'Act Normal or Leave': When Law and Culture Collide

31 Pages Posted: 14 May 2020 Last revised: 20 May 2021

Date Written: May 12, 2020


“Act normal or leave” wrote the Prime Minister of the Netherlands before the 2017 elections in an open letter published on-line and in full-page newspaper advertisements. This article examines the idea of legislating ‘normal’ and what this means in a diverse world. I specifically explore laws that criminalize dress in Europe - burqa bans that can even carry jail time for women who cover their face in public. I look at these laws as forced assimilation and as simply a ‘Muslim ban.’ Not only is forced assimilation ineffective, it is a national security threat. In upholding and justifying these laws, I question whether the European Court of Human Rights has created a dangerous new right of the majority not to be offended. Although I argue against these criminal laws, I also consider the issue of what duty to integrate newcomers do have to a host country where they are living and ways in which pop culture can help this integration take place. I then analogize local laws in the United States that criminalize ‘saggy pants.’ In Louisiana, a young man died after being chased by police for wearing saggy pants. Although obvious differences, these laws share the flaw of using the force of law against a minority group by criminalizing dress. The COVID-19 pandemic and recent laws in Europe requiring face masks, but still criminalizing burqas, highlight the injustice.

Keywords: social justice, human rights, terrorism, criminal law

Suggested Citation

Gilchrist, Heidi, 'Act Normal or Leave': When Law and Culture Collide (May 12, 2020). Columbia Journal of European Law, Vol. 26.3, p. 54, 2021, Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 662, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3599532 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3599532

Heidi Gilchrist (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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