I read this interesting article in the Tribune about the Burka ban and I left this enormous comment there in the comments section which I thought I’d copy here. Let me clarify, I am not or have not ever been a Kemalist – this is more of an open question:
Here’s a question addressed to the author of this article
you claim that liberating women is not a matter of symbolic wars over their manner of dress. Well said. But then you state that liberating women is a matter of providing positive opportunities like economic freedom, etc. So by saying that you are admitting that there is some objective standard of “freedom” along which these women must indeed be liberated and by doing so you choose to not take away rights but to grant opportunities.
Now the uncomfortable question – since you have already admitted an objective standard of freedom on which these women (muslim) are lacking what if these women subscribe to a philosophy that makes their freedom that much more difficult to attain. i.e. a philosophy that glorifies their role at home as procreator (or “princess” as the Jamaat likes to say), that encourages them to dress in ways that make participation in the economy impossible, etc. What if a survey is done which shows that in families with about the same economic opportunities, those that hold this retrogressive philosophy have significantly less “women’s freedom” (remember, you implicitly admitted that this can be measured)
What justification do you have for not acting in ways to discourage this this philosophy at that point? Is it just some boundary regarding individual rights defined in Europe in the 18th century that you are not willing to cross?
to clarify: does anyone believe that realistically ‘liberation’ in religiously conservative societies like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia can be achieved merely by simple granting of opportunities or would there have to be some kind of limitation of freedom of religion rights?
And is there any explanation (beyond looking at things from the typically agreed upon Enlightenment values of freedom of speech, etc) that one would consider the right to freedom of religion as absolute, trumping even the desire to improve society? A parallel example is the issue of right to property – many advocates of socialism and land reform do not consider the right to property as absolute if it adversely affects the structure of society. Can we not consider a religious philosophy that seriously hinders 50% of its society from achieving “freedom” as as harmful as land-ownership patterns that create large chunks of landless and economically disadvantaged?
And finally one more parallel is the idea of herd immunity that gives our doctors the right to go around poking needles into our children’s arms because the decisions of those parents who refuse immunization adversely affect the whole of society’s immunity. If women as a whole want to be free (and just looking at a street scene in Pakistan where the few women that are present are invariable covered in a chador and walking hastily from point to point looking neither left nor right one can emphatically say that they are not free), should we not be allowed to infringe on the religious freedom of the puritans in order to change the structure of society so we can exercise our individual rights to be free?