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by Finian Cunningham
12 May, 2010
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is playing with fire after his country’s parliament voted to ban Muslim women from wearing the Islamic veil in public places.
Last month, Sarkozy ordered the French parliament to debate introducing a ban on Muslim women donning in public the garment known as the burka or nijab, which covers the face except for the eyes.
This week, 11 May, the French parliament voted unanimously – after 30 communist deputies walked out in protest – to condemn the practice of Muslim women wearing the burka publicly. The ban is expected to become law later this year. France will be the second European country after Belgium to introduce such legislation that in effect criminalises Muslims over their choice of dress, which is seen as a symbol of religious devotion.
Under the French ban, a woman wearing the burka can be stopped on the street by police and ordered to a police station where she will be compelled to remove the veil and identify herself. The “offender” will also face a heavy financial fine. Muslim men who are deemed to have “forced” their wives or daughters to wear the burka will also be fined.
The parliamentary move has provoked an outcry among France’s five million Muslims who say that the ban is an unwarranted stigmatisation of their community. The French Muslim community mainly comes or descends from France’s former colonies in North Africa – Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. At 12 per cent of the total population, France has the largest Muslim community in Europe.
Five years ago, long-held grievances of alienation, poverty and police harassment exploded into three weeks of riots in Muslim ghettoes in Paris, Lyon, Lille and Marseilles. Thousands of cars and other properties were torched on a nightly basis in what French police described as “war zones”.
France’s national debate over the burka has fuelled lingering tensions, with rhetoric that has at times bordered on gratuitously reckless. French politicians calling for the ban have described such women as “walking coffins” and “phantoms” in public places.
President Sarkozy himself has said that the burka “is not welcome” in his country. He claims that it is “oppressive” to women and reduces them to “servitude”.
Advocates of the ban accuse members of the Arab community of not conforming to French national identity. They claim that at issue is the defence of women’s rights and the promotion of the Fifth Republic’s values of secularism and “liberty, equality, fraternity”.
The narrative about women’s rights has echoes of one of the most tenuous justifications used by the US and its NATO allies to invade Afghanistan – the “liberation of women oppressed by the Muslim fundamentalist Taliban”.
In other words, there would appear to be something “faux” – as the French might say – about the motives for why their political class is driving the issue of the burka.
Official figures would tend to bear out the contention that the “problem” is being inflated out of all proportion.
From the rhetoric wielded one could be forgiven for thinking that French society was being destabilised by an army of women clad from head to toe in black gowns. However, figures from the French interior ministry put the number of women who wear the burka at 1,900. That’s less than 0.04 per cent of the total Muslim population. (French intelligence services estimate the number to be even lower, and it is disquieting that they should be even keeping a score on such a matter.)
Contrary to common misunderstanding, Islam does not compel women to cover their faces. Wearing the burka, nijab and hijab (head scarf) is optional. The minority of women who chose to dress with the burka do so of their own volition for personal religious/cultural reasons. In Arab culture, women themselves place a high value on modesty in public appearance.
So what is going on here?
Firstly, there is a lot of French political vanity involved. By presenting the country as a bastion of equal rights and a knight in shining armour “defending women against oppression” – the advocates of the burka ban no doubt can puff their chests with pride that La France is standing tall and courageous on the world stage.
Secondly, the spurious debate and disproportionate national concern distracts, ironically, from the real world fact that French society is far from a bastion of equal rights, with its impoverished Muslim ghettoes as a glaring case in point.
Thirdly, and more seriously, the agenda serves as a way of stirring up “Islamophobia” – to disseminate the notion that there is “an enemy within” in the form of the Muslim community. When French politicians talk about “phantoms in public places” that is sending an insidious message to the wider population that there is something abnormal, un-human, even dangerous about these women and by extension their wider community. As in the US, Britain and other NATO countries, this Islamophobia is less about Muslim women covering up their faces and more about governments covering up their criminal wars in Muslim countries. It is yet another way of trying to bolster public support for the “war on terror”.
But Sarkozy and his parliament’s latest gambit could backfire with dangerous consequences for French society and beyond.
One Muslim woman, originally from North Africa now living in France, said: “Liberty, equality, fraternity – it’s all a big lie” and she compared the situation with 1939-45. “They are now doing to Muslims what they did to Jews.”
Given the French political establishment’s heinous collaboration with Nazi Germany in the persecution of Jews, communists and other “undesirables”, Sarkozy in this latest French move to ban the burka is indeed playing with fire.
Finian Cunningham is a journalist and musician www.myspace.com/finiancunninghammusic
That’s over the line, you can’t fatwa fashion, people can wear what they want, or they can wear nothing at all IMO. The reason for banning burkas is because they can’t recognize faces with all that surveillance everywhere. But then are they going to ban sunglasses?
But do indeed be scared of islam, it’s insane, all of it. Just as one should be terrified of the zionists and the christian fundaMentalists, the nazis and the stalinists. Mass religulous movements are a cause for fear because they are crazy, irrational, murderous, warmongering, idiotic, and kill people for bogus belief in false gods.
They killed Daniel Pearl, they shot all those humanitarians, they stone women. The christians are slaughtering civilians with drones, the zionists are burning people with white phosphorous.
No islam, No zionists, No christians. Stick all these religiuns up your arse and practice in private.
Back to the closet with you all! No tolerance.
It’s enough already. How about rationality and intelligence and peace on earth.
Religious people are not peaceful. What makes you think there’s an excuse for this psychotic indulgence, because Dorothy Day happens to be Catholic, MLK was a preacher, Rumi was a poet, Elie Weisel was sick to death of Nazis?
You don’t have to be a fanatical religious irrational cultist to be about peace. That’s just logic and human.
It’s enough already!
Keep your religion to yourself and leave the normal, sane, rational people alone. Go away you sick sadists!
Excuses, excuses, Natureboy. Your arguments aren’t worth paying attention to, imo. It’s all rant, no substance. Statistically the fundamentalists of any religion are few in number. What you are ranting about is exactly the same as those ranting about Islamophobia in the US (mainly rightwing Republicans).
God is love. What humans do in His name should not be held against God. You hate God, that is your problem. Just come out and say it.
The peace movement doesn’t work because those who call themselves peace workers have no inner (or outer) peace. Read what you just wrote, it’s all aggressive, violent talk.
But god didn’t create people, people created god.
We are what we are. We are complicated. God didn’t help us. Peaceful religiosity is the farthest minority, the dominant streak in all the abrahamic idolatry is always war and death, as it was in all the other faiths from Thor to Athena.
Why would I argue with jesus if there was an ounce of truth to it? I’d have nothing to gain, just an afterlife of eternal hellfire & brimstone.
If it were true he would have appeared, he would have helped in all these holocausts. This is not a prince of peace, this is a long dead young man with a vision, tortured and destroyed by Romans like thousands of others. A human being.
If Abrahamic idolitrists didn’t succumb to the idiocy of violence, they would rise up and stop it. They didn’t, & don’t and never did.
The religions beget violence. Violence begets religions. Religions prevent us from thinking, thinking is the opposite of belief.
There is nothing violent about that observation. It’s reality. These religions are reinforcing a bad state of mind. Be a Buddhist if you need a belief-system to cope with death. Be less attached.
The cult of the afterlife is all about selfishness not love. Heaven is a selfish ideal, regardless of the likelihood that when your dead you’re gone.
Christians are selfish people, praying forever for salvation, it’s all about their personal salvation, not peace on earth. Earth is but a transient state for Christians, it’s part of the entire mythic construct.
Because of heaven, dispensationalism, dominionism, the second coming, the myth of the resurrection, the myth of hell, everything we are here on earth for christians is but a trial for heaven, immaterial, a selfish quest to prove to a mythical deity that you’re worthy of the afterlife, no different than virgins & dates.
Christians are not interested in compassion, they’re interested in using up the world on their way to the afterlife. Better to have remained a Jew.
If this is all just to prove to god you’re worthy, why even try to help the living? Just be a monk & pray and you’ll be saved. Peace on earth is a waste of time for Christians, it’s all about themselves.
& I am not an activist, nor a peacworker, do not judge any peace movement based on my issues. I don’t represent anyone nor anything, least of all peace.
I just hate war, and yes, war is a hateful thing, but it’s people who propagate war that are despicable, and more often than not they are religious.
The point is not Islamophobia, its satisfaction with secularism. The republican right wing hates secular progressives as much as they hate anti-war liberals & socialists.
Religion simply has no place in politics nor policy, & after the hell they’ve put us all through, it no longer has any place in society. It’s fine to be a believer, you’ll probably live longer & happier. But it’s not fine to congregate & pollute the environment with medievil cultism and dark evil old-school regressions that kill.
But women should be allowed to wear burkas or whatever face-covering fabrics or fancy freaky footwear that floats their belittled boat.
Women in these corrupt cultures have a millenial history of craving victimhood of malicious male dominance & control in all these abrahamic cults.
We the Chosen have a wonderful version where women of blood-diamond dealers have to wear wigs and walk behind their unwashed men, hurry home to boil chicken fat to grease their men’s grisled beards.
(I’m smelling a rocket burning sulfrous fumes in the background…)
George Carlin was a trained catholic christian & boiled down all the commandments to two: No killing, & keep your religions to yourselves.
Carlin was no fool.
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