France Moves Closer to Banning Burqa—and Betraying Its Own Values

Camille Lepage

By Camille LepageLast week, the French government voted in favor of banning the burqa, the traditional covering for Muslim women, which covers a woman from head to foot with an opening for the eyes). The law must still be approved by the French Senate, which will likely happen this September, and be reviewed by France's Constitutional Council, which ensures that legislation does not violate the country's constitution.The legislation would arguably move France further from its self-adorned reputation as the country of human rights and the Age of Enlightenment. The country I’ve called home for so many years, is now beginning to re-enact the discrimination, racism and disregard for human rights that took place in Germany 70 years ago. On July 13, the French National Assembly voted 335 to 1 to ban women from wearing the full-face Muslim veil in public spaces. (Two-hundred and forty-one assembly members abstained from voting.) This law is intolerant, immoral and harmful, but a clear majority of French political representatives approved of it.The current French reality seems to reflect Anna Arendt’s account of the start of the Holocaust in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil: evil is now (or at least about to become) ordinary. Even the communist and socialist parties have accepted this French evil, as well as one of the most influential French feminist organizations: Ni Putes, Ni Soumises (Neither Whores, Nor Submissives).Under the proposed law, any woman wearing a burqa or niqab (a face veil covering the lower part of the face) in a public space will be fined 150 Euro or be ordered to partake in citizenship classes. (Of Franc's estimated 2 million adult Muslim women, only 2,000 wear a full face veil.)Are citizenship classes intended to suggest that a person can be a bad citizen simply because of her religious beliefs? Will the next step be to distinguish Muslims by ordering them to wear a crescent moon on their clothes? Muslim women are not arbitrarily forced to wear the full-faced veil; it is a part of their religion. Women who wear the veil do so because they believe it is right, and they should not be judged for doing so. Banning the veil would deny Muslim women the freedom to decide how to dress and express their religion.What about the women who do not choose to wear the burqa, but are forced to by their husbands? The covering that was once their key to the outside would keep such women confined to their homes for fear of fines or a husband’s wrath. Is this scenario really better than offending a close-minded stranger?The ban also threatens education for Muslim girls. Muslim teenagers whose fathers do not permit them to go outside uncovered will not be able to go to school. This will force them to be home-schooled, which will widen the gap that already exists in France between the Muslim population and the rest of the country. Additionally, a woman’s health may also be put in jeopardy if she needs to go to the hospital and is forced to choose between seeking treatment and obeying a religious obligation.André Gérin, a Communist Party member of the national assembly, called it “a law of liberation,” arguing that the burqa does not respect the French values of liberty, fraternity and equality. French people find the garment offensive and, apparently, their need to see people’s faces is more important than respecting human rights.But in fact, outlawing the burqa will quickly result in fewer Muslim women showing their faces, not more.As John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination in Europe, declared, “It is not because you find something offensive that you can ban it.” The middle wing Afghan Deputy Shinkai Karokhail has said she believes that forbidding the veil is as scandalous as forcing someone to wear it.For a democratic government in the 21st century to deny its citizens the right to religious expression by banning traditional clothing is not only incompetent, but immoral.

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