According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were displaced globally at a rate of twenty-four persons per minute. This is the largest number on record and is expected to have grown in 2016. Despite the enormity of the situation, responses from Western countries (who host a mere 24 percent of displaced persons in comparison to the 86 percent hosted in countries surrounding conflict zones) have been inadequate, to say the least. Their harsh exclusionary rhetoric has resulted in increasingly hardline immigration policies. Australia has led the way in this regard, deploying a deterrence-driven model of offshore mandatory indefinite detention, which prevents asylum seekers from ever settling in the country, even if found to be “genuine refugees,” and laws that make family reunion almost impossible. Whilst this approach has been condemned by the UNHCR and multiple human rights organizations, it has been highlighted by numerous policymakers in Europe as a possible model for governing migration on the continent. Despite the notable exceptions of Germany and, to a smaller extent, Italy, European responses to the crisis have privileged exclusionary and securitizing policies, leading many commentators to observe that rather than a refugee crisis, this should be more properly described as a crisis of leadership or a crisis of solidarity.
Original essays reflecting on current events, debates in the field, and other public matters relevant to scholarship in secularism and religion.
Last month, the image of three police officers standing over a woman on the beach in Nice, supervising the removal of her “burkini” (a wetsuit-like swimming costume favored by some Muslim women), provoked great outrage over the bans of the garments in five French seaside towns. The criticisms have been several. The bans are conceived as a trespass against freedom of expression, guaranteed in that foundational document of the French political imagination, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789). Others have seen the bans as manifestations of patriarchy or symptoms of Islamophobia in the West. In the United States, the bans have been labeled assaults on the freedom of religion. The debate over the burkini strongly evokes the 2010 debate over the niqab (the veil that conceals everything but the eyes) in French public spaces. That debate—itself related to France’s earlier debate about the hijab in public schools—issued in a national ban. The ban was implemented over and against the advice of the Conseil d’État, which advised the niqab could not be said to represent a sufficient threat to “public order” to justify it. When the burkini ban was challenged last week, the Conseil d’État overturned it, citing similar considerations. (The Conseil d’État has the power to nullify administrative actions but can only issue advisory opinions vis-à-vis legislation.) And yet the niqab ban persists: when it was challenged before the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, that Court allowed it to stand.