On June 13 2010, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy was determined to introduce a bill to ban Muslim women from wearing burqas or niqabs, despite warnings from France’s highest constitutional body that the ban would infringe constitutional rights.
Under the guise of liberating Muslim women from the full veil, the bill passed in France’s lower house with flying colors; 335 votes were in favor of the ban, while 1 vote was against the ban. If the bill passes through the Senate in September, which Sarkozy believes will not be a problem, our Muslim sisters will face a 150 Euro fine if seen covering their face in public.
Whether you agree with women wearing full burqas is not the point. The point is that the government of France is targeting Muslim women and criminalizing them for the way they practice their faith, all in the name of gender equality. When has revoking women’s basic freedom to choose ever resulted in gender equality? Imagine the heavy decisions that lay ahead for our Muslim sisters. What will they feel on the day that the law is implemented and they are forced to decide between the law and their faith?
As journalist, Madeleine Bunting put it in her thought-provoking article, “The veil debate is making it entirely legitimate to pillory, mock and ridicule a tiny number of women on the basis of what they wear. French politicians described the full veil as a ‘walking coffin’; on comment threads online there is contempt and sneers for the full veil and those who wear it – ‘hiding under a blanket’, ‘going round with a paper bag over your head’.”
And to be clear, this is not only a Muslim issue; this is very much an issue for all South Asian communities, which we should take very seriously. The passing of this bill in France’s lower house is only another example of the country’s longstanding battle against Muslims and religious minorities. You may recall the French Law on Secularity and Conspicuous Religious Symbols in School, which came into effect 6 years ago and forced children to remove their religious headdresses at the threat of being expelled from their schools. Further, since 2005, people with religious headdresses are being refused the right to cover their heads in their drivers licenses, upholding a law that requires French motorists to appear “bareheaded and facing forward” in all driver’s license photographs.
As people of conscience, we must remember to always make the connections between our plights and those of others. Muslim women in burqas are targeted today and it is only a matter of time until these laws begin to apply to other people with visible religious articles of faith. So, let us stand in solidarity with Muslims in France and support their struggle to practice their faith and religion freely. a struggle that we know all too well.