Tina K. Russell

October 13, 2008

The Cure for What Veils You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:30 pm

World Briefing – Europe – France – Agency Rules That Burqa Violates Values – NYTimes.com
The French agency devoted to combating discrimination has determined that the burqa, the all-encompassing garment that some Muslim women wear, violates French values and inhibits integration into French society. “The burqa is a sign of the submission of women that surpasses its religious aspect and could be considered as a breach of republican values,” the agency, the High Authority for the Fight Against Discrimination and for Equality, said in a ruling, the daily newspaper La Croix reported Thursday. The decision means that women will not be permitted to wear burqas or niqabs, a related garment, in state-sponsored French-language classes.

I have mixed feelings about the burqa. On the one hand, everyone should have the right to wear whatever they want; I’d think that’s a cornerstone of American, and French, values. On the other hand, I don’t like knee-jerk liberal defense of the burqa because I don’t just dislike it when women are explicitly forced to wear the burqa (as under the Taliban), I dislike it when women are socially coerced or universally expected to wear the garment. So, in that sense, I do feel that the burqa represents oppression of women worldwide. However, I do understand that there are women who wear the burqa of their own free will, without any sort of coercion from outside, and such freedom to wear what you want ought to be encouraged. This French ruling pre-empts women’s right to wear what they want, and that I find distasteful.

I guess what I’m saying that a) I want to go to bat for the burqa because I feel this ruling is unconscionably restrictive, and b) I’m reluctant to go to bat for the burqa, because while I know many women wear it out of free will, I don’t want my (proud!) liberal sensibilities to get in the way of acknowledging that many women don’t get that choice and are forced to wear it through explicit force or through social coercion and expectation.

I wish I could wear whatever I wanted to, but society expects a standard of modesty for me. The burqa is a spectacularly restricting garment, expressing practically nothing of the women behind it. I suppose some women like it that way, and more power to them (or they like the garment for other reasons), but it still represents oppression so as long as women are forced (in any way) to wear it. I think that’s the kind of prejudice, the real threat to women, that this French ruling is meant to oppose, and it’s a shame that for such good intentions the bill is just more restriction of women’s freedoms. I don’t like the burqa, but the whole point of freedom is that I cannot and should not impose my beliefs upon others, and nobody should have the choice made for them beforehand.

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