijab ban indicates is a certain hypocrisy in the West about women's dress and women's freedoms. One might, and people have, that this indicates a hardening of attitudes in the West about Islam, an attitude that one could call Islamophobic.

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Sep 21 at 4:56
-3

The short answer: it's a mistake.

However, this is a very complex problem. You may want to read my answer here, as the common mistakes are repeating over and over.


Important note

Both, the Western and Muslim nations, are well-intentioned. It's therefore very sad that they waste energy into such lose-lose conflicts, while we need to spend every resource we have to advance science fastest possible.

It's important to note that, the same nations that we accuse of being hypocrite, are also those that have spoke for Muslims more than the Muslim nations. So we must not forget the broader cooperative picture, simply because of a mistake: forgiveness is a nice escape from the death spiral.

We may not have much time left in this planet. Our only hope to save our lives, and the lives of other life forms, is to use our resources to advance science at the fastest possible rate, so that we develop technologies that would allow us, and other lifeforms, to survive upcoming natural disasters.

A glimpse into its complexity

I list a few bullet points to show you how broad this subject is:

  • Misunderstandings. Culturally, things have different meanings. What is seen as "liberating girls" by westerners, might be seen as "sexualising girls" by, say, Muslims.

    Both sides certainly love their women. E.g. those from Muslim-majority nations are known to have extremely high respects for their mothers, partially because of some of them thinking that heavens are underneath the feet of mothers.

    In fact, it is impossible to find a nation that their men don't respect their women. Because such nations would've gone extinct thousands of years ago.

    This is one reason I think, one of the best things to do about such topics is to rather do nothing: simply wait and think more. Because there is a lot more going on here, and a quick decision will result into a worse oppression. E.g. this French police that forced a woman to get less covered; did he think that he is about to free that woman from the oppression of some male?

  • Elections. Democracy has advantages, but also disadvantages as selfish political leaders aim to polarise the nation in order to secure a larger number of votes. This is why, usually, controversial subjects arise specially around election times.

    E.g. France, is an example that some of its political parties have polarised the nation into a war of cultures, so aggressively, that almost every party has to play some sort of this game.

    So, such inconsistencies from democratic nations, may not be due to a systematic policy, but rather possibly mainly due to pleasing their local population in order to get more votes to win elections.

  • International politics. Anti-NATO nations benefit greatly when NATO nations are too busy dealing with local protests. They certainly have an incentive to take advantage to the fact that NATO nations are democratic and allow for protests.

    Imagine how it feels being that nationalist that's de-estabelising his nation in aggressive protests, blocking roads, harming trade, etc, thinking that he is actually guarding his nation against some globalist agenda, while in reality he might be helping his nation's enemies.

  • Power. Some nations take such controversial events as an opportunity to speak, in order to present themselves as a nicer country.

  • Increasing tax revenue. Women have a far stronger buying power than men. This causes tax-collecting nations have an incentive to engineer policies to put more money into the hands of their women, in order to increase their tax revenue.

    If we look at Taliban, for example, their policies would reduce the purchasing power of their women. E.g. Afghanistan will certainly end up importing less beauty products from, say France. Basically, this can harm France's tax revenue from exports of its beauty products.

    Whether it's good, or bad, is another subject, as not every spending is good. E.g. the parable of the broken window. This is a broad economical subject.

Why is it a mistake?

Because it wastes public energy; an energy that would've otherwise be spent in advancing science, or building a stronger economy. Simply put: our civilisation today is less advanced than it would've been had we not wasted our energy into such net-loss headbutting.

Politicians need to spend more time thinking, and less time having quick popular reflexes. We need more scientific principles in guiding decisions, and less subjective feelings by popular figures.

Prof. Robert Saposky has nice videos that exposes similar mistakes in various aspects of today's governments.

My conclusion is that we're seeing the painful birth of a type 1 civilisation. I disagree with some of what Prof. Michio Kaku, but I agree with some such as this.

This painful birth of a type 1 civilisation will give us challenges that we will need to resolve. If we fail, we may return back to a stone age (except a radioactive stone age).

Solution

Patience, and well-intentioned honest dialogue to truly help each other advance the civilisation better. Politicians need to polarise less, be less obsessed about winning elections, and spend more time studying science.

Because, if we look at the broad picture, we (people from all over the word) are nothing to each other but like siblings are to each other in their parents' house.

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  • 7
    This doesn't actually answer the question.
    – user141592
    Sep 18 at 5:40
  • 8
    @caveman That's not a fact though. That's your personal interpretation of the question, and this site is not for you to write a personal essay on how policies make you feel.
    – user141592
    Sep 18 at 12:38
  • 8
    @caveman This site is not for adding your personal "solution", nor for personal judgments (note that William doesn't add words like "mistake" to his answer, which is still very controversial here with +9 and -8 votes). Yours is also full of irrelevant discussion about taxes, NATO, and how men in extremely misogynist countries still love their mothers. It's a bad answer. The question is how France reasons, not how you personally reason.
    – user141592
    Sep 18 at 15:59
  • 2
    Most of this is speculation off the specific question of the OP. Links between birth rates and wealth are hard to quantify and vary by country. Women having more buying power flies against common knowledge and against years of, justified, complaints by feminists. "Afghanistan will certainly end up importing less beauty products from, say France. Basically, this can harm France's tax revenue from exports of its beauty products.". Really? This is what we are talking about, here, imports of French luxuries by Afghan women? Sep 18 at 17:33
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    Type I civilization You're aware this is mostly a thought experiment in the domain of SF and futurists, I take? It has zero relevance here. About the only thing you get right is that we should spend less time in conflict with each other. Not only is this a weak answer, you run around commenting everywhere and insisting you know best. Sep 18 at 17:34

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