April 13, 2011
The French Emperor’s Burka: When Liberalism Leads to Close-Mindedness -by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
It is ironic when liberalism generates, instead of open-mindedness and acceptance, limitation of others’ free expression and denial of their rights. France, I think, in dictating the limitations of what Muslim women can wear, has unmasked its liberte et egalite and shown it to be something else entirely. The French Emperor, it seems, is wearing no clothes. Liberty and equality that in the name of French secularism does not allow religious freedom are just prejudice and fear masquerading as secular values.
Rabbi Abraham Kook, the first chief rabbi of modern day Palestine (pre-state Israel) in the 1920’s, and father of modern day religious Zionism, understood that even in a religious context all things, even those usually deemed as anti-religious, can have value. For instance, atheism, he said, has an important voice and place. When others are in need, we must be atheists and not rely on God to help, not attribute the pain of others to divine justice, but jump in to assist, feeling the full burden of others’ needs as if there were no God for them to rely on.
I think secularism, too, has its place. To be deeply religious, the tolerance and viewing of others’ religious values is of paramount importance. If God is one and infinite then there are many keys to the kingdom. When caught up in our own religious views (be they spiritual, or in the case of France, secular) it is hard to appreciate the take others might have on the big questions, i.e. God, people, the good, the universe. But to have religious depth and not just self-righteousness, we must hear and appreciate the views of others, even if we do not accept them. Ironically, the more we know about our own religion and the more secure we are in our observance and faith, the more we will be able to tolerate and learn from other’s views. It makes one wonder how secure the French secularism that Sarkozy has touted really is (http://www.france24.com/en/20091112-nicolas-sarkozy-burqa-france-religion-muslim-secular-france).
The Talmud says that Jewish law follows the one who states the opposition’s opinion first and only then his own opinion. Such a person’s view is truly informed and thus more likely to be correct. When blind to another’s world view, it is easy to be right. But if we first look through the eyes and values of another and only then commit to our own values, our own opinions will be more true and just.
How ironic that France, birthplace of revolution and freedom, in unmasking the Muslim woman, has donned its own cultural blinders.