Special Reports / Are religious women a threat to democracy? Martha Nussbaum argues with Alain Finkielkraut

Are religious women a threat to democracy? Martha Nussbaum argues with Alain Finkielkraut

"Kultura Liberalna" Editors · 28 July 2014

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Dear Readers,

Empty churches, civil unions, apostasy on a massive scale- we have lived with a strong conviction that the West will inevitably secularize. Today, such an argument raises many doubts. We can hear a lot about the return of religion to? the public sphere. Tensions over the ‘Chazan case’ or the ‘Golgota Picnic’ performance could therefore be seen in a broader perspective. However, these issues have different faces in Eastern and Western Europe.

In Western Europe, the symbolic presence of the Catholic Church in the public sphere is often debated. The question of Islam seems to be even more confusing. The Swiss banned building of minarets in a popular referendum in 2009. Covered female faces were seen to be the final proof of violating the principle of laïcité. France started to fine women wearing burqas. If we remember that the policy of ‘multiculturalism’ was declared a failure few years ago, we should start to think again over the future course of the Old Continent.

In the EU, the number of immigrants from all over the world is hitting the roof. Poland is affected by that issue in a very peculiar way: despite the principle of a free movement of persons between the EU states, Poles are often treated with a reluctance similar to that experienced by immigrants from the Arab countries. Jack Straw, a prominent politician of the British Labour government, has recently admitted that the number of possible immigrants after the 2004 EU enlargement was underestimated. The whole migration policy was based on false premises. In short, Straw apologised for opening the British borders, the opportunity that has been used by many Polish jobseekers. If the past is seen in this way, we should not have much optimism for the future.

If multiculturalism failed, are we left the radical right’s solutions? Many politicians seem to think this way. Nevertheless, Martha Nussbaum, philosopher from the University of Chicago Law School argues that the European immigration policy is heading towards a catastrophe. She argues that the dispute over burqa can be seen as a lens, which focuses all of its injustices. Western Europe should not bother itself with a small group of women covering faces in order to protect the laïcité model, because the whole policy does not have a good rationale. In an interview with ‘Kultura Liberalna’, Nussbaum talks about her ideas on how to solve that issue. She points that if we really want to make our countries more secure, we should try to integrate the Muslims into society, rather than pushing them away to the margins, claiming that we are fighting for a secular society.

The famous French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut completely disagrees, he says that the French culture should be protected from American ideas and immigration. The intellectual explains in an interview with ‘Kultura Liberalna’ that the struggle for laïcité should not only be continued, but pursued with even greater courage.

As we know, the judiciary has to some extent confirmed that view. Few weeks ago, the European Tribunal of Human Rights ruled that the French law forbidding to wearing a burqa in a public space should not be seen as violating human rights. This means that despite a young woman’s complaint, they are still binding.

How did it happen that women’s rights are now at the centre of fierce debates on both sides of the continent? Can we talk about the “return of religion” on a bigger scale?

Our discussion will be soon continued. More comments will follow from Oliver Roy (which would be his first interview for the Polish press), Charles Taylor and Ivan Krastev.


Jarosław Kuisz


Partners of the Topic of the Week: Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Centre for the Study of French Culture and Francophone Studies at University of Warsaw, and Eurozine.

Idea for the Topic of the Week: Jarosław Kuisz

Editors:  Łukasz Pawłowski, Błażej Popławski, Piotr Dudek, Justyna Karpińska Katarzyna Mierzejewska, Michalina Seliga

Illustrations: Magdalena Marcinkowska