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Revealing Democracy

Secularism and Religion in Liberal Democratic States


Chantal Maillé, Greg M. Nielsen and Danièle Salée

Anxieties over the Islamic face covering and over the proper management of otherness in liberal democracies seem to have reached a new peak with the introduction of legislation banning the burka in France and Belgium, and recent proposals for similar statutes in Quebec. What assumptions are contained within Western secularism and revealed in these attempts at legislating women’s religious clothing?
This book presents a collection of essays which take secularism/laïcité and the regulation of public expressions of religious commitment as their points of departure, exploring the issues these raise within society with a view informing the public debate and reflecting on the nature of citizenship. Is democracy well served when the terms and conditions of citizenship are defined beforehand by a given group and when these terms are presented as non-negotiable and unchangeable?
Revealing Democracy sheds light on the ways in which liberal states address and cope with the challenges of diversity and otherness and documents how processes of domination may be internalized and reflected in discourses on secularism and religion. It compels us to look without complacency at the limitations of liberal democratic citizenship and reflect on the inability of state policies to curb racism and entrenched patterns of Eurocentric social domination.
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Regimes of Accommodation, Hierarchies of Rights



University of Guelph

This chapter seeks to illuminate the social and political context in which legislation aimed at regulating the wearing of the niqab in Quebec – Bill 94 – arose. In doing so, it offers a critical analysis of the public framing of what came to be known as the “niqab affair,” and proposes an alternative approach to mediating conflicts over religious and cultural norms. Drawing on the work of philosophers Étienne Balibar and Wendy Brown, I suggest that the prevailing assumption that the niqab represents a deep division between pre-modern, traditional, and religious norms and customs on the one hand and a modern, emancipated and secular way of life on the other obscures the backdrop of racialised identities and civic identity-building that fueled the niqab controversy. I also draw on feminist and postcolonial accounts of the putative tensions between feminism and multiculturalism – such as those by Himani Bannerji, Anne Phillips, and Sawitri Saharso – to illuminate some troubling aspects of the public presentation of the niqab dispute.

Official justifications of Bill 94, I argue, were predicated upon over-simplified interpretations of two closely related principles, those of sexual equality and personal autonomy (including the idea of choice). These interpretations are troubling chiefly because they ignore the complex and contested nature of these norms in culturally diverse societies like Canada. What is needed instead to help negotiate genuine problems of multicultural accommodation is a more politically inclusive, democratic, and deliberative approach to adjudicating...

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