The French Burqa Ban – My take

“I was a fan of Nicholas Sarkozy, but what he’s pushing for now is reprehensible,” said a friend – a Muslim who chooses to wear the head scarf. We tend to banter on religion, and for a religious person, she’s a good sport. My jibes and taunts are often well received, and now and then, when one remark steps innocently over the line, I am gently but curtly reminded of the distance we should maintain for an argument not to turn personal.

The French ban on the veil is famous, and has polarized the public. Let us exclude the opinions of devout Muslims from this analysis, for they can hardly be expected to be disinterested in this issue.

I myself find the burqa to be an abomination: a image of imprisonment that we should have evolved out of by now. Political correctness aside, Islam and women’s rights have always seemed like oil and water to me, but that’s a topic that requires a blog of its own.

Today, the issue is of liberty. People often view the Western (developed) world as a land of plenty, where the basic conditions are good enough, and hence our laws can favor the rights of the individual over the rights of the population as a whole. The idea of a government telling us what not to do is an indirect way for everyone else to control us – for a majority to determine what is good or necessary.

There are many reasonable arguments for this ban. Most people connect the overt religiosity of many Muslims to a refusal to assimilation. Wherever they go, they are Muslims first. Hence the wearing of the burqa is regarded as a slippery slope to madrassas proliferating and even to imposing Sharia law among the Muslim diaspora. Our bogeyman is the honor rape/murder that is a product of a conveniently literal interpretation of the Qur’an. There is no proof linking madrassas directly with terrorism. They do produce fundamentalists, but no one has proof of them breeding terrorists. Hence, I am not thoroughly convinced that the slope between legalizing the burqa and the festering of terrorism is slippery enough to ban such an important civil liberty. Frisk them as much as you want at airports, and select them for additional screening, but such a huge step is not warranted now.

Imagine a woman who wears salwar-kameez exclusively, and is forced by law to wear skirts. She would view this as violating her modesty. She would either wear the skirt grudgingly, or leave the country that legislates her wardrobe, or, worst of all, never leave the house; a giant leap in the backward direction. A woman who’s used to wearing the burqa all her adult life (regardless of whether she was brainwashed into doing so), would be even more skittish about showing her body to other men. Of course, there are various groups arguing that any woman who’s wearing a burqa is doing so out of compulsion or out of some kind of Stockholm-syndrome to a victimizing religion. Based on whatever I have read on this subject, and the arguments of Muslim women who’ve chosen to wear the burqa, I would agree. This doesn’t seem like complete free will.

However mean this might sound, emancipating Muslim women is not my problem, and I certainly don’t want the government to spend taxpayer money on researching which woman is acting out of her free will and which one has been brainwashed. Let the privately funded NGO’s do all that. I would even volunteer my services.

Forcing a Muslim woman to shed her religious attire is violating her free expression and the freedom of religion. Readers of this blog know what I think about religion. Freedom of expression, no matter what the expression, is sacrosanct to me, and curbing it using the might of the law needs more justification. The ban on the veil is unconstitutional, and does not behoove a free country.

I apologize for the offense any woman has felt while reading this post.

P.S: This topic was on my mind for a long time, but I decided to write a post on it only after reading this fine post by Greatbong. His arguments are different from mine, but we both seem to agree that the ban violates freedom.

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18 thoughts on “The French Burqa Ban – My take

  1. I feel that if a Muslim woman wants to wear a burqua, she should jolly well have the right to do so. I think we all agree that it should be illegal to force a woman to wear it, but to prevent her from doing it herself?

    Perhaps EU countries feel that no woman would ever feel like wearing a burqa. If they do, they’ve clearly never argued with an independent Muslim woman who’ll tell them to mind their own business.

    There’s a difference between being a government that doesn’t discriminate based on religion and a government that discriminates against religions per se.

    Incidentally, are nuns allowed to wear nun’s habits in France?

    • I have seen nun’s habit being compared to burka – the other comparison is with the bikini.

      I think burka should be compared to jeans and saris – what women wear when they go shopping, for PTAs, traveling etc in their day to day life.

      A nun’s habit can be better compared to the saffron robes our priests (men and women) wear… though if France is against all religious symbols in public places, then all should be banned.

      • The comparison of the burqa to the bikini is an interesting one. Some people argue that just like Muslim women are under pressure to wear the burqa, liberated women seem to wear scanty clothes to keep up the attractive image. I find that argument a little too much to swallow. First of all, I refuse to believe that the only purpose of wearing small/revealing clothes is attracting men, and even if it is true, it is a conscious decision. No woman in the Western world is threatened with flogging for not showing her skin. Many Muslim women wear the burqa under penalty of physical brutality.

        While the government of France would maintain that the burqa is a symbol of enslavement of women, it is not the reason behind the ban. They just want to nip the Muslim proliferation in the bud. While I understand that emotion, they cannot call themselves a free country if such a law exists. Comparing the burqa with the nun’s habit is a bad idea, as nuns are women who’ve voluntarily given up their earthly pleasures.

  2. I think a lot of us feel the same way, but I also read Tarek Fateh view where he feels the feminists and liberals are mistaken in supporting a choice that isn’t choice. I have no idea what to think… except that bans are doing more harm than good, by making women (and their families) identify the veil with their faith and with themselves 😦 I also read a Muslim woman’s blog where she felt this was the only way to ensure women were not forced to wear the burka. I am tempted to compare this ban to widow remarriage… but that would have been achieved better by punishing anybody who forced a woman to wear a burka.

    Social conditioning is powerful – when communities fight to save something as horrendous as FGM, how does a government hope to free women by banning something like a burka? But now I only hope they do succeed in doing that.

    • FGM is violence, and that should never be tolerated. It is not impossible for a woman to wear a burqa willingly. As no one can prove that every woman would object to the burqa (but every woman would object to FGM), I don’t think a free country can outlaw it.

      My fear is that such an aggressive move from the government could turn the fundamentalists into martyrs and end up legitimizing their hatred.

      • Social conditioning is a very powerful thing Liberal Cynic, //(but every woman would object to FGM) //

        Sadly they don’t, I have read about how, in Egypt, although it is against the law – mothers perform FGM on daughters – they are convinced this is a part of their traditions and even when they have support from NGOs they prefer to follow their age old customs 😐

        liberalcynic: That is a good point.

  3. love the part where you talk about tax payer money siphoned off into burkha research. You tread finely the spaces between logic, information, wit and sarcasm

    liberalcynic: 🙂

  4. I really liked the way you’ve written this entire post. Very thoughful with some strong arguments.

    This ban may be a boon for those who are against the burkha, and it may bea curse for those who’re wearing the burkha out of choice. It should just be left to each woman to decide what’s best for her.

    liberalcynic: Thanks and I agree with you

  5. LOL .sudden surge in growth of burka wearers have scared french. They simply want to protect their culture and country first. Its a natural reaction. Reminds me a dialogue from a movie -mumbai se aaya mera dost…”aise ki taisi slow motion ki “, (ie hell with the exisiting protocols…let us first save ourselves).

    liberalcynic: I understand the French impulse to protect what they think is their impression of what France should be. Freedom does not work that way though. What if Americans decided, by democratic vote, that they don’t want the proliferation of the Indian community? The world is mixing. People will always want to be in places where they have rights and safety.

  6. Every country/ society have certain norms that cannot be violated – just like a woman cannot go out without wearing burqah in certain arab provinces, it is not admissible to wear a burqah in france. Herein, the individual freedom of expression is not considered!

    • I hope i got your point right and heres the answer:

      Those arab countries have not declared them to be republic and/or democratic.

      • That is a fair point. Which is why many people seem to run from them in droves whenever the Shari’a law turns against them. Those people then obtain asylum from democracies and republics.

  7. hmm…where should i start Mr.Liberal cynic…

    Your take of logic, abomination of burqa, liberty of self expression, progress is quite compelling but a story half said(read??). Undermine my sarcasm but i got reminded of not so famous couplet from urdu:

    Jinhe shaoor nahi jaam uthane ka;
    unhe ghuroor hai, maii-kada hamara hai

    i take your apology very seriously when you use the word ‘Emancipation’. I think more than anyone, the person whose previous posts yells for “I first” needs to take a deep thought.

    Do read a little more history about french, armenians (you will understand the famous 2006 Worldcup head butting of zinedine zidane better), the ottomans empire in Europe and you will know its not a new topic on hand. Today its has just taken a new name : national security concern but it has been politico-religious previously – thanks to extremism on both ends .

    And also if you find time, books on this issue:
    1. Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space
    2. hijab and the republic (both available at Queens Public library-Btw, Sorry! Your tax money was already spend to stack books of such petty issues )

    I hope you will get the whole picture.

    • With due respect to story half said, let me make it clear that I am opposing this ban on a strictly civil rights platform. Please do not misconstrue my arguments to be defense of Islam.

      As for Zidane’s head butt, I truly don’t care. If you are so religiously hot-headed that you would put your religious pride over your country winning the world cup in a game that you’ve made your career, for a country that gave asylum to your parents, you don’t deserve anyone’s sympathy.

      Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey made it compulsory for prostitutes to wear the veil as a classic example of lateral thinking. He wanted to modernize Turkey. I don’t support that either. That is another kind of social conditioning that a government should not do.

      Muslim immigrants in France deserve civil rights, but they don’t put civility before religion as they are demanding from the French government today. When a fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie, the same Muslim immigrants in France chose their religion instead of the author’s right to free speech. They actually hailed Ayatollah Khomeini and burned copies of The Satanic Verses.

      As for the dripping sarcasm, condescension and truculence in your comment, let me clarify that when I said that I don’t want taxpayer money spent in research on Muslim women, I meant actual research funded by the government. Libraries run by government who buy and stock books written on privately conducted research are completely fine by me. That is a distinction I didn’t think I would have to explain.

      The biggest problem with such a legislation is that it is a wet dream for terrorist leaders. They will use this legislation as a way to instigate otherwise peaceful Muslims into violence.

      The statistics say that while Muslims are a modest 7-8% of the French population, their high birth rates predict that number to reach 25% by 2050. I hope the quarter-Muslim France will be as zealous about civil rights as the Muslims who’re fighting for their right to wear the headscarf.

      BTW, I will try and read the books you’ve suggested!

  8. Your comparing burkha to salwar is inaccurate. Soemthing I have read and which was confirmed by an Arab friend is that during The Prophet’s time, women from various tribes in Arabia used to go about with their upper body uncovered and The Prophet suggested that they should cover themselves more; which evolved into the extreme form of the Burqua as we know it today.
    Having said that, I have met and interacted with Muslims from India, Pakistan and the Arab region, and i feel that Muslims in general need to take themselves more lightly and stop acting so holier-than-thou.
    im not sure if being okay with this ban is a start, but being okay with their religion being depicted in comics possibly is.

    • I understand that, but going from covering their upper body all the way to the burqa is a major leap. Even if it isn’t, the fact remains that many women are raised from childhood to accept the burqa as their primary garment. Forcing them to discard the garment or leave the country is against civil rights.

      I agree with the depicting the religion point. If civil rights would allow a woman to wear whatever she wants, then freedom of speech should allow people to draw whatever they want.

  9. it’s not a question with a simple answer.. there are these traditions that have been passed on for generations and have become a part of them, parting with it is like giving away your soul for some people..there are others who want to break free..and then there are those who feel bound but have no choice but to continue with it.. France is broaching a very controversial topic but then someone has to.. or those that suffer shall remain suffering forever…I agree about the free will part but it’s a little unrealistic..how many women actually have the emotional and social freedom to express their will? Many are bound in their own minds.. for them their own bondage is what they feel is the right way..again I say, it’s not a yes or no question.. France isn’t entirely wrong.. at least not in my opinion..

  10. i am against all religion it is all made up good for kids thats why they teach us about religion at young age but if people want to believe it let them headscarf if are banned so should nons headscarfs some say nuns have free will to do that muslim women have that to in france some might not but how do we decide christian women are abused by husbands too sometimes how about wearing a hat ban that to but wearing hat is european they wont do it why not stop jew men from wearing their hats no they were in holocoust france wont do it and some franch women wear headscarfs as fasion statement sometime so french police will tell them to take it off or ask them if they are muslim than if they are not to keep it or if they are take it off french are going to have religious police like iran crazy french

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