Letter to the Editor from Stefan Simanowitz

Writer Stefan Simanowitz responds to a letter from the French ambassador regarding his commentary on France's 'burqa ban.'

Dear Editor:

Responding to my commentary piece of last week, the French ambassador to the US, François Delattre, has written in these pages that any attempt “to compare the implementation of a law prohibiting the concealing of the face in public with the atrocities committed during Second World War, and specifically the Holocaust, is outrageous and unacceptable.” As the author of the commentary piece in question, I completely agree with Mr. Delattre.

In my article I do not attempt to make any such comparison. The article (for which I had offered the suggested headline “Lifting the veil on the burqa ban”) was a measured exploration of the rise of anti-Muslim feeling in Europe and the US arguing that the French ban on the niqab and burqa runs contrary to a central tenet of Enlightenment thinking, namely the freedom of religious belief and practice. The piece touched on perceptions of Muslims within the Western media and observed that, in times of economic austerity, minority or immigrant populations have historically provided convenient scapegoats for national frustrations.

Unfortunately the foreboding headline that the Monitor chose to give to the article – “France's burqa ban: Has Europe forgotten the gas chambers?” – invited readers to assume that the article was drawing a comparison between the two. As soon as the piece was published, I contacted the newspaper editors to ask if they could amend the headline on the grounds that I felt that it reflected neither content nor the tone of my article but they refused. The next day, on advice from the National Union of Journalists, I contacted the Monitor again, and they finally agreed to publish a clarification, distancing myself from the headline.

I hope with this in mind, Mr. Delattre might be able to draw a distinction between the content of my article and the Monitor’s dramatic headline. The Holocaust was the single greatest crime against humanity ever committed and hopefully will remain forever beyond compare. I was disappointed that the Monitor could not amend my headline immediately and that an article intended as a plea for racial tolerance has ended up courting controversy and causing offense. My sincere apologies go out for any offense caused.

Yours sincerely,

Stefan Simanowitz

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