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 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 carries an absolutely horrible reputation in the world. With the “Arab Spring” uprisings occurring in Syria, Libya, Egypt, etc. in addition to organizations such as Al-Qaeda and 9/11, not mention the obvious visual oppression of women, Muslims have it rough. I will admit that I myself have always carried negative connotations about Islam as a religion as well. I had one friend who was Muslim in high school, but she practiced a very liberal form of Islam. (Just as there are many different types of Christianity, there are also many different types of Islam, which usually, among many other things, interprets how a woman is required to display modesty.) In the case of my friend, she did not wear a headscarf but her dress attire was always very modest. The reason I frowned upon Islam was due to its “repression” on women. 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 rare 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 really 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 it was wrong, I thought it was oppression. I said that if they were going to ban burqas than it would only make sense to ban cross necklaces, yamakas and Jewish robes, Star of David Pendulums, etc. (Religious symbols are banned in French public schools). I didn’t think it was right. However my host father argued that this way it would eliminate sexism and also potential terrorists, which I initially agreed with, and stuck by until hearing the women’s testaments on campus last semester. Now that I realize that women (almost always) make the choice to wear a head covering or burqa, I think it is even more wrong. The only thing I agree with is that people who are wearing head coverings should not be allowed to drive a vehicle due to safety reasons. It is simply not safe for the driver or the other people on the road if the person’s side visions are blocked. Additionally, if these (women) want to have their driver’s license’s pictures taken, it is only right to make them take the picture sans burqa (otherwise we will not be able to see their faces). As for the terrorist issue, yes I agree there is a threat, but how often does something such as that happen in Westernized countries? (Not that I am at all ranking occidental countries above developing countries; quite the contrary in fact). Overall I believe the burqa ban is a violation of religious freedoms and women’s rights and should be revoked. Qu’en pensez-vous? What do you believe?