The French Parliament recently implemented its ban on the full Islamic face veil, calling it “an affront to the nation’s values of dignity and equality.” The language of the law skirts around mentioning “Muslim women” and “veils,” and President of France Nicolas Sarkozy and his supporting party staunchly claim banning the veil supports women’s equality.
Does anybody else think that the French Parliament acted just as wrongly as some Muslim families who pressure family members to wear the veil? By passing this law, the French Parliament has accomplished the opposite of what it supposedly sought to do: it excludes Muslim women from unhampered public expression.
Sarkozy and his party believe banning niqabs and burqas will protect France’s secular-humanist identity, but I fail to see how restricting an expression of one’s religion encourages an open marketplace of ideas, the ideal modus operandi of secular-humanists. Some supporters of the law, like Sihem Habchi, a feminist Muslim and political activist who worked with the French government on the ban, believe the new law will help curtail the growth and influence of conservative Islam in France. Isn’t this just a slippery slope fallacy, especially considering how few Muslim women (no more than 2,000) in all of France actually wear a niqab or burka? Forbidding the religious expression of a few women won’t erase the reality that France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. Denying women the right to wear a veil won’t guarantee them equality or negate the Muslim minority’s influence. It’s a minor cosmetic alteration of the French public that hurts individual women and does not benefit France as a whole.
So people who hate burkas and what they stand for won’t have to see them again while shopping or eating out? Okay… well, it’s legal to sport a swastika in France, and swastikas make a lot of people feel uncomfortable or threatened. However, because France has a burgeoning Muslim rather than a Neo-Nazi population, the most iconic display of Islam—the veil—seems menacing to those who fear for France’s future as a secular, liberty-loving nation. Some may argue that Islam, like Neo-Nazism, features hate as its central tenant, but you can’t judge all Muslims on the actions of extremists, which exist in every religion, whereas the crux of Neo-Nazism is hatred of non-“Aryan” people. It’s a tragic folly that the French government passed judgment on all women who wear the veil; the French Parliament and Sarkozy deem that a veil equals oppression and ignores that some of these women are recent French converts. This ban only succeeds in attempting to erase a physical aspect of women’s identities and making transparent the xenophobia of the French government.
–By Jenna Cooper