Religious Intolerance

Dear Professor Mendus,

Hello, my name is Jason Chen and I am an American who is interested in applying for the MA Political Theory (The Idea of Toleration) program. I am extremely interested in this topic so I have taken the liberty to read some of your work. The discussion of religious tolerance is a much heated debate, now more than ever. From reading CNN, I noticed that France recently banned the burqa with a senate vote of 246 to 1. This is unbelievable to me. Such a controversial vote in the United States would have at least been closer to 50/50.

This topic relates to what you have written about French schools banning headscarves which I find an even more difficult issue. In contrast, this law, if I'm not mistaken, will prevent women from wearing burqas outside in general. How can the classical liberalism roots of Western liberal democracies be reconciled with this seemingly infringement of personal liberty?

You mention in your work that French secularism has to do with its specific history and that I find completely understandable. However, that does not mean that its laws restricting religious expression is justified. The only justification for state intervention should be security and I fail to see how allowing women to wear burqas somehow endangers the security of France.

France banning the burqa composes just a small fraction of what seems to be an overall war on Islam fueled by racism and religious intolerance. I find it appalling that it is OK right now in America to openly criticize Muslims. One is reminded of the intolerance and racism towards blacks not too long ago.

Do you think that France's actions are a sign of anti-Muslim sentiment caused not only by their history regarding secularism but also because of xenophobia and racism? Also, do you think that banning the burqa in public places is an infringement of personal liberty?

I would love to hear more about what you think of all this. Religious intolerance is only growing in the United States. I'm sure you've heard about the Ground Zero mosque and how much controversy that sparked.