Suzanne Fields

The police insist they will enforce the burqa ban "extremely cautiously" lest they provoke Islamic violence. "The law will be difficult to enforce in (housing projects)," says a leader of the policemen's union. "I can't see police going to book dozens of veiled women doing their shopping in Venissieus or in Trappes," he said, naming two suburbs where riots are regularly set off by accusations of discrimination against Muslims. "It will be the same when a police officer is about to arrest a veiled Saudi woman who is about to go into Louis Vuitton on the Champs Elysses. In all cases, the forces of order will have to be measured and cautious in their behavior."

This puts the French in a bit of a pickle (if not necessarily a kosher pickle). The government has imposed a law it is reluctant to enforce, essentially leaving it to the Muslim radicals, always eager to provoke confrontation and even violence, to determine whether and how the law will be enforced.

Here at home, as in Europe, it's the resistance to assimilation that threatens the sense of community that has bound together the unlikely American nation of immigrants. Without some sort of melting pot, an edible stew is impossible. We should welcome immigrants who obey the law, but we should require them to learn and honor the history and traditions of their new home.

Charles Moore, writing in the London Daily Telegraph, was selected to speak to the annual dinner of the Honorable Artillery Company, Britain's oldest army regiment, and offer the traditional toast to "England." When he left the dinner, his driver, an amiable Muslim of Bangladeshi descent born 40 years ago in London -- "Londonistan" in the argot of the time -- asked for his destination.

"I said 'Sussex,'" Moore replied. "He had never heard of it. What, I asked myself, was his 'England'? Would he have picked up any joke or reference that I made (in my speech)? Would names like the Duke of Wellington, Tennyson or William Blake have rung even the faintest bell?

"These thoughts made me brood. Part of the pleasure of the England I was trying to talk about is that it is shared. But England is not the special possession of those like me, and I wouldn't want it to be. The point about a country is that it belongs to all its settled inhabitants."

And so it is, in America as in "the sceptr'd isle," which is why it troubles the "settled inhabitants" that some of their new neighbors want to hide behind gunny sacks, averting their eyes from friendly contact, the women often terrified that their husbands are forever looking for imagined slights to be punished by scoldings, beatings and even death to satisfy imported codes of "honor." This is an issue now for the Europeans to confront, and no doubt for us soon enough. We do both immigrants and ourselves no favor by encouraging them to remain unassimilated.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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