Friday, January 08, 2010

Uncover or else

Oh FFS sake, France, could you be any less coherent?

Reading this article about the proposed French law to outlaw the burqa is an exercise in confusion and contradiction.
"The law will address an issue of security ... The proposed measure would prohibit the covering of the face in public places and on the streets, with the exception of special cultural events or carnivals."
This is Jean-Francois Cope. So we'll start with the theory that this is about security. I can see an argument that in places where, for example, motorcycle helmets are not permitted to be worn, full face covering burqas should also be excluded, as should balaclavas. Speaking of balaclavas, does this mean that they will also be banned on the ski slopes? Or would they be "special cultural events or carnivals"? It's hard to imagine that there is a need to demand that all people show their faces in all public places, but if there is, it's going to have consequences beyond women wearing burqas.

However, Cope isn't sure that it is about security.
"We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women"
Perhaps it's about women being forced to wear burqas? If so, then this legislation makes no sense at all. It provides fines for women who wear a burqa. So it seems that Cope is arguing that the way to stop men from forcing women to wear the burqa is to fine the women. Granted, there is also a fine for men who force women to wear a burqa, but how, exactly, could that be enforced? And besides, there is still a fine for the woman who has no choice.

While we're on the subject of contradiction, if Cope wants to be able to view France as a modern society that respects women, he may wish to consider that some women may, in fact, choose to wear the burqa in a fully informed way. While I understand the need to protect women from oppression, I can't imagine any woman who freely chooses the burqa feeling as though she has been liberated by this law. I don't know if any of the 1,900 women in France who wear it, choose to do so freely (not being psychic and all), but surely, neither does Cope.

Since Cope can't decide why the legislation is required, and doesn't address the consequences of it for other face coverings, it's pretty difficult to see this as anything but vilification and oppression of Moslems.

I'd suggest that we can also measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats minority groups. Personally, I do place the well being of the women above the well being of the religion, but I don't believe you enhance women's well being by making grand gestures without involving those affected. If the government has concerns regarding security and the oppression of women, perhaps they should take these concerns to the community involved. Perhaps they should consult with Moslem women - both those who wear the burqa and those who don't - as well as women's advocacy groups which have an understanding of these women and their communities. This may not be an easy, or headline grabbing path, but is much more respectful of both the group identity and the women involved. It might even go a step towards resolving the tension.


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