Two news stories that have captured the public’s imagination, and which are interrelated, are the proposed construction of a mosque within sight of Ground Zero and the “burqa ban” which British immigration minister Damien Green has categorically ruled out because it is “un-British,” whatever that phrase implies. Presumably, he means that curtailing the ability to wear anything-even if your choice of apparel is the sartorial equivalent of a burlap sack-goes against some undefined British freedom of choice.
The tradeoff between individual freedoms and collective security-or, as some would argue, comfort-is something that every society has to deal with in its own manner, and achieving a balance is particularly difficult when the competing forces-in both cases, a resurgent, political Islam and a heavily secularized, modern nation-state-are so manifestly different in nature. Those who argue for this mosque’s construction, and against a prohibition on female veiling, argue that we in the West need to protect individual freedoms-including the freedom to worship enshrined in our Constitution-if we are to remain true to our civilizational values, while their opponents assert that we need to stand up to these forces in order to preserve those very values.
Unfortunately, what not many observers have suggested-and what remains strictly taboo in these discussions-is that we reacquaint ourselves with another value that we in Great Britain and the United States once subscribed to. Namely, sensible, limited immigration policies that are crafted with a nation’s self-interest foremost in mind. Whether or not you think Islam’s injunction to proselytize, its cumbersome restrictions on the women’s freedoms, and its demonization of non-Islamic societies are good things, I think most of us would agree that they are not American or, traditionally speaking, British values.
The United States cherishes those natural rights that we were endowed with from birth, including the right to worship freely and to dispose of your property in such manner as we see fit. Therefore, it would be hypocritical of us to abridge those freedoms for some people, i.e. Muslims. On the other hand, there comes a point where the exploitation of these freedoms-not by those who are Americans by birth, but those who were invited here as guests-begins to encroach upon the freedoms of others. And here, I’m not speaking of the freedom to build a mosque, or to wear a patently absurd, all-encompassing shroud over your body-both are obviously protected behaviors-but those cases where the exercise of religion impinges upon our freedom. For example, our right not to be deafened by the screeching call to prayer of a muezzin that uses a loudspeaker many times louder than legally authorized. Or the right of a business owner to fire an insubordinate Muslim employee who won’t handle pork products. Or, for that matter, the right of patients utilizing the National Health Service in Britain not to die from a bacterial infection as a result of encounters with Muslim physicians who refuse to wash their hands before surgery.
These are all real, tangible examples of the conflict between immigrants and the society into which they don’t want to assimilate, but which they want to exploit culturally, financially, and politically. However, they wouldn’t be problems-or at least, not our problems-if we had a reasonable immigration policy that examined such vast ideological differences before accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants each and every year who-while perhaps making some valuable contributions to their adoptive lands-do not contribute to maintaining the social fabric, or ensuring the protection of generally accepted customs, norms, and in the case of the United States, constitutional freedoms.