Friday, June 26, 2009

France’s Burqa Ban: in the Name of Freedom?

I have a new post up at Global Comment

France, like most Western countries, prides itself on individual freedoms. It has a long history of dissent and uprising when these norms are threatened or minimized in anyway. Immigrants change French social structures because they bring with them their own cultural norms and traditions. The transition is not always smooth, as hardliners often aggressively push to maintain traditional norms, thus clashing with those who want to assimilate. Now, in the name of freedom, the Republic of France has decided to limit the options on what women wear. France is now considering banning the wearing of a burqa in public.

Contrary to popular belief, the Q’uran calls for both men and women to be modest in dress, but does not specifically demand the wearing of either the burqa or the niqab. There are countless women who are forced to wear these garments against their will; however, many women today consider the burqa or the niqab a part of their observation of faith and a commitment to modesty.

At Versailles this week, President Sarkozy stated

“In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. The burqa is not a religious sign, it’s a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement — I want to say it solemnly. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”

Sarkozy employs colonialist rhetoric even as he uses the words freedom and liberation. Western nations have often spoken about elevating those that they deem as marginalized bodies, even as they imposed values or traditions that are offensive and operate to maintain Western privilege. Many of the women wearing the burqa in France originate from Africa, and this, to some degree, legitimizes the white man’s burden in the eyes of men like Sarkozy. The third-world woman is always denied her agency as a means of paternalistic oppression; her stated desires are always discounted. Freedom comes from the ability to choose your own means of self-expression, not from being forced into what is deemed ‘liberating’ clothing.

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