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Neville Cox

In this introductory chapter I first define some of the key terms that are used throughout the book, specifically ‘Islamic veil’ and ‘anti-veiling law’. I then give a brief introduction to the kinds of anti-veiling laws that exist in Europe today and also outline the impact of right wing political voices on the enactment of such laws. Next, and because it is so widely discussed during the book, I provide a snapshot of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights where issues pertaining to veiling are at stake. Finally, I identify various recurring themes relevant to anti-veiling laws that are discussed throughout the book.

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Neville Cox

Many of the arguments that have been advanced in support of laws that restrict the wearing of certain forms of Islamic head and face-covering veils operate on the assumption that the garments carry certain defined pejorative meanings. In addition, much analysis of the issue, including analysis of the human rights aspects of the debate engages neither with the reality of why certain women choose to wear veils nor with the significance of the act of veiling for those who do. As such, in this chapter I seek to consider the broad reasons for veiling and, in addition, to explain why this is so significant for some women.

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Neville Cox

The application of human rights law to the veiling issue is critical, not least because, to the extent that a law that restricts veiling is interfering with the rights of women who wish to veil, the tendency of many European governments is to characterise such laws as justified interferences with rights. In this chapter, and referring primarily to the European Convention on Human Rights, I assess both the rights that are at play within this issue, and also the typical treaty-based justifications for such laws that are relied on by states. Furthermore, I outline four different elements of the standard approach of the European Court in ‘veiling cases’ that allow it to defer to state policy in this area.

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Neville Cox

A number of European states have cited national security concerns to justify their ‘anti-veiling’ laws. In this chapter I consider the nature of these concerns, and also assess whether they warrant any kind of prohibition of veiling. I suggest that, in fact, there is no evidence that even the Islamic face veil is any kind of a security threat and, indeed, that some of the security concerns that are referenced, if they can be used to justify restrictions on veiling, should also be used to justify restrictions on non-controversial things such as the wearing of sunglasses and the use of mobile phones. Finally I suggest that, whether or not this is the intended effect of veiling laws that are justified in the name of national security, they will inevitably fuel an undeserved suspicion of veil-wearing women and, more broadly, of Muslims generally.

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Neville Cox

A further justification for anti-veiling laws (one that is fuelled by and fuels popular opposition especially to full-face veils) is that the practice of veiling is repugnant to the European vision of gender equality. I note that there are two elements to this. First, it is argued that the right to equality of the individual wearer is under threat. Moreover, in response to the argument that a woman cannot be threatened by something that she voluntarily wears, it is occasionally suggested that in fact the supposed ‘consent’ of such a woman to veiling is suspect and may be the product either of false consciousness or duress. Secondly, it is suggested that the veil is an inherent symbol of the oppression of women and is thus, morally unacceptable. In this chapter, I assess both the arguments about the suspect nature of a woman’s consent to veil and the suggestion that the veil is such an inherent symbol. I suggest that there is very little to support either contention but that, once again, the effect of justifying a law against veiling on this basis is to stigmatise the garment, and, in consequence, both its wearer and her religion, as something inherently repugnant to western, liberal values.

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Neville Cox

An increasingly common feature of much recent rhetoric surrounding the Islamic veil (and especially the full-face veil) is that it is repugnant to the foundational values of the particular society. Indeed it is no coincidence that the enactment of many such laws has occurred during a time period that has seen significant increases in support for right wing populist views in many European countries. In this chapter, I consider whether anti-veiling laws can be justified on the basis that they buttress such allegedly foundational, societal values. Two such values are especially important. First there is a concern with a ‘secular’ society – a concern that underpinned laws restricting veiling in both Turkey and France. Secondly there is a concern with an open society – the basis on which the European Court of Human Rights has, recently, upheld the legitimacy of laws prohibiting face veils in public.

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Neville Cox

It is occasionally argued that the practice of veiling interferes with the rights of other people in society – and on a number of occasions, the European Court of Human Rights has deemed anti-veiling laws to be justified, in part, by reference to the ‘rights of others’ in society. These rights fall under three headings – the right not to be presented with something that generates a negative emotional reaction (typically offence or intimidation), the right not to be presented with something that might be ideologically influential or generate a pressure to conform, and the right to live with other people in an open society. In this chapter I consider these ‘rights’ and conclude that not merely do they not justify the interference with the actual rights of wearers that an anti-veiling law entails, but that, in addition, they are illusions.

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Neville Cox

In this concluding chapter, I draw together various themes that have arisen in the previous chapters and that point, I believe, to the conclusion that European anti-veiling laws are symbolic strikes against a symbol, and are not enacted in order to have any kind of meaningful substantive effect. I further consider whether lessons can be learned from these themes as to the real reasons why states pass laws against Islamic veiling, and suggest, albeit speculatively, that there may be two such reasons. I argue that neither of these reasons would constitute justifiable bases for interfering with human rights, and thus that the veiling issue presents significant challenges as far as bodies like the European Court are concerned.

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Behind the Veil

A Critical Analysis of European Veiling Laws

Neville Cox

Since the early 2010s, an increasing number of European countries have passed laws that prohibit the wearing of various kinds of Islamic veil in particular circumstances. This insightful book considers the arguments used to justify such laws and analyses the legitimacy of these arguments both generally and in regards to whether such laws can be seen as justified interferences with the rights of women who wish to wear such garments.
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Neville Cox

In this chapter, and with particular regard to the approach to blasphemy law in the Republic of Ireland, the author argues that a genuine blasphemy law (as distinct from a law that targets blasphemous speech because it has perceived residual consequences) represents a societal statement that speech which treats sacred matters in an inappropriate way is unacceptable. Such a law therefore constitutes an interference with the right to freedom of expression in the name of public morality. The author argues that, as a matter of human rights law, there is nothing objectionable in principle to a law of this kind, provided that it represents a proportionate response to a genuine public morals concern. The example of the Republic of Ireland, where a blasphemy law exists despite the fact that contemporary Irish public morality objects to rather than demands a blasphemy law, demonstrates that it is only where a state’s public morality is religiously based that such a law could be justified. Equally, and because morality is objectively unprovable as being right or wrong, the fact that most Western states now endorse secular, individual focused moral visions does not mean that a public morality grounded in religion is universally unacceptable. Therefore, the fact that a blasphemy law is out of place in a secular society does not mean that it is inherently and universally unacceptable.