By Wajahat Ali
Posted Tuesday, May 25, 2010, at 2:37 PM ET
As a practicing Muslim, even I admit to being somewhat startled by the appearance of the black burqa that entirely veils a woman’s face and body, revealing only a narrow opening for her eyes. Even though the women who wear burqas sometimes remind me of comic book ninjas, I nonetheless understand and respect their choice of dress and freedom of religious expression.
Unfortunately, France’s proposed ban on the burqa is a hypocritical and self-serving justification that betrays its triptych motto of “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Politicians may claim that the ban would protect women’s dignity, national safety, and fundamental French values, but in reality, this overreaching legislation serves only to embolden reactionary Muslim fundamentalists’ shouts that the “West” is at war with “Islam.” Enacting this odious legislation would deprive French female citizens of those very freedoms Europe loudly trumpets as superior examples of its Western enlightenment: gender equality and tolerance. In fact, France is increasingly beginning to resemble its alleged cultural nemesis: those misogynist, archaic “fundamentalists” who allegedly liberate women by forcing them to hide their faces.
France, like many European countries, is reacting to the transformation of its national identity to one that is increasingly brown-hued and adorned with Arabic multisyllabic last names. But lashing out against native-born Muslim citizens and immigrants from North Africa is no way to protect and define its language and “culture”—which is under no tangible threat. Like the Taliban and the Saudi government, France is selfishly using women as silent chess pawns in the greater game of cultural domination and control, and using the canard of protecting women’s rights and national security as a means of rationalizing its bigotry. Continue reading →
Photo used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user superblinkymac.
On Monday, Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French president since Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte to address the Parliament, thanks to recent reforms that scrapped a 19th-century law meant to protect the independence of the legislature. Given the occasion, it was rather odd that Sarkozy’s strongest words were reserved for denouncing a garment that hardly any women in France wear. The burqa, he said, “is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women.” It is, he added, “not welcome in France.” Headscarves have been banned in French schools since 2004. Now Sarkozy wants to go much further, banning burqas, loose, full-body veils that cover women entirely, as well as niqabs, or face veils, from being worn anywhere in public.This was partly a rebuke to Obama, who outraged the French with parts of his Cairo speech. When Obama said that he rejects “the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal,” many people in France heard a shot at the country’s republican laïcité, which demands that faith be wholly relegated to the private sphere. “There was a “great outcry and a sense of being gravely insulted,” says Joan Scott, a historian at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and author of the 2007 book The Politics of the Veil. “I think you can’t read Sarkozy’s words as anything but a response to that.”
Perhaps more important than the anger itself was the opportunity it created, giving Sarkozy a chance to reach out to the anti-immigrant French right without offending the left. The clothing of Muslim women has long been a contentious political issue in France, as well as in several other European countries. The debate about headscarves, veils and burqas is a synecdoche for larger, more fraught questions of cultural identity in the age of mass Muslim immigration. Islam is changing European life in a way that makes many Europeans unhappy, but it’s hard for Europeans to talk about without seeming racist or xenophobic. The one place where Europeans do feel confident about defending the superiority of their own culture is in sexual matters. Feminism and sexual liberation become tools of nationalism. Continue reading →
Two women, one wearing the niqab, a veil worn by the most conservative Muslims that exposes only a woman’s eyes, right, walk side by side, in the Belsunce district of downtown Marseille, central France, Friday June 19, 2009. The French government’s spokesman says he favors the creation of a parliamentary commission to study the small but growing trend of burqa wear in France. Luc Chatel says the commission could possibly propose legislation aimed at banning the burqa and other fully covering garments worn by some Muslim women. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
By JENNY BARCHFIELD – 10 hours ago
PARIS (AP) — France wants to study the small but growing trend of burqa wear, with an eye to possibly banning the Islamic garment from being worn in public, the government’s spokesman said Friday.
Luc Chatel told France-2 television that the government would seek to set up a parliamentary commission that could propose legislation aimed at barring Muslim women from wearing the burqa and other fully covering gowns outside the home.
“If we find that use of the burqa was very clearly imposed (on women) … we would draw the appropriate conclusions,” Chatel said. Asked whether that could mean legislation banning the burqa in France, he responded “why not?” Continue reading →
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 26, 2008; A12
MONS-EN-BAROEUL, France — It was a match made in heaven, and both families approved. The groom was a computer engineer, the bride a nursing student. Children of Moroccan immigrants, they had thrived in French society and seemed at home with its ways.
But on their wedding night, the groom discovered that his bride was not the virgin she had said she was. He stormed out of the bridal chamber. His father, outraged, said the marriage was off. That same night, he returned the young woman to her family home.
The drama in this middle-class suburb of apartment blocks and supermarkets, on the eastern edge of Lille in northern France, could have remained a private family affair — that is what its main protagonists desperately wanted. But instead, it set off a legal struggle with strong political undertones and an explosion of outrage by media-savvy activists in Paris. In the end, it became a parable for the strain France has encountered in absorbing the more than 5 million Muslims, about 8 percent of the population and growing, who have made this country their home. Continue reading →