France Bans Veils in Public: Bye, Bye Burqa

Heather Murphy-Raines
11


Women's equality or religious discrimination?
When I heard it on the radio, my first response was distaste.

We have a strong history of supporting religious rights in the United States. Even though I am not an overly religious person, my first inclination is to support anyone's right to worship the religion of their choice.

To worship as they see fit.

So it was with with repugnance I discovered France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly voted 335 to 1 Tuesday to ban veils that cover the face.

This includes the burqa worn by some Muslim women there. France already banned burqas in public schools in 2004.

French citizens also support the ban 4 to 1 with 82 percent supporting the ban. It appears they are not alone. Germany, Britain, and Spain also have large majorities when polled that back such a ban. Not surprising, two-thirds of all American polled disapproved.

CNN reports:
Shuttlecock burqa

"The French Council of Ministers approved the measure in May, saying veils that cover the face 'cannot be tolerated in any public place ... The parliamentary vote is the latest step in France's efforts to ban the burqa, niqab, and other Muslim garments that cover a woman's face. A panel of French lawmakers recommended a ban last year, and lawmakers unanimously passed a non-binding resolution in May calling the full-face veil contrary to the laws of the nation."

"'Given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place,' the French government said when it sent the measure to parliament in May."

So, my friends, is this a violation of Muslim civil liberties? I started to look closer at why such a ban is gaining popularity in Europe. The results had me furrowing my brow and shrugging my shoulders a bit at some salient points. 

Of course, there are real concerns for security and being able to identify people. Robberies and terrorist acts have happened both in Europe and the Middle East when men use the burqa to lull people around them into a false sense of security that they were with docile women. Let's not forget the burqa Hezbollah terrorist, niqab cop-killer, and burqa jewel thieves.

Then there is the question of driver's licenses and passports. What point is picture identification when the face is covered? Moreover, how safe is it to drive with one's vision so impeded? It's difficult enough to see a child running in the street after a ball without a veil impeding vision. What if that was your child? With liberty comes responsibility and making sure one freedom does not take away the life or freedoms of others.

Then there is question about the burqa itself. Not to be confused with the hijab, the burqa requires not only the head and body to be covered, but also the face veiled. Most popular in Afghanistan, the shuttlecock burqa or chadri was required during the Taliban reign there. Some even claim the burqa is cultural and not a part of the Qur'an, which only requires the body and head to be covered. So is it worship as they see fit like I queried above to wear a burqa? Or perhaps France is right that its intent is the subjugation of women?


Personal choice?
Then we look at the opposite situation in Middle Eastern countries where Western women are required to cover themselves and their hair no matter their religious beliefs. This is a matter of respect for the cultural customs. Why could not the same apply to France and their long history of codifying equality of the genders? 

Out of respect for the French culture, can not banning the burqa be seen as the same? They want cultural assimilation. Is that wrong? To expect those immigrating to their country to assume the culture and laws that are present when they arrive? If not, then why come?

Some interesting thoughts swirl around my American brain. Personally, I find the burqa distasteful. I do see it as subjugation of women. And yet, who am I and who are we to tell anyone what to wear? The same could be said of the men who force their women to wear the burqa. 

In the end, it needs to be a personal choice which is very hard to prove and enforce and possibly some restrictions should be made to assure public safety from burqa criminals. Honestly, I think many women in France wearing burqas might be secretly relieved. Even more honestly, I worry this ban will subjugate women even more when their men restrict their freedom and keep them home rather than show their faces.

 

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Images via FotoRita, Steve Evans , Luca De Vito /Flickr

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