Thursday, April 22, 2010

Here we go again with the Burqa.

The big news here in France is that Sarkozy has decided to rush through legislation that will ban women from wearing the full Muslim veil (covering the face) - that in spite of the warning from the Conseil d'Etat (the highest legal body that gave an advisory opinion) that a ban on the full veil would not find full legal justification.
This is typical of the way Sarkozy has been governing this country - who cares if the law can be applied, what matters is the perception that his right wing electorate have. So goes his thinking.
Unfortunately, this is an old French disease as France already has too many laws that cannot be enforced, and this one will only add to the lack of credibility of the legislative body in France.

More importantly, it is a very shocking idea that the state should tell people what to wear or not to wear in the street. This clarly contradicts freedom of expression and freedom of religion guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

I too find it revolting to see women covering their faces (which is common in London), and I do agree that because it makes communication very hard (if it not impossible), it cannot be compared to a nun 's habit or to the hijab (the 'regular' veil covering a woman's hair), but I don't think my disgust is a reason to compromise on hard fought rights of freedom of expression.

Of course, Sarkozy and his cliques framed the debate not in religious terms but as an issue of women's right. Even, then, I fail to see how a law would help. Either these women wear the full veil because they are forced to, and the law will only confine them even more to their homes, or it is a choice of theirs and a ban is not about "them" and their (the women wearing them) rights but about our discomfort and our fear that Salafist and Wahhabist extremist views might be taking hold.

Can a law really curb extremism? Certainly not. The problem of extremism is about what is going on in their heads. My strong belief is that only education and economic integration can change anything (the few obstinate extremists that will remain must be accepted as the cost of any free society) but such long-term solutions are not very sexy, and they don't play well in this dogmatic age, especially with this French president.
I like the way the left-wing newspaper Libération has reported the news :
"France is struggling to cope with a painful social crisis… And what does the government put forward as a key measure on its programme? A law on the burqa: a piece of cloth worn by few hundred women — 2,000 according to the highest estimates.". (LibĂ©ration)
Besides, when it comes to the dignity of women, I like that this blogger suggested that other phenomena undermine the dignity of women, it be plastic surgery or prostitution.

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