To Burqa or not to Burqa? An American Muslim Woman’s Response to a French Burqa Ban


AnAmerican Muslim Woman’s Response to a French Burqa Ban

Rabea Chaudhry

Earlier this week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy lambasted the burqa while voicing his support of lawmakers who seek to study the growing trend of burqas in the country and prohibit the wearing of the garment in France. Sarkozy stated that “in our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.”

Still raw from the 2004 French hijab ban that prohibited the headscarf and other religious paraphernalia from being worn in public schools, some of France’s five million Muslims are speaking out against the potential legislation.  The French Council for Muslim Religion, for instance, warned that probing the burqa issue would only stigmatize Muslims further.  Muslim leaders around the world have also voiced their opposition to Sarkozy’s remarks, and cautioned against such a ban.

But as Sarkozy declared to the French Parliament, “the problem of the burqa is not a religious problem, it is a problem of the dignity of women. It is a symbol of subservience, of submission. The burqa will not be welcome in our French republic.” However, France is a secular nation and, as such, the French government has no right to espouse interpretations of any religion.  As a French law on the separation of church and state reads, “The Republic neither recognizes, nor salaries, nor subsidizes any religion.”   Why, then, does the French government presume the right to delve into theological discussions of Islam? Continue reading

Burqa Politics in France

What happens when feminism and sexual liberation become tools for nationalism?
Michelle Goldberg | June 24, 2009 | web only
Burqa Politics in France
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