The French have moved one step closer to banning purdah and other veil-wearing in public. In France, this intolerance of religious freedom /slash/ protection of vulnerable populations from the patriarchy is a feminist issue. Would this be the final paragraph of the final chapter of the recession of Islam (from France) following its high water mark in 1492?

Details:

France’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public.

There were 335 votes for the bill and only one against in the 557-seat National Assembly.

It must now be ratified by the Senate in September to become law.

The ban has strong public support but critics point out that only a tiny minority of French Muslims wear the full veil.

Many of the opposition Socialists, who originally wanted the ban limited only to public buildings, abstained from voting after coming under pressure from feminist supporters of the bill.

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Comments

  1. #1 RMJ
    July 13, 2010

    Ugh. Another way for patriarchal forces in France to dictate how women, people of color, and other marginalized folks present themselves.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 13, 2010

    One point worth noting: The fine for a woman wearing a burka is small (up to 150 euros). But the fine for a man forcing a woman to wear a burka is up to 30K euros and up to one year in prison.

  3. #3 SimonG
    July 13, 2010

    I’m still unsure about this: I don’t like the prescriptive angle. If idiots want to put a bag over their head, let them.
    However, I also recognise that a lot of the supporters of veils are deeply misogynistic bastards. Their wives, sisters and daughters may not be free to express a dislike of a full veil and banning it could be the only way to free them.

    Wandering around in a veil negatively affects how everybody looks upon the wearer: they’re no longer an individual, just another, interchangeable woman. It hinders communication: no body language if you can’t see the body. I think it is ultimately incompatible with a fair, democratic society.

  4. #4 John Kwok
    July 13, 2010

    There are substantial numbers of Muslims and Muslim-Americans wearing burkhas now, here in New York City. While I respect their cultural traditions to a point, as someone sympathetic to virtually all feminist concerns, I wonder whether wearing them is really an act of liberty on the part of these women, or rather, more likely, submission. If that’s the latter, then I look forward to the day when burkha wearing will be scare again here in the Big Apple.

  5. #5 John Kwok
    July 13, 2010

    Typo –

    Last sentence in prior comment should read:

    “If that’s the latter, then I look forward to the day when burkha wearing will be scarce again here in the Big Apple.”

  6. #6 LightningRose
    July 13, 2010

    I was of two minds on this issue until I read the following, from a woman who describes herself as a “a liberal, a Muslim and a feminist”.

    I support banning the burqa because … It comes from an ideology that basically wants to hide women away. What really strikes me is that a lot of people say that they support a woman’s right to choose to wear a burqa because it’s her natural right. But I often tell them that what they’re doing is supporting an ideology that does not believe in a woman’s right to do anything.

    We’re talking about women who cannot travel alone, cannot drive, cannot even go into a hospital without a man with them. And yet there is basically one right that we are fighting for these women to have, and that is the right to cover their faces.

    To tell you the truth, I’m really outraged that people get into these huge fights and say that as a feminist you must support a women’s right to do this, because it’s basically the only kind of “right” that this ideology wants to give women. Otherwise they get nothing.

    I now fully support the ban.

    http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/2010/07/12/yes_to_the_burqa_ban/index.html

  7. #7 Maria
    July 13, 2010

    I first read the title as “The French are about to ban the veal” and my heart went out to all those French Chefs.

    “You have the right not to do anything except cover up!”

    Does this ban also extend to head scarves or just the face coverings / veil? Nuns would have a problem with the headscarves.

  8. #8 Zach Voch
    July 13, 2010

    Suppose a woman (actually) chooses the veil and fights against the ban.

    Is she really exercising her right to a particular expression if she does so through helping to deny the rights of other women to free expression broadly?

    If we could set up a naive “net freedom of expression” index, I feel that that allowing, rather than banning, the burka would leave us with a much lower figure.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    July 13, 2010

    This is where American and European sensibilities diverge. Americans are unwilling to give an inch for fear that nefarious forces take the proverbial mile. Europeans (esp. France and Germany?) seem more willing to enter the gray zone where someone’s freedom of expression is actually taken away in order to reach a net improvement.

  10. #10 Alisdair
    July 13, 2010

    I can see how even those who don’t wear the veil might see it as an attack on Islam, as it is making a law that in fact, if not in theory, only applies to one religion. This will just create further divisions in a country that really doesn’t need them. There’s a recent right-wing trend to hide populist racism under cover of criticism of Islam, or in this case restriction of its practice*. Both play to fear of the ‘other’. (I note here that the overtly racist Le Pen got 10% of the vote at the last French presidential election).

    On a practical note, I fear that there are some women who will not go out in public at all after this measure is enacted, either by their own choice, or pressure from husband and family. (Something similar happened when a former Shah of Iran banned the veil). That can’t be a positive step.

    In any case, there are many strong possible challenges to this under the European Convention on Human Rights, so I don’t think it’ll last long.

    * Yes, I know that all religions are dumb, including Islam, and yes, I know there’s nothing in the Koran telling women to wear veils in the street.

  11. #11 Texas Reader
    July 13, 2010

    Forget the religious freedom angle – NO ONE should be allowed to walk around in public with something covering their face as it hides their identitym, and in this age of terrorism this is dangerous. I’d make an exception for someone living in Minnesota when it’s below zero and the wind is blowing, but that’s about it.

    You have a right to wear whatever you want in your home but if you are out in public you shouldn’t be able to hide your identity. Just imagine if Klans people walked around hooded – we wouldn’t tolerate that for a minute.

  12. #12 DuWayne
    July 13, 2010

    As an atheist and being rather hard core about women’s rights and equality, I actually feel pretty good about this. As a virtual absolutist when it comes to personal liberty and as someone who objects to cultural interference (outside of interfering with human rights violations and health & safety), I am not so keen on it and ultimately have to object. It isn’t a matter of restricting my feelings to protecting this specific right, I most certainly don’t.

    There are definitely areas that I am unequivocally against accommodating religion. But outside of those parameters, I just can’t countenance interfering with a person’s right to practice their religion as they see fit. For example, I would much rather see a law preventing abuse – including avoiding emergency health care, because a man isn’t around to chaperon the visit. Not that this is something that can reasonably be enforced with ease, but it may help some women. I feel the same way about passing explicit laws requiring parents to seek necessary medical care for their children. Allowing those sorts of issues to fall under neglect/involuntary manslaughter is not enough.

    Forget about fucking useless, inflammatory bullshit like this and focus on laws that will actually matter and make a difference in people’s lives.

  13. #13 John Kwok
    July 13, 2010

    I will have to check my sources – though that won’t be for a few weeks at least do to other, more pressing matters – but the widespread adoption of burkhas (burqas) (I am missspelling this only to irritate any radicalized Muslims and Muslim-Americans who may stumble upon this blog entry) is due to the advent of Islamofascist movements in the Middle East, such as, for example, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Since it is a symbol of such, it is IMHO more the reason to oppose it.

    Have known that France has seriously considered imposing the ban for several years. I am delighted that they are about to do it at last.

  14. #14 DuWayne
    July 13, 2010

    Greg –

    This is where American and European sensibilities diverge. Americans are unwilling to give an inch for fear that nefarious forces take the proverbial mile.

    This is both an oversimplification and incomplete explanation.

    First of all, in the U.S., opening that door is exceedingly dangerous, given the very polarized nature of our politics. Practical considerations aside, the issue of putting the power of censorship into the hands of transient majorities is a recipe for disaster. Do you not think it would be problematic for the right wing to have that power? For that matter, do you not see the danger of the left having that control?

    Secondly, there is more value to freedom of expression than mere fear of the slippery slope. It isn’t just about retaining that right for oneself, though that is not an unimportant consideration. I want people who’s views I believe are repugnant to be as loud and proud as possible.

    Take the creationism in the science classroom issue as an example. Every damned step of the way, we have loudmouth creationists shooting themselves in the foot. Every time this movement changes tact and tries to insert another trojan, someone inevitably decimates it with their stupidity. The same is becoming increasingly true of anti-gay bigots trying to prevent gay marriage/civil unions. They make claims about only trying to protect marriage and how they are fine with civil unions, but their actions and their statements belie that fucking bullshit.

    One can go on and on with this shit. It is simply better to let motherfuckers hang themselves with their own freedom of expression.

  15. #15 Loden Pantz
    July 13, 2010

    Stores would be right in banning burqa wearers, as the hiding of face, build, and features prevents identification of potential thieves, and enables shoplifters. Banks could not tell a legitimate female customer from an male robber armed with a couple of Kalashnikovs. The veil restricts the vision needed for being a safe driver and a safe pedestrian. And in our surveillance society, the burqa completely defeats CCTV.

  16. #16 Irene Delse
    July 13, 2010

    Greg says:

    “Would this be the final paragraph of the final chapter of the recession of Islam (from France) following its high water mark in 1492?”

    Huh? Where does that come from? I hope you are joking, because if not, it falls into the category of not even wrong.

    Sigh.

    Oh, and as one who actually lives in France, I’ll add two things:

    1) In answer to Maria: “Does this ban also extend to head scarves or just the face coverings / veil?” No, just the face covering garments like burqa and niqab. Actually, there are no wearers of burqa and very few of niqabs in France, and most of them tourists from the Persian Gulf countries! In fact, Muslim women who wear strict Islamic-type garments such as the hijab (veil covering hair, ears and neck) are still a minority. Call me cynical, but if this ban of face veils ever comes into effect (even if it’s not contested at the EU level, the government is well-known here for letting a lot of laws die quietly of disuse after they are voted), I predict an sudden increase in the popularity of hijabs in our country.

    2) I totally agree with what Alisdair #10 wrote.

  17. #17 Irene Delse
    July 13, 2010

    Loden Pantz #15:

    “Stores would be right in banning burqa wearers, as the hiding of face, build, and features prevents identification of potential thieves, and enables shoplifters.”

    Heh. This kind of event happened for real a few months ago in Paris, with a robber disguised as a rich Arab lady tourist in a niqab walked into a luxury boutique and lifted a little fortune in jewelry. But then, this kind of establishment doesn’t want to alienate potential solvable clients, so they are unlikely to ban veils.

    “The veil restricts the vision needed for being a safe driver and a safe pedestrian.”

    That’s debatable. Both eyes are uncovered with a niqab, so I don’t think it’s actually dangerous. And I repeat, there are no real, Afghan-style burqa wearers in France.

    “And in our surveillance society, the burqa completely defeats CCTV.”

    Er… That one could be a powerful selling point, you know.

  18. #18 John McKay
    July 13, 2010

    What happened in France in 1492?

    The high point of Islamic conquest in western Europe was in 732 when a raid in force was turned back at Poitiers by Charles Martel. In 1492, the last independent Islamic state in Western Europe, the Caliphate of Cordova in southern Iberia, was conquered by Castile. During the next decade, the Spanish and Portuguese expelled their Muslim populations, along with their Jewish populations, severely damaging their economies and enriching the Ottoman state where many of the refugees (most of the Sephardic Jews) ended up.

  19. #19 DuWayne
    July 13, 2010

    Loden Pantz –

    Are you serious?

    I am all about businesses requiring customers expose their faces. Banks too. But please don’t give me crap about CCTV issues in public. I am all for the damned cameras disappearing – I’m certainly not going to cry over clothing that defeats them.

    As for driving – I am all about enforcing rules for health and safety.

  20. #20 Anne Nonymous
    July 13, 2010

    And in our surveillance society, the burqa completely defeats CCTV.

    See, now that almost makes me want to wear one. I am fucking sick and tired of being recorded every time I leave my house, and of having only my utter insignificance and white-bread boringness to protect me. As far as I’m concerned, dressing as you please is an essential liberty, and I’m not prepared to lose that for a little bit of temporary pseudo-safety.

    As for the supposed feminist motivation for this, women have a right to dress how we please, even when we choose the clothes the patriarchy prefers. If the French were really looking to defend women from pressure to conform to patriarchal standards of attire, they’d be banning high heels and miniskirts too. The fact that they’re singling out the burqa shows that really this is some kind of lame xenophobic backlash against someone else’s patriarchy, not a rejection of patriarchy in all its forms. Also, did I mention that banning women from doing things “for their own good” is a bunch of paternalistic horseshit?

    On the other hand, a massive fine for forcing a woman to wear a burqa is a fucking awesome and hilarious idea (although I have no idea how the hell you’d actually prove that in a court of law). As long as there are also massive fines for pressuring women to wear high heels and miniskirts.

  21. #21 D. C. Sessions
    July 13, 2010

    Stores would be right in banning burqa wearers, as the hiding of face, build, and features prevents identification of potential thieves, and enables shoplifters. Banks could not tell a legitimate female customer from an male robber armed with a couple of Kalashnikovs.

    But of course baggy pants and sweaters with padding underneath and a full beard above are just dandy.

    I’m with DuWayne: this is the tyranny of the majority at work on a very vulnerable minority. Perhaps American women would identify better with being told that wearing anything at all on the beach is just the result of the patriarchal American obsession with nudity and that therefore they would henceforth go bare or face a fine.

    I really don’t care if US objections to beach nudity are artifacts of our patriarchy, they’re also how people feel at a very basic level [1] and forcing them to “go bare” or stay locked up is demeaning. The fact that this law is being done to women who by the very reason used to justify it are conditioned victims of oppression just makes it worse.

    It’s like harassing a shy kid at school for not being more outgoing: it’s about the insecurity of everyone else, not the benefit of the object of all the “attention.”

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itsy_Bitsy_Teenie_Weenie_Yellow_Polka_Dot_Bikini

  22. #22 Katherine
    July 13, 2010

    Haven’t read the text of the law, but are they going to fine women having “western”-style weddings that wear a veil also? That is a tradition rooted in the submission of women and treating them like property as well, though it doesn’t usually have that effect these days.

    ;)

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    July 13, 2010

    That is a tradition rooted in the submission of women and treating them like property as well, though it doesn’t usually have that effect these days.

    Good point. Like this: http://tinyurl.com/27w6h4u

  24. #24 Pen
    July 13, 2010

    @21 you raise an interesting point. If this is all about the freedom of women to wear what they want you might consider the fact that women are frequently topless at French pools and beaches, and nobody sees it as very different from men being topless. Women don’t have the freedom to do this in America, whether they want to or not.

    Personally, as a French resident, I think this law is really about the fairly militant secularism of much of the French population. But I also think most societies have retained a right to control public appearance to some extent, such as banning nudity and in this case complete facial coverings. I’m not against the law. In any case, as has been pointed out, hardly anyone wears a burqa in France. The law does send a clear preemptive message to anyone who might want to radicalize French muslims.

  25. #25 monson
    July 13, 2010

    good for the French! But, what will the right wing in the U.S. say now?

  26. #26 Phosphate
    July 14, 2010

    I fully support the world wide campaign to ban burqa. Those who are in supportof of it should return to Arab states and practise the dark culture.

  27. #27 Holy Quran
    July 14, 2010

    There should be religion freedom for every one. Banning the veil and other things like praying Namaz etc are against the human behavior. Humans are not the servants of others, everyone has his own rights and religion. Taking people away from their religion or stop them to follow their religion and culture is a very stupid act.

  28. #28 thomthumb84
    July 14, 2010

    I wrote a piece against banning the veil a while ago. If your interested you can read it here: http://tinyurl.com/34dv9eo

    I think it is an attack on freedom of expression by a society fearful of change or any threat to ‘national identity’ (whatever that is…)

  29. #29 Dunc
    July 14, 2010

    Wandering around in a veil negatively affects how everybody looks upon the wearer: they’re no longer an individual, just another, interchangeable woman.

    I’d take these sorts of arguments more seriously if the people advancing them objected more frequently to the forms of objectification practised by our culture. But of course high heels, tube tops and miniskirts are a completely different matter, which women make fully free and informed choices to wear…

    NO ONE should be allowed to walk around in public with something covering their face as it hides their identitym, and in this age of terrorism this is dangerous.

    I have a full beard, and I normally wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat. Got a problem with that, or is it OK ‘cos I is white and you can see my nose?

    And in our surveillance society, the burqa completely defeats CCTV.

    Mandatory RFID chips for everybody it is then (see above comment re: beard etc). Quit beating about the bush – if you want everybody’s every movement tracked, (a) come out and say so, and (b) propose a system that will actually work. Otherwise you’re just bullshitting.

  30. #30 DuWayne
    July 14, 2010

    Phosphate –

    That is about the biggest load of xenophobic, fallacious bullshit I have seen all month. Are you really that narrow minded and fucking stupid?

    I am an atheist. I have no interest in supporting Islam and certainly no interest in living anywhere in the Islamic world. Your statement is rather like telling a U.S. American to leave the country, if they don’t approve of bullshit.

    What I do have an interest in, is supporting freedom of expression and the freedom of women to wear what they will. If what they wish to wear, is a veil, I support their right to do so. I have issues with women being forced to wear such bullshit and would support a law that at least attempted to prevent coercion to do so, understanding that such a law would be exceedingly difficult to enforce.

    I am just as keen on supporting the right of women to go topless in the same places it is appropriate for men to. For that matter, I am rather keen on taking that further and supporting the right of people in my country to hang out at beach or pool completely naked. I am also dead against fucking blasphemy laws and any law that provides religion with an exemption from laws that everyone else is required to follow.

    I just don’t happen to be a fucking hypocrite when it comes to my belief in liberty.

  31. #31 BrianX
    July 15, 2010

    I’m not entirely sure what to say except that the French culture seems to be somewhat hostile towards religion in general…

  32. #32 kuwaitya
    July 18, 2010

    kudos to the banning of the veil!

  33. #33 helicene13
    July 19, 2010

    This is not about religion, it is about assimilation. The veil has been increasingly worn since sept 11, 2001. By doing this the Muslim immigrants in Western Europe show off their unwillingness to be part of the society that welcomes them. The veil is essentially an attempt to segregate Muslims from the rest of the society.

  34. #34 QuranTutor
    November 19, 2010

    Wearing veil is something which should be left on personal choice. If a women wants to ware a veil, she should be allowed. On the other hand if she does not want to ware it nobody should force her.

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