Descent of the EuroGreens

April 22, 2010

If the Greens win a seat at the General Election, then we have to hope that it won’t mark the beginning of their descent into the sordid world of Euro-Greenery. As Belgium’s Green Party shows, it’s easy to become detached from the core of what makes Green politics interesting, distinctive and progressive. As I see it, Greens stand for environmental justice – which encompasses protection of the environment and social justice.

Yet it’s very hard to square these aims with the rhetoric coming out of Belgian Green MP Stefaan Van Hecke’s mouth. Van Hecke has decided to be the poster boy for a campaign in Belgium’s parliament to ban the wearing of the face veil. The BBC says that this is specifically related to muslim women, not to veil wearers in general, but even then it would be offensive enough.

As Van Hecke puts it, “If you want good communication between all communities, and there are a lot in Brussels, it’s important that we see each other when we speak to each other. I think it’s very important to social contact.”

This is not just racist and illiberal (though surely framed in liberal terms), it is also an absurd diversion from environmental and social justice issues. After all, the BBC reports that in Brussels, wearing the veil is extremely rare.

Perhaps fortunately for Van Hecke, Belgium’s government collapsed today in acrimony, putting the anti-veil law in some doubt. But if passed, it will be the first time that such a measure has criminalized veling in public, with on the spot fines and possibly prison sentences meted out to offenders.

Unfortunately, the Belgians might be trumped on the matter by the French government. A couple of days ago, Nicholas Sarkozy announced that he would be submitting a similar law, justifying it using identical rhetoric that it “hurts the dignity of women and is not acceptable in French society.”

But surely dignity is associated with freedom to choose, not submission to arbitrary sumptuary laws? Even if, as (some) French feminists argue, a ban is desirable as it would allow young muslim women to reject the wishes of their family, this is a fallacy, as choice is not the issue at all. Such feminism, like Belgian Greens seem to be retreating to a highly impoverished political territory in which support for a far-right, borderline racist government is framed as a heroic defence of minority rights.

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