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A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

On the wearing of the veil: "It's an act of faith" - al-Shaikh, a young British Muslim woman.

The adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly.

In Europe a debate is raging as to whether the State can tell a citizen what is permissible dress in public. For example the BBC reports:

Two French Muslim women who continue to wear the full-face veil in defiance of a new law banning it in France have been issued fines by a court.  The women say they will appeal against their punishment all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland all have - or are planning - similar legislation.

Meanwhile America's birth mother is actively beginning a similar debate about banning the full-face veil and is asking if a ban by Britain's nearest continental neighbors influence policy back home.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls said it was "not British" to tell people what to wear in the street. But writing in the Independent newspaper, journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who chairs the group British Muslims for Secular Democracy, said she supported restrictions on wearing the face veil in key public spaces. "This covering makes women invisible, invalidates their participatory rights and confirms them as evil temptresses. I feel the same fury when I see Orthodox Jewish women in wigs, with their many children, living tightly proscribed lives."

According to USA Today only 28% of the U.S. population would approve of such a ban and it asks why there is this discrepancy and concludes:

One factor is the relative size of these countries' Muslim communities, which according to Boston University's World Religion Database account for only about 1.5% of the U.S. population but 5% of the citizens of Germany, 6% in the Netherlands and 9% in France.

A second factor is culture. In the name of their holy trinity of liberté, égalité and fraternité, the French bow down at the altar of secularism. So it should not be surprising that French politicians want their streets and schools to be religion-free zones.

America's public sphere, by contrast, has never been naked of religious expression. Then again, it has never been given over to religion either. So Americans struggle with a challenge quite unknown to the French — how to balance a godless Constitution with a Declaration of Independence that derives our inalienable rights not from the state but from the Creator.

Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University and the author of the book 'God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter', asks:

"What will happen in the USA if Islam claims the 9% of the population it now claims in France? Or if another 9/11 befalls us at the hands of a terrorist praying "Allahu Akbar"? 

His answer is: "I don't know. For now, I am grateful that our talking heads are not whipping our legislators into a frenzy, and that Muslim women are free to wear whatever they want in our public places".

I don't know either.  Yet as I look at the picture I wonder what are the one thousand words that lie behind it?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Hirsch April 11, 2012 at 12:50 PM
It is our biological imperative to reproduce. Bands of humans have always fought for dominance in order to pass along their genetic material. Religion in prehistory enabled larger groups to form and thus to become more powerful and more dominant. It is the same today. It is our human nature to seek dominance in order that the strongest genetic material gets passed along. Organized religion is a handle for that biological imperative.

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