Conversations (7)

Thank you for your good wishes, Prof. I am looking out of my window across a beautiful, leafy campus, and feel very excited about the new job.

I agree that for some a ban does not help, as it forces those women who choose to wear the banned item either to remain hidden at home or to break the law when leaving their homes. But that is true of all bans -- people have to make choices when something is banned. Governments bring bans into effect to protect society or individuals from potential harms (from speed limits to banned substances and beyond), and while those bans may cause some controversy we largely accept that some level of regulation is required in order not to return to Hobbes' state of nature. (Incidentally, it was you who taught me about Hobbes and Mill many years ago...)

The question is whether the burkini or full veils or other religious attire causes harm, to society or to individuals. There is a part of me -- the feminist, perhaps -- that does see how banning certain practices can effect change in the way that men 'more-or-less coercively dictate[d] their wives', daughters', sisters' or mothers' apparel in countless cultural contexts'. Banning Female Genital Mutilation, or child marriage, or removal of children from schools under a certain age, have all played a significant part in that process.

Hi Rosa -- On these points I'd recommend a well-mellowed Shiraz or Chardonnay.  Nothing too acidic.

Indeed I'm taking a 'purely' secular point of view.  It's the only one a secular democracy under the rule of law can coherently take, whatever its traditions or majority culture may be. 

Many democracies have well-established rules of "reasonable accommodation" that are perfectly plausible.  An employer will certainly have no grounds for going out of its way to frustrate religious practices beyond what is required for the job.  Ultimately, however, the qualifier 'reasonable' gives the game away -- that infinitely malleable standard will inevitably depend on particular contexts and circumstances.  To stray any further is to subvert democratic foundations: Do we count all 'religions'?  Or only religions that are sufficiently established (but then what does that mean?) or with enough adherents -- but then how many?  What counts as a religion?  Who decides what a religion requires?  A democratic state has no competence, and ought neither to seek nor to claim any competence in deciding those matters.  What it therefore maintains is a power to determine reasonable accommodation, even if it means that some must indeed choose between their faith and their preferred employment.

Again, on France, I agree that regulations outside spaces of state administration claim no obvious justification and the norm of laïcité ends up invoked with great rhetorical flourish but little substantive force. 

I know many will resent the analogy, but a choice in favour of the burka is like a choice in favour of sexual slavery or sexual masochism.  Yet people do make such choices.  As long as all parties concerned exercise free, informed, adult discretion and inflict no harm on a non-consenting party, a secular state can have no plausible grounds for impeding the choice.   Assuming no family or community coercion, a woman donning a burka is certainly exercising an individual choice, but the sheer fact that a woman exercises an individual choice in no way means she is eo ipso exercising a feminist choice -- no more than everything gays choose are gay choices, no more than everything Christians choose are Christian choices, no more than everything Marxists choose are Marxist choices; no more than everything ethical philosophers choose are ethical choices, and so forth.

Hi Prof,

That does make sense regarding access for Western European states with which we have had ties with many centuries. But the same does not ring true regarding newer members. Has expansion to include Eastern European states really been about anything other than trying to build a cushion between us and Russia? It seems that expansion happened far too quickly, and that many of those countries have brought with cultures and ideologies -- I am particularly thinking of the rise of the far-right in Hungary -- that are anathema to (most) people in this country and to the goals of the EU.

On one of your other points, I agree that the level of debate amongst people has been far more nuanced and engaged than at any other time during my lifetime. I was not born when the last referendum on Europe took place, but from what I understand it sparked similarly concerned and thoughtful discussions amongst the general public.

It does worry me, however, that so many people remain undecided even now at this late hour. Last night my facebook feed was littered with discussions between undecideds and decideds. I even took a call at 10pm from a friend in the medical profession who simply could not make up her mind and needed to thrash out the issues. Why do you think that is? My hunch is that a binary 'in-or-out' referendum simply glosses over the multi-faceted nature of the debate around the EU. On the one hand, I think that we all agree that it requires reform. On the other hand, leaving will not force that reform and nor will it enable us to turn our backs fully on the EU. Should there have been a referendum? What other alternatives were there?

My biggest concern has been the conduct of politicians and campaigners on both sides. The horrific murder of a wonderful MP, humanitarian worker, and woman in many ways demonstrates the toxicity of the two campaigns. There was far too much latent, and at times over, racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance. And I am not sure whether the smugness of Farage, Boris, Gove, or 'call-me-Dave' Cameron, will be more unbearable depending on who wins. 

Regardless, it seems that immigration remains the crucial sticking point for very many people. To ignore those concerns would be intellectually and morally dishonest. What are your thoughts on some of the ideas bandied around over recent weeks?

All the best from a rather drowned-rat (I misguidedly stepped outside for a smoke and managed two puffs before nearly drowning).


The conversation has been a pleasure Rosa.  We'll surely be continuing it -- whether we like it or not!