A Paper About Justice, Dignity, Torture, Headscarves: Can Durkheim’s Socioligy Clarify Legal Values?/ Roger Cotterrell

Task: Could you write a one to two page summary of what Cotterrell says can be learned from a sociological approach in thinking what to do about the famous problem of whether Muslim women should be allowed to dress in all -covering veil. Restrictions on the wearing of the Islamic head scarf and body covering gown – A legal-moral issue In his article – Justice, Dignity, Torture, Headscarves: Can Durkheim’s Socioligy Clarify Legal Values?

Roger Cotterrell attempts to find out what Emile Durkheim would say regarding two issues that stand out in present days – the acceptability of torture in defense of national security; and restrictions on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf. Cotterrell takes Derkheim’s approach regarding the sociology of morality in order to examine moral and legal evaluation of contemporary legal studies – Cotterrell examines Durkheim’s ‘Moral individualism’ idea (‘the cult of the individual’ or ‘cult of the human person’) concerning those two issues.

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I would focus on the second issue and would try to summarize Cotterrell’s arguments on what the Durkheimian approach would say regarding the famous problem of whether Muslim women should be allowed to dress in all-covering veil. Firstly, I will explain what “Moral individualism” is and Durkheim’s justifications for it. Then, I will display Cotterrell’s justifications to why this approach is relevant nowadays. Thirdly, I will examine the dilemma in hand in a sociological way and try and understand what Cotterrell and Durkheim would say on the matter. Moral Individualism’: According to Cotterrell, the essential idea that stands on the basis of the ‘Moral Individualism’ principle is “universal respect for the equal human dignity and autonomy of every member of society, whatever differences there may be in the outlook, position, life conditions or roles of society’s members”. Durkheim feels strongly about ensuring that societies will integrate, or rather – will be able to integrate, and will be able to be cohesive. I. e. if individuals in a certain society grant equal and ultimate respect to other individuals and their autonomy – that society will be able to better integrate and be cohesive and will ultimately work better as a group/society. Current relevancy: Cotterrell argues that the ‘Moral individualism’ idea provides an alternative to familiar current ideas about the subject of human dignity. Durkheim’s ideas “on solidarity and the body suggests that prohibiting certain forms of this, but not others, contravenes values of human dignity”.

For example, if society does not respect the choice of Muslim women to dress in a certain way – society, de facto, does not respect these women’s right for human dignity. Durkheim does not claim that following an investigation according to the ‘Moral Individualism’ principle will result in a global time-less conclusion, but a specific conclusion of practices needed in order to ensure stable, cohesive society. Another justification Cotterrell finds is in the demand law makes from citizens nowadays.

Today, more than ever – law should be examined as an expression of morality as appose to an expression of power, not philosophically but in a way of finding the compatible terms and “conditions of co-existence of individuals and groups in a certain time and place”. Regulation of female Islamic dress: Cotterrell depicts what Durkheim sees as the problematic character of sexuality viewed in the light of the socio-logical necessity of ‘Moral Individualism’: sexual relations, in Durkheim’s view, causes a sacrifice of the dignity and autonomy of both sexes in this action, and women in particular.

This sacrifice leads to an exception in a society where the values of dignity and autonomy are fundamental and necessary. This exception, which is part of “islands of exceptions” that can be found in Durkheim’s idea, leads to an ambiguity in practicing rights protecting dignity and autonomy especially for women. Following this line of thought, Cotterrel argues that the practice of Muslim women wearing the headscarves or the body-covering gown is fitting to Durkheim’s ‘Moral Individualism’ principle.

This argues that in order to protect this idea, which is fundamental, “we conceal our body as well as our inner life from prying eyes”. This concealment is possibly in order to desexualize public social space, to terminate that ‘island of exception’. Meaning, the women that are wearing these covering garments actually makes it easier to help the society be more cohesive and to be more of the same. In my opinion, this method of achieving ‘Moral Individualism’ is not appropriate, because it takes away from the individual the ability to reveal her face, her facial expressions and it is probably very uncomfortable at certain times.

I should add that ‘Moral Individualism’ is supposed to celebrate diversity and individualism, but it does not in this example of the headscarf issue. Cotterrell argues the same notion but in a cultural integration way. He claims that these women are taken away from the public space because of the cultural differences these garments impose on non-Muslim society. To summarize, Durkheim offers a different approach to the discussion about “Islamic headscarves” and even bypasses much pre-existing debate on the matter as Cotterrell argues. Moral Individualism’ justifies the wearing of all-covering garments since it helps avoiding sexual connotations when integrating within a multi-cultural society. However, this approach also suggests that women’s choices of clothes should be connected to ‘Moral Individualism’. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Note that these women’s religion is not the issue here, they could have believed in a Judaism or Buddhism, and the principle would have remained the same.

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