The French parliament recently voted in favor of banning face coverings in public—and by face coverings, they mean burqas. Because no one bent on covering their face is weighing in on this debate except Muslims.
It wasn’t even close: The vote was 336-1, with the votes in favor coming from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right UMP party and included 20 votes from Socialist Party members. Most Socialists simply abstained from voting, citing concern that the law will, sooner or later, be denounced by France’s Constitutional Council charged with ensuring fundamental-rights compliance.
Until now, French law has only prohibited face coverings in public protests. Set to take effect in spring 2011, the new law takes it a step further: Anyone covering their face in public risks a 150 Euro fine and/or community service. Anyone forcing a person to cover wear an outfit that covers their face faces a year in jail and a 30,000 Euro fine.
The law reflects the idea that many Islamic women don’t necessarily wear face coverings by choice, but because they’re forced to do so by their husband, father, or other male relation. The root of the problem is the person forcing it upon them, not necessarily the woman wearing it.
The most frequently cited argument against the law has been one of religious freedom, which might be more valid if Islamic countries like Egypt and Syria weren’t banning the burqa as well, most recently at Syrian universities.
It’s entirely possible to leave off the face covering and not be in violation of Islamic tenets. The burqa is more of a cultural artifact than a religious one, and the state can’t be asked to cater to every cult and sect that interferes with the social standards enabling a country to maintain First World status.
The burqa in Islamic countries represents an extreme cultural interpretation of the Koran’s call to modesty and discretion. In a non-theocratic country like France, it’s a threat to public order. In a country looking to better integrate immigrants from various cultures, it’s unacceptable to have women who walk around like ghosts or beekeepers, segregated from the rest of society by their clothing.
Moreover, face coverings of any kind are dangerous, with the religious excuse being leveraged to commit criminal acts in anonymity, as we’ve already seen with bank robberies in the UK. And finally, there’s the annual summertime ritual in France of women in burquas popping up at swimming pools and crying religious discrimination all over the media when they’re told they can’t wear a full-blown “street burka” in the same pools which, at minimum, require bathing caps to be worn for hygienic reasons.
Amnesty International denounced the ban, claiming that it would “violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs.” Presumably, they’ll continue to fight the good fight against the subjugation, control, and abuse of burqa-wearing women in Islamic countries, all while apparently encouraging its exportation to Western democracies.
While religious practice ought to indeed be a free and private matter, the state shouldn’t have to bend over backwards to change or accommodate that private practice.
French legislators wisely framed the burqa ban debate as one of inappropriate facial obstruction. To do otherwise would have incited “French youth” of immigrant origin to torch vehicles. But there has never been any doubt that it was meant to tackle the Islamic sect that insists on self-segregating from French society—not kids on Halloweeen.
The burqa has been used systematically as a blunt instrument to reshape Western societies. It’s a value statement cloaked in one of public order to banning it.
In the UK, acceptance of such segregation has led to demands for “Muslim only” facilities, and taxpayer-funded schools being told not to conduct swimming lessons during Ramadan for fear that students might swallow water and break their fasting. The same city council issued instructions for the timing of sex-ed classes, to avoid Muslim students having to think about sex during the “holy lunar month.”
Flip the situation around: If a Western woman moved to Iran and decided to walk around in a bikini top all summer and bathe nude in public, I doubt that it would be seen as anything other than pure provocation. Even a French female newscaster who visited Iran recently to interview Ahmadinejad was mandated to wear a veil—and complied—out of respect.
If Iran is a theocracy with such societal rules, then France and other Western countries equally demand that religion remain private and not imposed on society as a while to the point of detriment or inconvenience.
Belgium was first in Europe with a burqa ban, and now France. Why not America, Canada, or the UK? Isn’t it hard to believe that Nicolas Sarkozy’s France has now become more proactive in preserving its cultural identity and values than the Anglo-West?