Last July, I wrote about President Nicholas Sarkozy’s comments on the burqa. Since then, a number of steps have been taken towards a partial ban on the burqa that included setting up a panel to discuss the issue as well as a national debate on French identity.
Over the last six months, the panel has been studying the burqa in France and a few weeks ago released its recommendations to prohibit women who wear the burqa from using any public services like schools, hospitals, and public transportation. The panel determined that the burqa is not compatible with the ideals of secularism and French values. Moreover, proponents of a ban assert that the burqa oppresses women and represents a growing faction of radical Muslims. Opponents of the ban argue that it strips Muslim women of the personal liberties they are guaranteed in France and will in fact lead to further isolating these women.
As I have mentioned in my posts about the face veil debate in France and Egypt, I find it really troubling that men are often the ones engaging in a debate around what Muslim women should wear. I, personally, am not a proponent of the face veil and I believe that it represents a minority opinion in the Muslim view. Having said that, however, I also strongly believe that there are women who choose to wear the face veil and feel that it is part of their religious identity, so they should not be be denied the right to choose. The fact that the number of women who wear the burqa in France is so small–around 2000–makes me wonder what is really going on in Europe when it comes to their Muslim citizens. The same focus occurred in Switzerland around 4 minarets. Why is there such a fear? And why are such problematic measures acceptable in countries that espouse liberal values? Don’t these measures actually deny citizens their rights and thus go against these same liberal values?
I think there needs to be a serious and open discussion about what is really going on. It is not sufficient to use liberalism as the front to strip people of their personal liberties. Whether a woman chooses to wear a headscarf or face veil, it is her prerogative, especially in nations that speak of dignity and freedom.
What do you think of the burqa ban in France? Should a woman have the right to wear the face veil? Why or why not? Is the debate around the burqa really a debate about something larger? Please share your comments below.