Law against the burqa: why France has got it wrong

This week France has introduced a law banning women from wearing burqas, and as a result has seen people with a love of debating sit up straight across the world to make their opinion heard. The split of opinions has left people being branded racist, closed-minded and generally bad for society, yet those are the ones that are in favour of the ban, agreeing with France’s law makers.

I feel compelled to present this post as a news piece, but as the point of blogs do surround opinion, I’ll open myself up to the floodgates of criticism and present my side of the argument that France is wrong.

The law is supposedly an opportunity to include veil-wearing Muslims (a very small proportion of those who follow the religion) in everyday French civilisation, with fines imposed on those wearing burqas being able to be overridden with the attendance of lessons in French citizenship. Here’s where the problem lies: the idea of lessons in citizenship at all only succeed in telling French citizens their government wants them all to become the same; ‘this is how we live in France, this is what everyone should do and say in a uniform fashion’. What happened to the celebration of multiculturalism? Do we really want to walk down the street feeling everyone fits into the same cultural background and has the same story to tell?

The burqa is a problematic subject. Many women wear it for cultural beliefs and see it as part of their identity, which is what the law is attacking. On the other (and more difficult to approach) hand, some women only wear the veil as a result of male domination and therefore should have some government support in a global mission to avert marital pressures of husbandry control and regulation. But should this regulation be directed purely at wearing a burqa, or could the law have been tailored to override female oppression in more circumstances than one of clothing?

The way the law is worded is presented as a direct threat against a particular culture. It is disrespectful to those who wish to wear burqas out of choice and does not take into consideration cultural beliefs. The fact that a burqa can be a large and dominating piece of clothing in comparison to a small piece of jewellery, displaying a cross or star of David, for example, does not go in its favour, and has connotations of larger cultural significance than items such as these which have caused previous debate surrounding culture and fashion which diminishes cultural attachments to items such as these.

Cultural female oppression is a huge global issue, and one France could be seen as leading the way in assisting with combating. Instead they have introduced a law emphasising the new obsession with identity, which obviously doesn’t go without its needs in a world which faces threats of terrorism and attacks on society, but has left France’s veil-wearing women left with a feeling of segregation and an attack on their culture. The Guardian reported the opinion of one woman who wears a burqa out of choice, stating that she clearly understood the need for identity and security, and would be happy and compliant in providing police with identification papers if asked to, which I believe to be the general consensus of most people with an understanding of modern society, so why go the further step to attack individual rights?

France’s law is going to result in a further segregation of women who experience any type of oppression, and lead the world further into a state of closing the door on society’s problems instead of opening them further to deal with issues in a proactive way. The law is a lazy way of combating an important issue and poses the risk of making the darker aspects of the burqa an even more inaccessible issue.

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One thought on “Law against the burqa: why France has got it wrong

  1. I’m opposed to the legislation but I think you’re mostly missing the point.

    You’re coming at it from a British multiculturalism angle. France is a republic and has a strict tradition of civic secularism. It’s not the attack on culture that it’s being painted as by many opposing the ban, it’s the affirmation of the duty of French citizens to display religious affiliation separately from their role as a citizen of the French republic.

    If you argue against the ban on the grounds of cultural/religious rights and multiculturalism you inevitably fail because that isn’t the thinking of the French government. You need to appreciate the French tradition.

    It’s more a matter of personal liberty and the power of the state to impose certain conditions on free citizens in public places. Whereas the argument you seem to be putting forward (the argument most are using) would mean the French government is inherently wrong in banning the veil, the argument should really be that the French government is wrong to ban it in public places. If the French banned the veil within the confines of civic buildings for instance that would be compatible with their constitutional secularism.

    Essentially, the veil should not be seen as an inalienable right, but a civil right that is subject to no more or less respect than any other aspect of clothing. If it’s an inalienable right for religious people to cover their entire beings, then they’re allowed to do so in any situation. The argument really should be that in the context of certain situations ie. teacher-pupil, it is entirely justified to require its removal.

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