Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Opinion poll data on burqa bans

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Just as an addition to yesterday's post on the proposed ban on the wearing of the full Islamic veil in public in France, it's well worth taking a look at this opinion poll data from the excellent Pew Global Attitudes Project. As part of their Spring Global Attitudes survey, Pew asked participants for their view on banning the burqa. Among respondents in Western Europe, majorities favoured a ban – 82% in France, 71% in Germany, 62% in Britain and 59% in Spain. However, in the US, just 28% said they would be in favour of such a ban.

It's interesting to note this disparity between the US and Europe – presumably Americans' firm commitment to religious freedom, as enshrined in the first amendment of the constitution, means they reject the idea of prohibiting people from wearing an item on account of their religion (not to mention Americans' distaste for government banning anything). In this respect, France and America, two countries with strong, constitutional commitments to secularism diverge greatly – for French supporters of the ban, it would represent a defence of secularism as something that protects citizens from religious oppression, while for American opponents, banning the burqa would violate the secular principle of defending religious freedom through state neutrality. (Of course, these are general assumptions based on the poll, and I'm not ignoring the fact that there will be people of all positions in these countries.)

Clearly, the burqa debate goes to the heart of how we define secularism, and how we view the right of government to intervene in matters of conscience and individual choice (I wholeheartedly recommend Martha Nussbaum's New York Times piece for more on this). As such, it divides opinion among humanists and secularists, and we have had some excellent comments on the post I wrote about this yesterday – if you'd like to join the debate, I'd recommend posting your comments on that rather than starting a new thread here, as it's always best to keep the discussion in one place.

[Image: Pew Global Attitudes Project]