France and the Burqa

While Sarkozy in France has realised that the burqa ban will be harder to enforce than originally believed – and so, therefore, will be shelved – another group of angry right wing men (and women), this time in Britain, have decided the issue is for them, namely UKIP, and for not too dissimilar reasons to those that originally informed UMP’s plans.

The fact that Sarkozy has “climbed down” has sparked the debate of enforcement and his strength as incumbent once again, but enforcement is only one element of the argument at play here, with regards to the burka. Rumbold, in a piece for pickled politics, has rightly said that

Enforcing such a ban would be hard. Would we have police ripping off women’s clothes if their faces were covered? Pregnant women and young mothers put behind bars for repeatedly defying the ban? Would anyone who covered their face up be breaking the law?

As we can see, for Rumbold it is not as simple as detailing who exactly is eligible to be vilified were this new law ever to be passed – if it were so then extended rigidity of the law would be the answer – but rather questions on how the police would operate, what would be their limits, and what would be the women’s human rights, are raised.

Those who are not instrumental in policy have a far easier ride in many ways; they can question whether the banning of the burqa is legitimate with little concern for their practical application, and our ideas – so far as we are strong headed about them – need not come into compromise with others’. On this basis I shall explain why I despise burqa’s, but am against the banning of them. In doing this I will largely ignore whether my ideas are enforceable, because for me whether something is right or wrong transcends the problems it might be met with in trying to apply them. Freedom should not be compromised by people with ideas to the contrary.

France has been trying to ban the burqa for many years now, using its obedience to the ideas of the republic, liberty and equality, as justification. But a full ban would have been met with many setbacks. It was originally believed that in the scheme of things France was immune from Islamic-led criticism, especially in the early stages of the Iraq war, which French forces declined to take part in. The imagined respect that the French felt they had saw many American and British journalists “pretending they [were] French when they [stepped] into hot spots,” according to Georges Malbrunot, a French journalist working for Le Figaro. Days later, that particular journalist was kidnapped by a group of Wahabbi fundamentalists, calling for the ban on headscarfs in public schools to be repealed, to which Chirac responded with a resounding non, shortly before a show of solidarity with French Muslims, showing how all religions could operate freely inside the republic, albeit privately. This was a huge step for those who supported the ban, but Sarkozy’s great leap has been more punctuated, turning from a full ban to a ban in public places, to temporary shelving, with grievances from the European Court of Human Rights to boot.

Nevertheless the burqa remains a tool for submission. But how this submission is identified remains a wider problem. Last year France denied a Moroccan woman citizenship for her incompatibility to French values, particularly equality of the sexes. Further details saw that the woman, known as Faiza M., had lived in France since 2000 with her husband and three children all of whom were born in France, though social services reported that she lived in “total submission” to her husband. Reports of her incompatible radical politics were subsequently quashed. So what made her incompatible? At first it would seem too extraordinary that the reason she was incompatible to French values was because she was the human embodiment of inequality. But wouldn’t this show cowardice on the part of the French government for not vilifying the oppressor? Of course it would, and it is this precise reason that the French government has chosen to pick on the oppressed and not the oppressor, cowardice. French philosopher Alain Badiou said of burqa banning in 2004:

Grandiose causes need new-style arguments. For example: hijab must be banned; it is a sign of male power (the father or eldest brother) over young girls or women. So, we’ll banish the women who obstinately wear it. Basically put: these girls or women are oppressed. Hence, they shall be punished. It’s a little like saying: “This woman has been raped: throw her in jail.”

Most would recognise that the burqa is a symbol of oppression, and therefore, morally, there is no reason on this world to extend respect for it, but if this is so, then why are coward governments attacking the symbol, and not the oppression itself. It is this dilemma that should be put to the French parliament, now that the plans for a public ban have been put back.

Should France ban the burqa?

Policymakers are in a constant battle with trying to introduce what they feel is morally right and politically legitimate, while compromising over whether something is enforceable or not. Whether something is right or wrong, and in spite of its urgency, policies might be forced to yield to the loudest voices. We cannot scorn at this fact, this is part of the liberal democratic package, it’s what has been fought for and it’s what most of us feel is the correct mode of political operation. But in the next month, and in recent times, Islam itself will be the force fighting for concession, especially in France where women could be banned from wearing the full Islamic veil in public.

Indeed it has been this notion of compromise and enforcement that has engendered most of the criticism aimed at Sarkozy and the ruling UMP. Rumbold, in a piece for pickled politics, has rightly said that

Enforcing such a ban would be hard. Would we have police ripping off women’s clothes if their faces were covered? Pregnant women and young mothers put behind bars for repeatedly defying the ban? Would anyone who covered their face up be breaking the law?

As we can see, for Rumbold it is not as simple as detailing who exactly is eligible to be vilified were this new law, to be submitted to parliament early next year, be passed – if it were so then extended rigidity of the law would be the answer – but rather questions on how the police would operate, what would be their limits, and what would be the women’s human rights are raised.

Those of us who are not instrumental in policy have a far easier ride in many ways; we can question whether the banning of the burqa is legitimate with little concern for their practical application, and our ideas – so far as we are strong headed about them – need not come into compromise with others’. On this basis I shall explain why I despise burqa’s, but am against the banning of them. In doing this I will largely ignore whether my ideas are enforceable, because for me whether something is right or wrong transcends the problems it might be met with in trying to apply them. Freedom should not be compromised by people with ideas to the contrary.

France has been trying to ban the burqa for many years now, using its obedience to the ideas of the republic, liberty and equality, as justification. But a full ban has been met with many setbacks. It was originally believed that in the scheme of things France was immune from Islamic-led criticism, especially in the early stages of the Iraq war, which French forces declined to take part in. The imagined respect that the French felt they had saw many American and British journalists “pretending they [were] French when they [stepped] into hot spots,” according to Georges Malbrunot, a French journalist working for Le Figaro. Days later, that particular journalist was kidnapped by a group of Wahabbi fundamentalists, calling for the ban on headscarfs in public schools to be repealed, to which Chirac responded with a resounding non, shortly before a show of solidarity with French Muslims, showing how all religions could operate freely inside the republic, albeit privately. This was a huge step for those who supported the ban, but Sarkozy’s great leap has been more punctuated, turning from a full ban to a ban in public places, with grievances from the European Court of Human Rights to boot.

Nevertheless the burqa remains a tool for submission. But how this submission is identified remains a wider problem. Last year France denied a Moroccan woman citizenship for her incompatibility to French values, particularly equality of the sexes. Further details saw that the woman, known as Faiza M., had lived in France since 2000 with her husband and three children all of whom were born in France, though social services reported that she lived in “total submission” to her husband. Reports of her incompatible radical politics were subsequently quashed. So what made her incompatible? At first it would seem too extraordinary that the reason she was incompatible to French values was because she was the human embodiment of inequality. But wouldn’t this show cowardice on the part of the French government for not vilifying the oppressor? Of course it would, and it is this precise reason that the French government has chosen to pick on the oppressed and not the oppressor, cowardice. French philosopher Alain Badiou said of burqa banning in 2004:

Grandiose causes need new-style arguments. For example: hijab must be banned; it is a sign of male power (the father or eldest brother) over young girls or women. So, we’ll banish the women who obstinately wear it. Basically put: these girls or women are oppressed. Hence, they shall be punished. It’s a little like saying: “This woman has been raped: throw her in jail.”

Most would recognise that the burqa is a symbol of oppression, and therefore, morally, there is no reason on this world to extend respect for it, but if this is so, then why are coward governments attacking the symbol, and not the oppression itself. It is this dilemma that should be put to the French parliament early next year.

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