Thursday, January 14, 2010

Banning the Burqa

Look out Madonna. If some folks in the French parliament have their way, you may not be able to wear a get up like this and stay out of jail. Yes, the debate on the burqa rages on here with the latest proposals either creating a hefty fine or outright banning the wearing of anything that covers the face in public places. While it's dangerous to analyze a debate like this when you're only half up to speed on the cultural, political, and historic forces at work, I have to admit that I'm baffled by the whole thing, particularly given that there are fewer than 2,000 French women who wear the veil. Threat to the Republic? Protection of women's rights? Give me a call when you can do better than that. The final word is expected by the end of the month.


Laura said...

I've been living in Paris since the end of September, therefore not a long time, but I attend the Sorbonne, I walk a lot and I've never, never seen a woman wearing a full burqa...btw, when it's very cold, I wear my scarf up to my eyes...I better watch out!

debbie in toronto said...

I imagine that most burqa wearing ladies are not found in the center of Paris but ride the RER up to the airport and you will see them in the outskirts...I find anything that surpresses a basic human right and is forced or mandated by men on woman to be just flat I agree in theory that woman should not have to hide behind veils during their "outside" activities and that any religion that is so narrow minded to suggest that a woman belongs to anyone and just the sight of her is too tempting to another man is really really outdated....but in light of what has just happened in Haiti I think the world has bigger things to worry about...France needs to so leadership there and drop this silly issue for now.

Belle de Ville said...

I don't think that a burqua belongs in a public school or office in a country founded on liberte, egalite and fraternite. But what women of any religion choose to wear on the street shouldn't really be of concern of the fontionnaire's.

David said...

"there are fewer than 2,000 French women who wear the veil"

How is that relevant?

There are less than 500 homicides in France a year, less than burqas. So if numbers matter, homicides shouldn't be made illegal either.

(no I'm not comparing burqas and homicides, I'm pointing out that numbers are not a relevant point when discussing whether something should be legal or not)

Burqas are wrong in so many ways, and I'm always "amused" that people that are so offedend that women have to wear such things in Afghanistan or Pakistan, have issues with France wanting to ban this thing.
And what about the ban of hijabs in Turkey? Or the ban of niqabs in Egyptian universities?

Does this bother you as much?

Starman said...

I think the real point of this argument is that the women who are wearing these things are forced to wear them, just as they are forced to beg in the métro stations. I know a lot of the Muslim women 'say' they want to wear them, but I suspect the truth is they will be glad to be rid of them. Of course, I'm also certain that when, and if, the law is passed, it will result in a lot of disruption within the city.

Anne said...

Thanks to all for commenting. I can't help but see this issue through my American lens. I only comment on what I hear and read; I don't get to participate in the political process here and that's how it should be. Further, I don't know anything about the situation in Egypt or Turkey so won't comment. But I am puzzled by many things in the debate in France. First, lawmakers cite the veil as a threat to security. What threat would that be? Second, there's the assumption that women who wear the veil only do so under threat from men, thus it's an issue of women's rights. But I've read interviews with Muslim women who talk about the very personal decision they made to adopt it. So who's protecting whom? And third, the talk about the state not supporting religious displays is disingenous. Who strings the Christmas lights and puts up the Christmas streets along the streets of Paris? The city. Don't tell me that Christmas is a secular holiday; it's not. Finally, substitute "Judaism" for "Islam" in much of the current European debate on integration and immigration and I can't help but get shivers up my spine from an earlier time.

But talk amongst yourselves. We'll see how all this plays out.

David said...

Concerning Egypt and Turkey: Egypt recently banned niqabs in universities, in Turkey hijabs have been banned on and off during the past century (they were also all banned in Iran until the revolution of 1979).
Why am I talking about that?
As a response to those who see anti-islamism behind this burqa issue.

Why is this a security threat?
I don't know. Imagine you're in charge of kids, if you work in a kindergarten for example, at the end of the day would you give the kids you're in charge of to somebody you can't recognize?

It's a question of respect also. Respect of women, but also respect of everybody else. Personally, if I underact with somebody whose face I can't see, I'll find that very disrespectful towards me.

I'm not even mentioning ID checks.

Yes some women would choose to wear one without any male pressure. How many? An alienated minority (even in countries where women have to wear it, women get rid of it as soon as they can). This is what religion will do to people, brainwash them in such a way that one doesn't need to oppress them anymore, they'll just oppress themselves.

And yes, Christmas is a secular holiday in France, like it or not.
Everybody celebrate Christmas in France, even Muslims!
(and what's Christian about Christmas lights exactly?)

Be careful with your Judaism comment, you're this close to a Godwin point. ;)

And by the way "anti-Judaism" "antisemitism" and "anti-Zionism" are three different concepts that people too often gladly amalgamate, to the joy of some factions (usually the hardcore Zionist ones) that allow them to kill any debate on some issues before they even start.

Finally, the problem with many Americans that don't understand the burqa issue (and a few other ones) need to start by trying to understand the concept of laicism, maybe they'll understand related issues.

Anne said...

David: I won't go tit for tat with you on this. But you make one very good point worth repeating: the French concept of laicism is very different than American notions of freedom of religion and separation of church and state.

Daniel said...

Following the debate I noticed that women are offended when they see other women in full burka.

Then we could just say that "it's offending" and forbid the burka as we forbid people to go around naked in public.

I just wonder, what if people would go with a mate in leash to the supermarket, would that be acceptable.

About secularism and threats to the republic my thought are the following.

Being atheist or non-religious doesn't mean you have no values.
But who would defend your values when religious leaders have no say in this matter and are not welcome?

The debate is just that stating what are the common values in France. I guess in the US you would have people referring to various Gods and religions.

Here we refer to values of the republic.

And finally we don't have to be naïve. There are so extremist leaders who are just testing the system, step by step to see how far they can go. If we don't stop it here, they will just try one step further.

debbie in toronto said...

right on David.

Rosabell said...

the burka is the symbol pf ultimate opression over women... How can people even think of defending it ? the burka is a disgusting, retrograde and primitive way of imposing men's will over women. It is a wonderful thing it is banned in France. Last time I checked, France was in Europe... the burka has nothing to do with european culture. Leaving it to co-exist with european life would mean to consider it a normal thing and a "norm" of society , which is not. Next thing would be to ask the state to acknoledge a man's right of having 4 wives, just because thats what they consieder "their religious right'. Where is the fulstop to this petty drama??? How hard is for people commenting to use not their " freedom sense' but the "common sense" ??

bijou said...

Few remarks -

1. To say that " everybody" celebrates Christmas in France is false and a closed opinion in my view. You may think that but it is untrue and there is not way to prove that. Do Jews in France celebrate Christmas? France has many religions represented and whil Christmas is ubiquitous and commonplace in practice - given France's heritage it is commonly celebrated but not by all and its origin is in religion. Without Christianity - Christmas would not exist. It is seen as a national holiday and not a religious holiday - but it is a religious holifay - it not the 14 juillet or Armistice or aything else historical or political.

2. The fundamental difference between laicity and U.S. secularism is the following, in my opinion and experience:

- In the U.S. - secularism means that the Church is separate from the state and from any one religious influence - thus all public spaces are OPEN to all religions so that no one religion is dominant - think the Pantheon in Rome.

- In France - separation from churhc and state is translated into the public space being " neutral" to/from religion and therefore NO religion )or ostentatious/proselytizing symbols/acts are permitted.

I see conflicts and hypocracies in both - but the point that Anne makes and I repeat is that in the French systme while the veil is not permitted (and yougn girls are sent hom and banned from school) - Christmas trees are abound, Christmas and Lundi de Paques are national holidays and so on. This is not ' neutral' to religion and allows some in and some out.

In the U.S. system - all are allowed and therefore you see Christmas trees and manorahs and the like in public spaces where you see any one (mostly). This doesnt make U.S. secularism perfect - our Presidents usually end speeches with "god Bless America" - the sentiment I take to mean ' whatever your higher power is' may they protect our land - this can apply to any (or none_ religion. That doesnt mean that hearing this doesnt shock a non-U.S. person or even those of us living here.

As cultures - the U.S. is more individualist therefore we carry a "let other wear wht they want as long as everyone has that individual right" - while the French think more of community - where someone said "it is disrespectful to cover your face what about the person looking at it"?... the U.S. (imperfectly) lives as a multi-cultural society in a different way than France does - our traditions are much newer to us so we hold on to them less.

bijou said...

and the NYT says :

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