Covering Up Common Sense
France's burqa ban is just another veiled assault on women
Any visit to the Middle East should leave visitors in awe of classical Muslim architecture, with its soaring arches, beautiful geometric detailing and beautifully ornate semi-enclosed balconies.
Unfortunately the reason for all those lovely balconies was to give the wives of rich men a chance to see the city — aside from the view from a trellis, they were stuck inside and out of view.
So expect to see a rise in balconies in France as the country's ban on burqas worn in public went into effect Monday.
Burqas are a Muslim veil worn over the face that leaves only the eyes exposed — not to be confused with the more popular hijab, or head scarf. Less than 2,000 out of France's five million Muslims wear it. But many more than 2,000 are protesting the law as a violation of the right to freedom of religion and as an expression of anti-Muslim sentiment, and there have already been arrests in Paris.
Burqas, like other head-to-toe coverings for women mandated in conservative (often Islamic) countries, are cultural artifacts that stigmatize and separate women. I find the idea that a woman must remove herself and her body entirely from view to be repellant, and I find the argument that the veil is a symbol of male oppression not without merit — French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls veils an assault on the equality of women. But I find mandating what women can't wear just as insulting and misogynistic as deciding what they must wear.
The intent of the law may be to weaken the strains of arch-conservative Muslim culture in France but the effect will be to force many women to choose between their religious beliefs and going outdoors.
Many of these women may be forced to veil by their conservative families (which is also now a crime) but assuming that no woman who veils has any autonomy or does so out of her own piety or belief system is the very definition of paternalism run amok. Wearing or not wearing a veil is not a feminist act. Women making their own decisions is, and that's exactly what this ban prevents.
France has a right to embrace secularism, but just as I don't support legislation based on religion, I have a problem with laws that infringe on someone's right to their religion, particularly one like this that has no real benefit to society. (The claims of public safety are absolutely ridiculous — are they banning balaclavas too? Hoodies? Gorilla masks?)
This ban is not the beginning or the end of the culture war in France. It's just a shame that it's being fought over women's bodies.