When I was in studying abroad in France in 2010, Sarkozy first proposed a new law which forbade people from covering their faces in public. This law was the first of its kind in Europe, and was accused of targeting Muslim women specifically (Islam is the second-most practiced religion in France, after Catholicism). As of now, anyone wearing the niqab or burqa (or any other sort of face covering) in public could now face a fine of €150 or lessons in French citizenship. (In fact, France, Spain, Italy, and Belgium now all have laws outlawing the garment, with Austria, Holland, and Switzerland also in consideration.) The reason for this law, Sarkozy claims, is for safety, calling it “a sign of subservience.” It is not safe for the public if you cannot see some one’s face. The person hiding beneath the veil could very well be a terrorist and a threat to those around him or her. Additionally this prevents people with face coverings from driving a vehicle, keeping the roads safer. Sarkozy claims that having a law like this would also decrease forms of sexism. He claims that Muslim husbands have a large influence on the controlling of their wives and may be forcing them to wear a niqab. Having this law would give women the choice to uncover their faces in public.
Islam has been negatively stereotyped around the world. However, after doing more research, I have come to different conclusions and opinions.
I was so intrigued by this growing topic that I took the initiative to invite two Muslim women who work at my university to come and speak to the student Unitarian Universalist group on campus about their opinions of the ban as well as their overall experiences with being Muslim women in the United States. This meeting was phenomenal and I learned so much. For example I learned that the majority of Muslim women make the CHOICE to cover their head or faces, not their husbands (of course there are exceptions to every rule). This is also where I learned that women interpret the Qur’an differently based on their denomination, just as Christians differently interpret the Bible. The women proclaimed that by banning the burqa in France, Sarkozy is actually further repressing women by not allowing them the choice, and that those who choose to cover their entire faces are now further repressed due to the fact that they cannot go outside. In fact, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which advises the council on human rights questions, agrees. Recently, PACE passed a resolution urging EU states not to issue a ban on religious or special clothing, but rather focus their energies on protecting people’s free choice to wear what they like. In other words, religious freedoms and human rights are at the crux of the burqa debate, and preventing them from wearing what they want is anti-feminist (Spiegel Online, 2010). Finally, women find their sense of worth from covering their heads. By doing so, men are able to see women for who they truly are, instead of sexualizing themselves with their hair and bodies. I recently read an article about an American woman who converted to Islam after she married her Arab husband, because she liked the idea of being someone who people see, instead of just a sexual object. She felt it gave her more power as a woman, and I respected and clung to every word she said.
According to this woman in the movie, Paris, Je T’aime, being Muslim gives her a sense of identity, and pride. It really focuses Islam at a new perspective.
How do I feel about the issue, you may ask? It’s a complicated issue, and it’s a complicated answer. I remember when I was living in France I discussed the issue with my host father, and I think we were seeing opposite points of view. I thought the ban was wrong, I thought it was oppression, much like the women I spoke with. I said that if they were going to ban burqas than it would only make sense to ban cross necklaces, Stars of David, etc. (religious symbols are banned in French public schools). However, my host father argued that this way it would eliminate sexism and also potential terrorists. I initially saw and understood his point of view, but hearing those women’s testaments on campus last semester deepened my opinion. Many women make the choice to wear a head covering or burqa. Overall I believe the burqa ban is a violation of religious freedoms and women’s rights– controlling, in any sense, what women wear, is a form of sexism, and should be revoked. Qu’en pensez-vous? What do you believe?