Monday, June 22, 2009

France and the Question of Burqa’s

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France recently addressed the French Parliament in a move widely seen as an attempt to bolster his own image. The controversial address was the first time a President has entered Parliament since Napoleon Boneparte did it in 1875 and touched on many topics including the economy, education, and taxes. Interestingly it was the issue of the Burqa which was not only his most volatile, but most impassioned delivery of the address. While saying that “In the republic, the Muslim religion must be respected like other religions." Mr. Sarkozy then declared that "the burqua is not welcome in France. We cannot accept in our country women imprisoned behind bars, cut off from social life, deprived of identity. That is not our idea of maintaining the dignity of women”

What is interesting to me is that Mr. Sarkozy makes assumptions that only the poor, uneducated, and oppressed women wear burqa’s and that somehow they are being forced into this dress presumably by dictator like husbands. It is this methodology of assumption that leads people to assume women who wear short, tight clothes, and make up are inherently promiscuous. Can either of these assumptions be true? My experience has taught me it is somewhere in between. Often women are forced into burqa’s because of societal values hidden in the religious undertones of modest dressings. This however is not to say all women who chose so are forced, just as all women wearing little to no clothing in public are not all inherently promiscuous. It can be said that in both incidents there is truth.

Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of France’s Representative Muslim Council, said he agreed with Mr. Sarkozy’s position on burqas, calling them “an extremely marginal phenomenon.” Adding “When we meet women who wear it, we try to educate them, and explain to them that moderation is a better choice,” however both Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Moussaoui both have two basic flaws in their perceptions. First of all, it appears that they assume that wearing a burqa is somehow a bad thing, something too be freed of. On the contrary, it can also be something liberating for some women who choose to wear it; gone are the perceptions of inequity based upon looks, gone is the disrespect of lingering stares or the vulgarity of sexual harassment so prevalent in today’s society. Secondly, they make the assumption all women who wear the burqa are being forced to do so, and thus they are seeking to eliminate the choice of these women, forced or not.

In all societies you will find domineering men who seek to control every aspect of their wives lives, and I strongly doubt that simply making them change clothes is going to change the mentality of the men behind the oppression. It is not the women’s fault if they are being forced to wear anything, be it the burqa or the bikini; it is the fault of those who force their beliefs upon them. Until they seek to change the mentality behind such subjugation, and realize it is far more than simply burqas, they will never win the battles they are facing. Oppression and injustice hides in many places, often right in front of you. Until they realize the young girl who are wearing tighter and shorter skirts, and engaging in a variety of illicit behaviors because of societal values and social norms is as much of a victim as the woman being forced to wear the burqa, they will fail in maintaining the dignity of women because of their own hypocrisy. Women should have the freedom of choice, however it is also societies job to uphold those values which best preserve the values of justice and equality.

If you wear a burqa or even a hijab and feel that you are being misrepresented by such labels, please visit and share with us why you wear it and what it means to you.