Friday, November 17, 2006


The Nyok Times reports that the Dutch are debating whether to ban burkas "as a grave security threat," out of fear that terrorists might use them to conceal their identities and their arms. According to Mr. Crouch (he's doing the reporting), "The Dutch discussion is part of a larger European debate about how far governments can go in legislating what people — and specifically Muslim women and girls — can and cannot wear." Oh, yeah? Sez you, Mr. Crouch!

The "larger debate" is liberty, pure and simple.

In our lifetimes, a grand transformation has occurred in the understanding of liberty. The law, it was once commonly believed, forbade the immoral act, such as theft and murder; encouraged the moral one, like giving alms; and condoned what was neither—for example, wearing burkas, an activity that, however silly, cannot possibly do any harm, in this life or in the next. The law's laissez-faire attitude toward neutral actions gave us broad liberties, because most actions are neutral. If someone wanted to wear burkas, or visit Independence Hall, or take shampoo on a flight to Los Angeles, he was perfectly free to do so. If someone wanted to take shampoo on a flight to Los Angeles and forcefeed it to the passenger in the next seat, he was, of course, liable to prosecution for assault. But the evil in that case was assault, not the transportation of toiletries across state lines for hygienic purposes.

Today, the law has undertaken to classify every human action as either moral or immoral, and to legislate accordingly. This is done not to detect crime and punish the criminals, but to prevent crime before it happens. The law now trades liberty for security; and we all know what a wise man once said about that sort of exchange. We will soon be told that we either mustn't, or must, do everything under the sun. And that will be the end of liberty as those quaint young men in the quaint little wigs imagined it. Incidentally, it will also destroy our moral fibre: to forbid a neutral act effectively, the government must call it evil. Commandments not to eat trans fats or to smoke now cheapen the Decalogue. Ask anyone today which is more shocking: that President Clinton repeatedly swore falsely against Paula Jones, or that someone recently smoked in a restaurant? How many, do you suppose, now believe that a little second-hand smoke is more dangerous than corruption in the halls of justice?

So when the Dutch, or Europe generally, debates what Muslim women and girls can and cannot wear, there's more at stake than whether to honor the observance of some picayune Persian pilpul. The issue is whether millions must forfeit a liberty, because some handful may abuse it. If they must, then we must be prepared to forfeit every other liberty; for the analysis applies across the board. Virtually no morally neutral act cannot be made to further the purposes of an immoral one.

But what about security? some will cry. Well, what about it? Indeed, what the hell about it? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Did you absorb nothing in those elementary history classes?

It shouldn't surprise us that Islam takes a dim view of Westernization, if these are its fruits. It also shouldn't surprise us that the "Islamo-fascists," whatever the hell that means, are confident of ultimate victory; we're hellbent on handing it to 'em on a silver platter.


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