The French Emperor’s Burka: When Liberalism Leads to Close-Mindedness

It is ironic when liberalism generates, instead of open-mindedness and acceptance, limitation of others’ free expression and denial of their rights.   France, I think, in dictating the limitations of what Muslim women can wear, has unmasked its liberte et egalite and shown it to be something else entirely.  The French Emperor, it seems, is wearing no clothes.  Liberty and equality that in the name of French secularism does not allow religious freedom are just prejudice and fear masquerading as secular values.


Rabbi Abraham Kook, the first chief rabbi of modern day Palestine (pre-state Israel) in the 1920’s, and father of modern day religious Zionism, understood that even in a religious context all things, even those usually deemed as anti-religious, can have value.  For instance, atheism, he said, has an important voice and place.  When others are in need, we must be atheists and not rely on God to help, not attribute the pain of others to divine justice, but jump in to assist, feeling the full burden of others’ needs as if there were no God for them to rely on.


I think secularism, too, has its place.  To be deeply religious, the tolerance and viewing of others’ religious values is of paramount importance.   If God is one and infinite then there are many keys to the kingdom.  When caught up in our own religious views (be they spiritual, or in the case of France, secular) it is hard to appreciate the take others might have on the big questions, i.e. God, people, the good, the universe.   But to have religious depth and not just self-righteousness, we must hear and appreciate the views of others, even if we do not accept them.   Ironically, the more we know about our own religion and the more secure we are in our observance and faith, the more we will be able to tolerate and learn from other’s views.   It makes one wonder how secure the French secularism that Sarkozy has touted really is (


The Talmud says that Jewish law follows the one who states the opposition’s opinion first and only then his own opinion.  Such a person’s view is truly informed and thus more likely to be correct.   When blind to another’s world view, it is easy to be right.  But if we first look through the eyes and values of another and only then commit to our own values, our own opinions will be more true and just.


How ironic that France, birthplace of revolution and freedom, in unmasking the Muslim woman, has donned its own cultural blinders.







3 Responses to The French Emperor’s Burka: When Liberalism Leads to Close-Mindedness

  1. Dr. Saundra Sterling Epstein says:

    Agreed. This is in the spirit of Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks who teaches that we must all stand together to protect each others’ freedoms — limiting that of another does not increase or validate our own. What a tricky balance beam we all walk as observing, intentional and informed Jews. Chag Kasher v’Sameach.

  2. ilanadavita says:

    The reason behind the ban (in public places) is that the woman’s face cannot be seen. Most religious leaders in France agree with the measure even if they believe it is wrong to blame one religion in particular.

  3. Toby Katz says:

    No society can survive if any man in the country can dress up as a woman, walk into any public building with his face veiled, pull a gun out from under his flowing burka, shoot the place up and walk out again with no witness ever being able to identify him in a police line-up. This is not bigotry or intolerance, it is basic self-defense.

    If you want to see liberalism gone amok, look at extreme liberals like Shafner who, in the name of religious tolerance, would require western civilization to commit suicide.

    And I’ll tell you another thing: Muslim men force their women to go out veiled. Some women might not mind or might even like the veil, but many women are oppressed in Muslim society, and for the French police to help Muslim men force their women back into the Middle Ages is just obscene. What kind of a liberal is Shafner, that he would require us to stand back and allow men to oppress women in the name of religion? Most Muslim women in France are relieved and liberated when the law stops their men from forcing them to don the veil.

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