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Banning the Burqa




Wednesday, September 15, 2010
France is one of my favorite places to visit.  Whether it's the City of Light or the French countryside, I always look forward to getting my joie de vivre on at least once or twice a year.  I'm almost sure I could live there long term.  My husband's French family has encouraged us to live in the country.  Me, I'd be happy with a pied-à-terre in Paris although there is no doubt that the countryside is quite appealing.  Needless to say, I'm a francophile, something I've been for much longer than I've been married.  But enough about me and my wannabe Frenchiness. This morning's headlines states that France's Senate has backed the National Assembly and has banned women from wearing the burqa in public.  This beautiful country, the one that I want a pied-à-terre in, the one with the real champagne, the one with a 5-10% Muslim population, has taken away the rights of Muslim women who - for religious reasons - cover their bodies from head to toe and I still can't figure out how I feel about it.  
It has been just over a year since France's President Nicolas Sarkozy controversially told lawmakers that the burqa, a traditional Muslim garment, was "not welcome" in France.  [Source: CNN.com]  I remember reading this and going from being instantly annoyed to not being sure how I felt.  So now that a year has gone by and the votes are all in, I'm back to being annoyed and relatively confused. 

  • I am annoyed because the French government is violating a specific group's religious rights and claims through legalese that it is not.  "The bill was carefully worded to try and avoid such legal problems. [The law] is called ‘Forbidding the Dissimulation of the Face in the Public Space’, and makes no mention of the words ‘woman’or ‘veil’.  Because France is a secular society there are no mentions of the words ‘Muslim’ nor ‘Islam’ either."  [Dailymail.co.uk]  Oh please.  You can fiddle around with the words if you want to, but at the end of the day, it is what it is.  Besides, the French president's comments speak for themselves:  He has referred to the burqa as a "walking coffin" and "....has argued that the law, which would apply to tourists arriving from countries such as Britain, is aimed at getting all Muslims to integrate fully into French society."  [Dailymail.co.uk]  What exactly does that mean? 

  • I am not sure how I feel because for many (including many Muslims), the burqa represents a violation of women's rights and magnifies people's fears about terrorism.  Even "Syria has become the first Muslim country to ban the burka, claiming the face mask encourages Islamic extremism.  The Middle East country has outlawed the controversial clothing which has also been called degrading to women. Government officials made the move despite the nation’s 22 million population being 87% Muslim. It came after several European states launched similar measures."  [Dailystar.co.uk]  Even Spain, Italy, Belgium, Sweden and Holland are planning to follow suit by imposing bans, although the UK is a hold out (for now) and believes that the ban breaches human rights.  But the fact that a predominantly Muslim country has banned a religious garment from their own Holy Book certainly gives me pause.
I admit that I am still thinking this whole thing through.  (Many women wear some wonderfully chic outfits under their burqas, BTW.)  I also admit that I still think people should have the right to wear whatever religious garments they desire (although I certainly oppose the oppression of women).  But because I'm neither Muslim nor do I wear my religion outwardly, I feel stuck in a place of not fully understanding.  And therein lies my confusion.  I do wonder, though:  Had there been no 9/11, would this ban even be taking place?

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