From open values to burqa bans: have Europeans lost the habit of tolerance?

Thursday 14 October, 6.00pm until 7.30pm, House of Literature, Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo, Norway

Venue: House of Literature, Wergelandsveien 29, 0167, Oslo, Norway

Tickets: This event is free and open to the public. For further information please email Elisabeth: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Last year, the debate in Norway sparked by a police officer who wanted to wear the hijab as part of her uniform led to the Justice Minister having a breakdown and the burning of veils in the street. Across Europe there appears to be growing intolerance of religious symbols, and Islamic ones in particular. Belgium claims to be restoring national pride by banning the burqa and niqab. France claims the veil is ‘contrary to the values of the Republic’, the Swiss have halted the building of minarets and the Spanish proclaim that the ‘values of our society cannot go into retreat.’

Are democratic secular values really under so much threat from the tiny numbers of women who wear the full-face veil? What does the demand for bans tell us about contemporary European societies? As Europe faces increasing economic challenge, the energy put into this issue might seem misguided. Although opposition to the veil is often made in the name of women’s rights, some feminists argue it is wrong to focus on the symbols rather than the reality of women’s oppression. They suggest the best way to liberate women is to improve their standards of living, and encourage them to engage more in public life, not to shun them on the basis of their clothing choices.

Is there a danger that such bans will increase intolerance towards Islam? Pushing it out of sight rather than finding a place for it within society? Should modern democracies always be tolerant of religion, or only when religion itself is ‘tolerant’? Is it consistent for liberal states to have illiberal attitudes to what people choose to wear? Are Western countries really at threat from fundamentalism or does the fear of Islam reflect a lack of confidence in the West itself?

This event will be attended by Dr Tiffany Jenkins, as a guest representative of the Battle of Ideas Organising Committee


Nazneen Khan-Østrem
assistant professor of journalism, University of Oslo; author, My Holy War

Brendan O'Neill
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays

Hans Rustad

Merryl Wyn Davies
director, Muslim Institute, London; co-author, Distorted Imagination: lessons from the Rushdie affair

Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Produced by
Martyn Perks digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
Elisabeth Bøe projects and partnerships manager, British Council
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