16/04/2011

France's Burqa Ban - Aid to equality or pandering to the Right wing?

So the burqa ban was implemented this week in France, with politicians declaring that its all about secularism and equality amongst men and woman. Laudable sentiments which I fully support, but I'm not quite sure I believe... For a start the law didn't mention women, or the burqa or as I understand it any religious symbols. I guess it's fair to say that neither men or women of any religious persuasion will be permitted to wear a balaclava in public anymore -  burglars will doubtless be outraged... Let's hope France doesn't have any really bad winters anytime soon, no more scarves around your nose and mouth to keep out the chill...

Whilst the majority of the French appear to support the ban, a small but vocal minority, including Rachid Nekkaz (who incidentally is not a supporter of the burqa/niqab) have vowed to fight the introduction of the law on the grounds that it is non democratic. I can't say that I disagree. What democracy - apart from France now - dictates what people can/can't wear in the streets? One young woman very publicly took a stance against what she believes is a breach of her human rights i.e. The right to wear the veil should she wish. Kenza Drider said, "This is about basic fundamental human rights and freedoms. I will go out in my full veil and I will fight. I'm prepared to go all the way to the European court of human rights and I will fight for my liberty…If women want to walk around half-naked I don't object to them doing so. If they want to wear tight jeans where you can see their underwear or walk around with their breasts hanging out, I don't give a damn. But if they are allowed to do that, why should I not be allowed to cover up?"

She does have a point, but that said, a non Muslim woman, whose custom/beliefs would allow her to have her face/hair uncovered can’t do so in even some of the more secular Arab countries. Why then should the same standard not be applied in Europe?  Given that France is and always has been, a secular state where religion has long been kept separate from government and public service of any kind, it would seem that for that country, the ban is not a departure from its general ideology. In addition, the ban is actually on the niqab and burqa, that cover the face, not on the veil in general which is perfectly acceptable attire for a practicing Muslim woman. On that basis, the 2004 ban in France on the burqas and other religious symbols in state schools and by public employees did not seem completely unreasonable. The impact of the early ban on ban is not widely reported. My worry was that the most vulnerable girls and women, those who were being ‘forced’ so to speak would be withdrawn from society.  It would be interesting to find out whether that was actually the case. Despite the fact that France has the largest Muslim community in Europe, only a very tiny minority subscribe to such practices, so the most likely scenario is that the impact was so minimal it has not been recorded. That said, I'm sure it will have caused untold distress to girls prevented from attending school by religious parents, for example.

Part of the argument for the recent ban was that it is an attempt to preserve equality between the sexes, on the grounds that wearing of the burqa is oppressive and humiliating to women. The premise being, I assume, that no one wears it freely -  Women like Kenza and others refute that argument to an extent. So, whilst the 2004 ban in official places doesn't seem wholly unreasonable, dictating what people can/can't wear in everyday life, seem draconian and in fact contrary to France's tradition of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" - so you can have those in France, but not whilst wearing a burqa...
I personally am against the practice of wearing a burqa, I genuinely believe that the majority of women who wear it do not do so freely, instead custom and/or circumstances dictate. Given there is nothing in the Koran stating that the wearing of the burqa is required, my personal opinion converges with premise given for the introduction of the law i.e. that the burqua/niqab is a method of subjugation of women. That said, banning in all public places however, seems extreme and to my mind appears to be more about pandering to the increasing population of right wing voters in the country, than a measure to improve women’s rights. I believe that continuing education and measures to discourage it, such as the 2004 ban in official settings, is a better way to deal with the issue. 

France/Europe in general, holds itself out as being tolerant of others and providing a place where people have the freedom to practice their religious beliefs, whatever they may be. A full ban in public not only impinges on the freedom of choice that Europe purports to offer,  but it is also probably in breach of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Campaigners within France are eagerly awaiting the first prosecution/fine in order to take it to the European Court of Human rights and test it in the context of Article 18. I will be watching the progress of the campaign in France with interest...

Whilst I am in no way suggesting that the two situations are comparable, I can’t help feeling that it is slightly hypocritical for Sarkosy to: jointly pen a letter declaring that “..it would be an unconscionable betrayal” to leave Libya whilst Gaddafi was still in power...", having just implemented a law that effectively reduces freedom of choice in his own country.  

Common sense appears to be prevailing over here, with Theresa May declaring on Monday that Britain would not be following suit as:  "such a proscriptive approach would be out of keeping with our nation's longstanding record of tolerance". I was relieved to hear that, but the memo does not appear to have gone out to the 4 British women who attacked an Iranian girl wearing a burqa. Luckily, the young lady in question is going to be OK - it's a real shame though that this was not reported at all in the British press. It would have been an opportunity to demonstrate the impact of ignorance and intolerance of others. As I understand it, the young lady who was attacked is not a religious fundamental, nor was she causing trouble of any kind. She was just wearing something that those women didn't like, that sort of behaviour should not be tolerated in this country and I hope Theresa May et al eventually put their money where their mouth is and condemn the act.

My final point on this subject is that given "our nation's longstanding record of tolerance", recent threats made against we should be condemn inappropriate behaviour from the Muslim community too. Shanna Buhkari a young Muslim woman who is bidding to win Miss Universe, has received death threats and condemnation for the UK Muslim community. 



Britain is not a Muslim state and hence, just as the right of any woman to wear a burqa should she so wish, is upheld, the right for her to enter a beauty contest will be too.

No comments:

Post a Comment