The burqa ban is likely to become law in September, when the French Senate puts it to a vote. Last week, the French Parliament approved a prohibition of the full veil worn by Muslim women. Shockingly, this is all happening in a country where civil liberties used to be as essential to la culture nationale as the baguette. What happened to la revolution? Apparently, it's dead.
Politicians refer to the law by its official name, "the bill to forbid concealing one's face in public," in an attempt to dub this a public safety concern. It is anything but. The only garments the law will explicitly forbid are the burqa and niqab. If this sounds suspect to you, dear reader, that's because it is. The muslim burqa and niqab are obviously not the only garments in existence that hide the wearer's face.
France's Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie makes another interesting argument for the ban. During last week's debate at the National Assembly,Alliot-Marie said life in France is "carried out in a bare face," AP reports, and to live any other way is questionable. Alas, it's not a safety concern that has parliament's croissant in a twist. It is the xenophobia setting in, the fear of the foreign bringing about change.
When the measure went to parliament, the French government said that the burqa, "given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place." Let's put aside the political rhetoric and call this ban what it is, hypocrisy. Outlawing a voluntary practice in a public place, a practice that poses no threat of physical harm, is not democracy. This claim that the burqa is counter-productive to women's individual rights is bunk. Denying a woman the individual right to dress how she sees fit is counter-productive. How much further can a minority of women be isolated?
How far will the French government go to push these women into Givenchy from garb? What French Parliament seems not to get is that a burqa is not a fashion statement; it's a woman's expression of self and her culture. This law will not ban just an article of clothing. This law is banning a perceived defiance to accept the national identity. The burqa has become a tangible reminder to the government that French nationalism is dwindling.
Sadly, France doesn't even realize how many persons will be isolated by this law. In its attempt to remain absolutely "secular," France does not keep any statistics on the population's religious affiliations. Despite the government's oblivious approach to religion, the reality is there are 3.5 million muslims in France who make up 6 percent of the total population, estimates The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That doesn't imply that burqas are worn by all women in this minority. In fact, a majority of Islamic devotees do not wear the garment. However, one has to wonder, can the French parliament assume that banning an article of clothing will encourage 3.5 million people to integrate into society?
I expect that this law will not encourage immigrants to revoke a cultural heritage. What it will do is ensure that the next wave of Muslim immigrants will know what it is like to, quite literally, have not the shirts but the burqas taken off their backs.
Is the government crossing the line on individual freedom? Or, to the government's credit, does this garment pose a real threat French society?