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Is that a plank of Dave’s Big Society I hear falling?

Well, it looks as though the fate of Catholic adoption agencies has been definitively sealed, outlawed in the name of ‘equality’, the Charity Commission deciding there is no basis in law for them to remain open, even after a Judge, who ought to know the law rather better, decided that there might well be.

It almost goes without saying that the standard arguments in favour of closing the adoption agencies, or more accurately from not offering an exemption from the comically named ‘equality’ laws, are such manifest nonsense that one gets the impression that even those who dutifully repeat them remain unconvinced, but realise that trotting out something is better than sitting saying nothing. The silence, you see, would expose this for what it really is: ideologically-driven politics.

Indeed, the only even vaguely convincing argument that could be advanced to support the cause is the very one that is very rarely advanced – that, as with the proposals for removing the couples’ penalty from the tax system, these laws are about sending an important symbol about what it is that we value in society today.

Only, such an argument can never, and will never, really be made with any gusto, simply because it would explode those pious platitudes that slide off the tongues of the closure-lobby, who would try and have the outside world believe that this is all about what is ‘best for the children‘. Of course, tactically speaking, the hesitancy to make the symbolism case is entirely understandable, since you can be sure that once those platitudes were exploded, once this whole movement was shown up for being the mean-spirited absolutism that it is, to be pursued even at the expense of children’s welfare and not in the name of it, then not only would there be a leaching of popular support but there would also follow a genuine hardening of opinion against such manifestly malevolent manoeuvres.

The curious thing is that David ‘there is such a thing as society it’s just not the same as the State’ Cameron, has hitherto supported the state-enforced closure of a fairly important plank that big society of his, an organisation that once constituted up to a third of the tertiary sector’s voluntary adoption services. Which means his slogan might need a little editing and would better read as, ‘there is such a thing as society, but it is only legitimate when endorsed by the State’.

And thus one sees the fundamental psychosis of the social liberal, never truly at ease with society since he has already fundamentally rejected it, only able to conceive society as generated, sanctioned, moulded, defined, authorised, regulated and managed by the State. Which is why social liberals are nearly always statists; at least the ones who follow through the logic of their social liberalism. And why Cameron is more Alinskyian Big Society than Burkean little platoons (no capitalisation required).

And so we have David Cameron, apparent Conservative, Big Society enthusiast, advocating the outlawing of voluntary adoption agencies for refusing  to abandon their Christian conscience.

And somewhere, not far away, a man called Syme is frantically re-writing a dictionary.

Anarchy and the internet

One of the nice things about having a spell without the internet is that it puts the professional culture industry out of reach for a little while and replaces it with a whole plethora of opinion-forming events, encounters and meetings that one might not otherwise have had if one sat down behind the computer for a nightly fix of news, comment and opinion. And what becomes more and more noticeable the longer one spends in such wonderful limbo is the fact that the imposing wall of orthodoxy one encounters amidst the professional commentariat loses its claim to universality as soon as one shuts down the t’interweb and speaks instead to people in the pub, or in the pews, or in the marketplace. Partly, it is a matter of priorities, but it is also a matter of genuine difference, and rigorously enforced metropolitan creeds have barely a spark of influence beyond that close-knit cabal who insist on the infallibility of their dogma – indeed, it is frequently contravened, and unashamedly so, and sometimes even cringingly so. All of which can leave a man feeling mildly optimistic about life.

Of course, this is not to say that everything which emanates from within the socio-cultural elite is wrong, and everything that emanates outwith that elite is right – it is merely to point out that the whole herd of hip young things, chanting their banal mantras in impeccable unison, should not interpret the fact that everyone in webland thinks the same as them as evidence that therefore what they think must be self-evidently good. And nor must those on the outside, exasperated with what appears to be the untrammelled dominance of the chattering classes, get too downhearted about the whole thing – they talk only to themselves, and only about themselves, and only for themselves. Fortunately, a great chunk of people outside this virtual Hall of Mirrors see right through the ruse and offer that one diagnosis that can bring the populace of this noisy culture industry into the most indignant of misanthropic rages: ‘all the same , them lot, couldn’t slide a fag paper between them.’

And it’s largely true, however much those who have every interest in maintaining otherwise screech and shout that it ain’t so. Ideologically, philosophically, and culturally there is very little diversity in SW1, nor amongst the commentariat, a body populated by those who not only look and think very much like the people they pass comment on, but also switch places with them quite regularly too. This is not to say that there is never effort to highlight difference, and it is certainly amusing  watching the ferocity with which many manufacture political and ideological minutiae as a means of proclaiming their difference from the other lot – even so, place a trendy Fabian, a ‘progressive’ Conservative and a LibDim in an interview room and quiz them about their beliefs; you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart.

Maybe it was always like this. I don’t know. But as I have blogged before, the other side to the argument that the internet is the anarchists’ paradise is that can also be a fairly effective tool for propagating and rigorously upholding central orthodoxies, much to the exclusion of dissenting voices. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, perhaps the best way to encounter genuine difference and radical diversity is to turn the internet off for a while; all things considered,  the ‘real’ world is far more anarchic.

England – Land of no-Popery

Apologies for the lack of blogging – I have been without t’interweb for the last fortnight and so haven’t had chance to get anything posted. It also means that I’m completely behind on all events political, and so whilst I get myself back up to speed I thought I’d offer this, which I prepared a while back…

With the Papal visit just months away many Brits seem to be slowly working themselves up into a frenzy of anti-Catholic sentiment. For the idle observer this makes intriguing viewing, for it neatly illustrates how even in ‘enlightened’ and ‘rational’ times people can yet churn out the most narrow-minded and illogical twaddle. Yet, Papal visit aside, this upwelling of anti-Catholic rhetoric is instructive of a wider cultural phenomenon that has been part of the very social fabric of our country for centuries – what Phillip Jenkins has termed, in studying the same historical phenomenon amongst our cousins in the United States, as ‘the last acceptable prejudice’.

As indignant as that might make some feel, there is yet little doubt that that is what we are dealing with. The impeccably biased hostility with which the Roman Catholic Church is greeted by the culture industry in particular far outweighs the treatment meted out to any other religion, even those who share the same doctrines and practices for which the Catholic Church is ceaselessly excoriated. Indeed, attacking the Catholic Church and those who would reside in her is not only socially acceptable but is vehemently demanded by a baying crowd for whom the nastier the entertainment the better: the bilge that slides effortlessly off the tongue of some of the Church’s more prominent despisers is greeted with cries of delight from a highly partisan gallery that rarely stops to apply to these pockmarked narratives the same standards of judgment and reason they would insist upon in any other situation. The outcome is often the crude manufacture of an endlessly villainised corporate identity to which a litany of atrocities, however bogus or distorted, are duly assigned (as far as I’m aware, Stephen Fry’s undoubtedly heartfelt apology to the Polish nevertheless failed to disavow the real substance of his claim, aimed at Polish ‘right-wing Catholicism’). One need hardly emphasise that if the kind of ridiculous rhetoric flung around by Caitlin Moran had been directed toward any other collective group of people, alarm bells would ring and the perpetrator would rightly be dismissed as a hate-filled bigot.

Of course some, dimly aware of this fact, choose to change tack, and assure worried bystanders that  the focus of their spittle-flecked ire is not Catholics per se, but ‘just this bigoted Pope.’ Which, apart from demonstrating rather basic ignorance of the Catholic faith, is also deeply disingenuous. For in truth, it is the doctrines of the Church (doctrines not at all unique to Catholicism) with which the anti-Catholic crowd takes violent umbrage, doctrines that both preceded and will long outlive Pope Benedict XVI. In reality this is little more than diversionary piffle; the battle is first and foremost about ideologies, not personalities.

Now, this is not at all to suggest that there aren’t people with heartfelt, sincere and well-informed objections to Catholic teaching and doctrine, people who actually read the documents of the Church, rather than historical novels and internet messageboards, and formulate their objections accordingly. Nor is it to downplay the role the Catholic Church has played in bringing down justified criticism upon her own head, and the behaviour of a minority of its members have been manifestations of evil for which we still offer penance and seek forgiveness. What it is to say is that for all too many, recent tragedies have proved a convenient stick with which to hit a foe already despised, an enemy already routinely denied a decent hearing. Thus we could read George Monbiot, jumping on Geoffrey Robertson’s bandwagon, declaring that incarcerating the Pope would be the manifestation in international law of that old ideal ‘equality before the law’, an ideal apparently best served by interning a man despite there being no creditable legal, factual or evidential case against him (see here and here) – a victim offered up because of who he is, and not what he has done. Whilst this somewhat eccentric account of ‘equality before the law’ might be dismissed as the prejudice driven swill that it is, nonetheless it is instructive of how a hostile crowd can jettison traditional standards – the presumption of innocence, the demand for reliable evidence, respect for legal jurisdiction – armed with nothing more incriminating than some highly emotive slogans and join-the-dots journalism.

And this suspension of those cherished principles of rational reflection, honest assessment and sober judgment occurs time and again when the topic of conversation is the Catholic Church. One need only witness some of the comments left underneath Andrew Brown’s article exploring data on child abuse produced by the John Jay Institute, suggesting that the Catholic Church appears no more guilty of paedophilia (or, more significantly, hebephilia and ephebophilia) than any other institution, nor indeed, one might independently add, any other religious denomination. To even dare explore this empirical data was described by one respected commenter as ‘utterly shameful, ignorant, offensive screed’, and by another as ‘revisionist apologist nonsense’. These reactions are a neat illustration of what Kevin Rooney has recently described as the ‘illiberal, censorious and ignorant’ attacks on Catholicism in the run up to the Pope’s visit, observing that ‘while many of the exponents of this popular new breed of anti-Catholicism would certainly consider themselves liberal, their treatment of the church is anything but.’ Indeed, Brendan O’Neill has picked up on a similar theme, suggesting that the reaction to the child abuse scandals has often been ‘informed more by prejudice and illiberalism than by anything resembling a principled secularism’, something he further connects with the ‘new atheism’ of the liberal establishment that ‘…differs from the atheism of earlier free-thinking humanists in that its main aim is not to enlighten, but to scaremonger about the impact of religion on society. For these thinkers and opinion-formers, the drip-drip of revelations of abuse in Catholic institutions offers an opportunity to demonise the religious as backward and people who possess strong beliefs as suspect.’

What neither Rooney or O’Neill go on to mention is that such wilful demonisation is nothing new, but is rather the latest bout of a long established phenomenon that has reared its ugly head, with varying degrees of intensity, ever since a genocidal King and those whose consciences had been bought by him decided that the only way they could defend their crimes and protect their plunder was to mercilessly demonise their victim. Since then this country has swaddled its young in anti-Catholic propaganda, in pseudo-history and gross caricature, in meticulously cultivated ignorance and unashamed discrimination, a sort of anti-Catholic cultural grammar aimed at vigorously protecting the status-quo against which even the most eloquent and resounding rebuttal is incapable of entirely vanquishing. The malicious representation of the Pope and the Catholic faith peddled by groups such as Protest the Pope is certainly nothing new, and is merely the latest merchandise to appear on the production line of the prodigious ‘no-Popery’ industry. Indeed Cardinal Newman, convert to the Catholic faith and thereby possessed of a unique insight into that which he was describing, attested to precisely this back in 1851, in a lecture series entitled the Present Position of Catholics in England. Twenty-four years later he was to find himself returning to the same subject, responding to the recycled anti-Catholic slurs of one William Ewart Gladstone.

All of which might help explain, if one were to remain charitable, why certain satirists and professional protesters are rather less limp-wristed when it comes to mocking and deriding the Pope and Catholicism, than they appear to be when it comes to mocking and deriding the principle figures and adherents of certain other mainstream religions. In short, taking on Catholicism is easy, because it has been culturally sanctioned and encouraged for centuries, meaning those ‘independent-thinkers’ who revel in the vulgarity by which they express their opposition are not so much daring or courageous as drearily old hat. They assiduously continue the tradition in which they have been bathed since they were babes:  attacking the Catholic Church, and defending the social, political and ideological status-quo.

Liberty and the Broken Society

Part of me feels that those who have helped to bring the country down — venal politicians, false educators, degraders of the media, thieving privatisers of the public domain — need to be fought to a standstill, here on this battlefield, by those with the energy, strength and clarity of mind to do so. For no one wants to believe that the country of his birth, language, upbringing and way of thinking cannot be redeemed.

So starts an article in the Spectator by David Selbourne, arguing that, all things considered, we have reached tipping point and those who can leave the country should seriously think of doing so. Of course, it is rather more likely that his words are chosen for rhetorical effect than any heartfelt longing for distant shores, since the piece was originally delivered at a Spectator debate entitled ‘Too late to save Britain. It’s time to leave’. Still, the article is well worth a read, not least because its central insight is perfectly sound; that one cannot expect civil and political society to be transformed, unless one also surveys those ideologies and habits that have come to degrade it.

Something which the Conservatives, in that fleeting moment when they dared address the ‘Broken Society’, started to grasp at. Alas, all that stopped the moment they began to realise where their thinking was slowly leading them – the pernicious effects of social and economic liberalism. For so long, the liberals had claimed moral neutrality in their dealings with market, state and civic society, and the ‘modernised’ Tory brand wanted to appropriate this social liberalism as a trendy compliment to their historic economic variety. Yet, the fallaciousness of that claim to neutrality has become clear for all to see – liberalism is being rejected as an particular ideology, not a neutral methodology. And in so enthusiastically embracing it, the Tories have clambered aboard a sinking ship.

Just as the tentacles of that ideology, both social and economic, are to a great extent inter-reltaed, so a denunciation of the one can quite often be linked with a qualified rejection of the other. So it is that we can read ‘Britain has been impoverished by the mismanagement of the national economy, the running down of manufacturing, and the voraciousness of free-market ethics,’ standing cheek by jowl with New Labour’s ‘grand Nonconformist moral inheritance ravaged by Blairism and Mandelsonisation.’  Similarly, Selbourne can write of a ‘free country degraded by its freedoms,’ immediately before attacking the corrosive actions of Goldman Sachs and BP. Or, in Selbourne’s words, ‘The difference between freedom and licence has been unlearned,’ and this is true in both the social and the economic realms.

The irony is that what Selbourne refers to as the ‘self-degrading moral and market free-for-all which has been unleashed upon the land’ is a pretty neat summation of just what the new ‘modernised’ Tories claim to believe, and what its new armies of trendy followers tend to look like. They have kept the worst bit, the unrestrained markets of the Thatcherites, and ditched the socially conservative bit, thereby largely embracing the philosophy of unrestraint in the social realm, too. Which is precisely the wrong way round.

This change has been effected largely to reflect the whims of a happy band of metroliberals who, with their inane philosophies of ‘freedom’, have decided that the new conservatism means a rejection not of unwarrantable power, but of all objective authority whatsoever. As such these ‘phoney philosophers’, to use Roy Hattersley’s phrase, have decided that any form of restraint, ideological or otherwise, must be to some degree an offence to ‘freedom’ – though they rarely stop to ask if it is also the protector of others’ freedom, too. As such, this happy band of libertarian Tories will say that they are economically to the right and socially to the left; which means, roughly speaking, that they reject the possibility of objective external limitations on their liberty. It is this atomistic freedom, based on contractual accounts of liberty,  that gives the authoritative state its warrant.

Which makes the libertarians not only wrong-headed but short-sighted. Or, to leave the final words to Selbourne himself,

For the greater the scope of unregulated moral freedom, of laissez-faire, and of individual rights, the greater the need to manage the chaotic outcomes of their abuse. It applies as much to the City as to the streets. This is a philosophical not a party point. Burke knew it. ‘Liberty,’ he declared in 1774, ‘cannot exist without order and virtue.

Whose ‘freedom’?

This video features over on the OurKingdom website, with resident editor Guy Aitchison asking the Labour leadership candidates about their approach to drug policies, or to use the more inflammatory (yet wrongheaded) language of the website, if they are ‘willing to take drugs out of the hands of criminals and other unregulated capitalists, and bring them under public control.’ Thankfully the Labour candidates all answer in a sensible fashion, but I think the general idea requires a quick response.

Firstly, it’s worth drawing attention to the fact that whenever people call for an injection of ‘evidence and common sense’, they invariably mean an injection of evidence that reinforces their own approach, and common sense that reflects their own prejudices. As I have written before, ‘evidence’, despite all its connotations of balance and objectivity, all too often merely re-affirms the pre-investigative prejudices of those who produce it. As such, the drugs debate often has little to do with objective evidence, and everything to do with rationalising the priorities of those who have the most to gain by adopting it. You’ll notice, for example, that ‘evidence’ rarely extends to include the lived experiences and opinions of those living on the front line of the drugs war, and is usually confined to research conducted by that very body of people who are either supportive of legalisation from the outset, or are far removed from any future consequences when it all goes wrong.

And that is the key – because it is worth noting that it is nearly always middle-class urban trendies who press the case for legalisation, primarily because they’d like to enjoy jolly drug-fuelled jaunts to Stonehenge without the dreadful inconvenience of having to obey the law of the land. Yet in truth, it is precisely this group of society whom the legalisation of drugs will affect the least; that is, it is not the bourgeois young ‘radicals’ who are likely to suffer the sharpest consequences of what it is they claim would be best for everyone. And this is the ugly face of contemporary liberalism; the tendency to rationalise the whims and fancy of the petit-bourgeoisie, appropriating (or misapproriating) slogans and concepts such as ‘freedom’ in order to do it. And it would be churlish to point out that it is a curious definition of ‘freedom’ that thinks it acceptable for citizens not only to remain perpetually addicted to something so destructive, but also that the state should both control and supply that addiction.

As I like to repeat regularly, mostly because it is absolutely true, it was once said that modern broad-mindedness benefits only the rich, and benefits nobody else. It was also maintained that modern broad-mindedness was meant to benefit only the rich, and meant to benefit nobody else. And in this instance, those who may well find it a dreadful chore to have to go to Amsterdam to indulge their hedonistic desires, are not really the ones whose radically self-centred accounts of ‘freedom’ we should be worrying about – rather, it is those who have never been to Amsterdam, and are confined to seeking their thrills on the estates of Airdrie, or Aberdeen, or Accrington.

For if we do live in an unjust two-tier society, as many now contend, and if we accept that this fact is lamentable, regressive, a slur on our credentials as a civilised nation, then the further question has to be asked:  how would the legalisation of drugs help that situation? After all, if collections of young men on council estates up and down the land have taboos surrounding drugs suddenly dismantled, even have their habits funded and supported through legal and governmentally controlled outlets, then are they more or less likely to be successful in life? Are they more or less likely to be taken into polite society, to achieve at school and go to university, to stick their job and support their family, to succeed in the art of living well? Truth is, I don’t actually know, and nobody definitively can, but I have seen enough to have an opinion – and I do know that it is a question that all too rarely passes the lips of those ‘freedom-fighters’ who make the case for legalisation.

Of course, one is almost guaranteed to be confronted with the riposte that the criminalisation approach has been tried, and look where it is has delivered us. Which only goes to show the extent to which the metropolitan trendies not only disregard those who live on drug-riddled council estates, but also have absolutely no idea it is like to live on drug-riddled council estates, either. Because, as anyone who has grown up on those drug-riddled council estates knows all too well, the idea that drugs are effectively criminalised is complete nonsense – such a reality exists only in the mind of the theorists, and nowhere else. In truth, drugs are traded and used openly at the school gates, in the bus shelter, behind the shops, over the park, on the street corner… in essence, there is an almost complete absence of criminalisation, at least if by that one means the reality of there being predictable, swift and severe legal consequences. Indeed, anyone who gets caught can consider themselves damned unlucky; and anyone who gets caught and issued anything more severe than a warning can consider themselves doubly unlucky.

And this is why, despite all the promises of the legalisation-lobby that a more ‘grown-up’ attitude to drugs will solve the problems of crime and addiction and violence almost overnight (there’s ‘evidence’ for that, y’know), there is yet a noticeable absence of any enthusiasm for such a course from amongst those who suffer at the sharp end of drugs culture. For them, justifiably enough, common sense doesn’t dictate that we decriminalise criminal activity in order to better regulate criminality –  rather, the complete opposite is the case. Their common sense is rather more sensible than that: swifter action, more severe penalties, schemes that help people come off drugs completely and not remain forever enslaved by ‘managing their addiction’, and perhaps more importantly than anything else, the promotion of real alternatives to a life on and/or in drugs.

And that is the clincher. Or else, in the name of ‘freedom’, distribute the Soma. And when that happens, our reputation as a ‘civilised’ nation will erode just that little bit more.

Propaganda and history

With the Papal visit just months away many Brits, particularly the ‘cultured’ sort, seem to be slowly working themselves up into a frenzy of anti-Catholic sentiment. For the observer this is mildly humorous, not least because it shows that even in ‘enlightened’ and ‘rational’ times people can yet churn out the most narrow-minded and illogical propaganda. Of course, one mustn’t be too surprised, since many have been bathed in pseudo-history since they were babes, and even the most eloquent debunking is incapable of convincing those so utterly determined to remain hostile.

As a result, the issue that consistently remains neglected is that of why such propaganda was ever needed in the first place. And if it were finally addressed, there can be little doubt that even the most ardent of contemporary apparatchiks would find themselves blushing at the cause they were passionately upholding. For the truth is, these pockmarked histories were manufactured primarily to protect a genocidal King and, later on, those whose consciences had been bought by him. That is not to say that this is a uniquely modern phenomenon, and common folk have been taught to misrepresent history ever since it became clear that history must be written by the winners, not least because those winners were also the ones who literally had the most to lose.

Thus, the folk on the ground passionately screaming silly slogans became the useful idiots that defended the very specimens that had dispossessed them, and who were to continue dispossessing them, over and over, for several hundred years. As such, if one ever wants to know why the Pope was depicted as a foreign enemy assaulting national sovereignty, or why clerical celibacy was denounced as inhumane, or why the Head of State had necessarily to become the Head of the Church, or why shrines were desecrated and pilgrimages condemned, or why veneration of the saints (and of Mary) was denounced as idolatrous, or why the monasteries were depicted as parasitic and regressive insitutitons, or why churches were stripped naked in the name of helping the impoverished, or why Tradition was denied in the name of sola scriptura and sola fide – if you want to know the answer to any of these things, then one need at the outset grasp this simple, central fact: that it best benefitted the desires and fortunes of those who had the most to gain by saying so.

Thus, for the sake of a man who wanted to divorce his Queen, and the honourable refusal of a Church to abandon a lady to the changeable lusts of a tyrant, even at the price of losing one of its most precious jewels – for the sake of this did the plunder commence. And the plunder was shared out among those whose consciences were valued at thirty pieces of silver, bringing with it the creation of a rapacious and institutionally anti-clerical petit-bourgeoisie, whose most distinguishing feature throughout history has been the depths to which it will descend to defend and protect its ill-gotten purse. And so, for those who would understand British history, or at least the past 500 or so years of it, one must keep this in mind: that those in power could only justify their crimes by demonising their victim. The absurd historical revisionism, the numerous character assassinations, the bloody persecution of non-conformists, the depiction of Catholics as traitors, the emergence of whiggism, the embrace of so-called ‘Parliamentary democracy’, the ‘Glorious Revolution’, the recusancy laws, the barbarous treatment of the Irish, and much much more besides; all these things were at root instituted in the name of, and to the benefit of, our alleged ‘liberators’ from the manacles of the Catholic Church.

An acknowledgment of the reality of this history often precedes conversion to the Faith, as several high-profile Anglicans have demonstrated throughout history. And since his name is topical, one might also turn to Cardinal Newman for confirmation of just this. One can read Newman’s thoughts directly here, or alternatively take at face value a neat analysis provided by the author of the blogpost, who writes;

Newman was also a historian. He showed how the historical claims and myths underlying “anti-Catholicism” of his time were inaccurate, false and unjustified. But it is interesting that the same set of myths are still used today to justify many anti-Catholic rants despite their historical inaccuracy. He described such a version of the historical record as “Fables” or Myths. He showed them to be logically inconsistent and grounded in prejudice, sustained by tradition and by many institutions of the British State. People who held to such “fables” required ignorance of the Catholic view as a protection for their own position‘ [my emphasis].

Newman diagnosed then what remains true now, and if anything is becoming ever more acute. But the central fact remains that the Fables are grounded in fantasy, not reality. Or, in the pithy words of Newman: ‘To be deep in history is to cease to be protestant.’

Banning the face veil

French MPs have finally taken steps to ban the full veil meaning that, in the name of defending the Republican principles of ‘secularism’ and ‘equality’, the state should determine how certain Muslim females shall dress.

One justification that the French have given, and it is a reasoning that seems to be rapidly gaining common currency, is that the face-veil ‘is the symbol of the repression of women, and… of extremist fundamentalism’.

But I wonder if that is a little simplistic.

To start with, it is important to dispense with two myths. Firstly that the wearing of a veil is a uniquely Muslim phenomena. It’s not. It has its place in the Christian religion, and I dare say other religions too. For example, one thing I notice more and more in my own Church is the rising numbers of (usually young) women who are electing to wear the mantilla to Mass. Partly, this is because there is a long established tradition of doing so, but also it is because (I suspect) more and more young women wish to make a statement of some kind; be it on their devotion to faith, or against the liberalisation of the Church they are in, or indeed against the society in which they reside. Whereas, admittedly, this veiling is within the context of worship, nonetheless I think Madeleine Bunting gets it right when she rejects the possibility that all women who wear the face-veil are necessarily victims of patriarchy, and concludes instead that some ‘young women are choosing to wear the full veil, seeing it as a powerful statement of identity’ (there is also an argument one could get into about where worship ends and ‘normal’ life begins – but I won’t).

The second myth is that such practice is chracteristic of Middle-Eastern, and not Western, culture. Which is perhaps true on the very superficial level of this particular kind of veiling, but the act of veiling oneself per se is not at all alien, be it in public places or religious. Visit a Cathedral or monastery in France or Spain or pretty much any country in Europe, and one would be expected to ‘dress modestly’ (this often includes the covering of legs and arms – ie/ no shorts or t-shirts, and it is not at all unusual for monasteries to insist that women wear a veil). Indeed, to bring it closer to home, I remember at my confirmation listening to two elderly ladies loudly horrified (they thought they were whispering) at the state of dress (or undress) of some confirmants, and unwittingly informing the whole Church that in their day it would never have been allowed and that ‘Father would have had us marched out the Church and sent right back home to put some clothes on’. Equally, calls for modesty have not always been confined to designated religious spaces; the public space also historically demanded certain minimum standards of modesty, and even if those standards appear to be increasingly redundant it is still not true to say they do not still exist, or that they never existed in the first place.

As such, the question of the veil is as much one of degree as anything else, and indeed the extent to which offers a very vocal rejection of the society in which it is situated (read Raedwald’s take on the powerful statement made by covering the face, here). And I think this is the key. Not only is the covering of the face a deeply anti-social act, it also constitutes a very visible rejection of the society in which the wearer resides. Just as wearing the mantilla has come, in my mind, to have both positive expressions (expressing a particular devotion) and negative expressions (establishing an identity over and against overriding trends), so the same is true of the face-veil; an expression which attracts all the more ire because it rejects contact with precisely that society that offered those wearers, at some point or another, a place they could call home.

Which is where I come to the novel position of agreeing with Mehdi Hasan, who quotes Fareena Alam in saying that ‘the controversy over the veil “has more to do with Europe’s own identity crisis than with the presence of some ‘dangerous other’. At a time when post-communist, secular, democratic Europe was supposed to have been ascendant, playing its decisive role at the end of history, Islam came and spoiled the party.” Now I disagree with the air of triumphalism, because Islam hasn’t at all spoiled the party; rather, Europe has sought for centuries to spoil its own party, and is looking for someone to point the finger at now that it needs someone to blame. But the central point is surely accurate – Europe has spent so long dismantling its own roots that it no longer knows who or what it is, and lies prostrate before a religious community very sure of who and what it is. In its defence, it must resort to the only weapon left in its armoury, one that it has become increasingly dependent on; the awesome power of the long idolised state.

Which leads to the bizarre position of a French government making it illegal to wear too many clothes, rather than (as has been more customary throughout the ages) the wearing of too little. For the French, the bogus principle of secularism is the shield behind which the attack on the face-veil has been advanced, even when the alternative they enforce, a secular space and culture marked by hedonism and immodesty, is precisely what the face-veil fundamentally seeks to reject. As such, the French follow a dangerous path, drifting toward proscription of that which defies or denies secularity and/or the character of the secular public space, even when some might feel such defiance and denial to be wholly justified. This is dangerous because is risks criminalising friend as well as foe: if secularism becomes seriously ill and is in need of medicine, then one would be ill-advised to criminalise the chap who might just bring it medicine.

I am not a fan of the face-veil, and think it is alien to our culture and history. But then I am not a fan of the path down which contemporary society is walking, either. And I think it unlikely that any state power that felt compelled to outlaw the face-veil would stop at just the face-veil; it would very soon find other dissenting voices, too.