Bastille Day is tomorrow and I think I’d like to attend the French Embassy’s big gala event … in a burka.
I was looking for celebrations in the DC area: places I could go and gorge on goat cheese and things made with too much butter and a bit of vin. I was considering watching the “traditional” waiter’s race (yeah I don’t get it either). But then I saw this: the lower house of the French parliment has approved a law to ban the wearing of face-concealing veils, in what many see as pandering to the far-right’s xeno/islamophobia.
But let’s take a look at the mainpoints of this law which still has to pass the Senate.
First, what’s being banned?
This BBC article has a great Islamic head wear slide show demonstrating how this ban only affects the niqab and the more severe full body burka, the only traditional coverings to conceal the face.
Second, Isn’t this blatantly blatantly anti-Islamic and xenophobic?
The answer from politicians and legislators is a resounding yet unconvincing “non!” citing the fact that Islam is not mentioned in the law. They insist its just a law about covering your face in public. Unless it’s a motorcycle helmet. Or a surgical mask. Or a fencing mask. Or a carnival mask. Or……well, anything except for something a Muslim woman might wear.
I suggest Muslim women start wearing carnival masks in protest, in an intentional move to get someone to fine them and thereby making it obvious that this is about religion. Or perhaps all defenders of freedom of expression could have an official day of covering your face in public in protest.
What’s that about fines?
Ah yes, a women caught breaking the law would face a fine of up to €150 (about $190).
A man who is found to be forcing a woman to wear a veil could face up to €30,000 in fines and up to a year in prison. AND I’M ALL FOR THAT! Cuz this is about freedom of expression. Wearing a veil when you want to should be protected. Forcing someone to wear one should be penalized. Its fairly simple.
And I, personally, am not any sort of a proponent of women in veils.
Lord knows I try to be open minded and understand the preferences of others, but personally I have not been able to understand why you’d want to go around looking like a funeral shroud if you didn’t have to. It seems like a cultural attack on women, relegating them to some bizarre sphere of the unfit-to-be-seen-in-public, which kind of looks like a banishment from public life. It feels to me like a punishment of women because men can’t keep their eyes to themselves (a dynamic quite well documented in not-women-friendly societies, Muslim and otherwise, a la “I raped her cuz she showed off too much ankle and drove me mad with her rampant sexuality.”)
But, in the end, it’s a piece of clothing. Not female genital mutilation. Not selling daughters off as child brides. Not denying them voting rights or their own bank accounts.
Most importantly, it’s become a symbol. And when you go attacking people’s symbols you only antagonize any feelings of tension, you make people feel unwelcome. This usually does not end well. The French have been having a national discussion on French-ness (absurd as it is, another blogpost altogether) which seems more like a conservative-orchestrated discussion on how to make Muslims feel uncomfortable, and this will not help. They emphasize the need for assimilation, but you can’t legislate assimilation, you will only trigger the very human, and noble response of wanting to buck the yoke and freely express yourself. I’d be looking for a rise in niqab sales these days. In fact, I’d be hoping for one.
If they want people to “assimilate” to the supposed homeland of liberté egalité and fraternité, they should focus on creating a free and open and welcoming secular society in which a women, when SHE is ready, can feel supported in the choice, HER choice, to throw off the veil. That’s why I’m all for the fine on forcing someone to wear one, there should be support for women in their choices. And does blatantly anti-Islamic legislation sound like its going to make a woman feel supported by society at large in France? Doubtful.
Will definitely be watching this story in the coming months.
[link to Le Monde article here for the french-speaking]