The French government is considering proposing legislation that would ban Muslim women from wearing burqas or full-face veils, the Washington Post reports.
After the parliamentary commission presents formal recommendations for legislation Jan. 26, France will likely begin the process of banning burqas and veils in public facilities or even streets such as the famed Champs Elysees. One French lawmaker has already formally proposed that women be banned from wearing veils anywhere in public.
Although women's groups and more than 200 members of Parliament support the proposed bans, young Muslim women in France say they wear the veil to adhere to the teachings of fundamentalist Islam, not because of male oppression. French Defense Minister Herve Morin has already predicted that such a sweeping ban would be unconstitutional.
I don't know enough about fundamentalist Islam to say exactly what wearing a burqa represents. (Despite having a Nigerian Muslim father, I grew up Christian.) France's Muslim Religion Council, for one, has found that Islam does not mandate women to cover their faces. Even if Muslim women in France have no compelling religious reasons to wear burqas, what disturbs me about the proposed ban is that those behind it seem highly xenophobic. A burqa may symbolize the oppression of women, but what's more important is that the burqa symbolizes a threat to French culture, they suggest.
Andre Gerin, a Parliament member who is pushing for a ban, told the Post that full-face veils are the visible tip of an Islamist underground that threatens the French way of life. The paper also reports that many French feel that the growing number of Mosques in the nation pose a threat to the country's Christian roots. "Their ideas are not in conformity with our society," Gerin said of fundamentalist Muslims. Perhaps the ideas of such Muslims don't mesh with those of the French, but should these women be targeted for this reason alone?
Although Gerin feels that "the full-face veil has no place in France," will banning it stop fundamentalist Islam from spreading there? The same Arab and African men who rioted in the Parisian suburbs a few summers back are likely to turn to fundamentalist teachings since their ethnic backgrounds make them largely unemployable in France, where employment discrimination reportedly runs high and, inversely, so does anti-French sentiment among immigrants.
Also worth considering is whether banning burqas will serve to isolate fundamentalist women rather than assimilate them into French society. If the French government prohibits full-face veils in public, isn't it probable that the small minority of women who wear them (the Post puts the number at several thousand out of a total French population of 64 million) will simply choose not to venture outdoors, making them completely depend on men to meet basic needs? Maybe the Muslim girls Gerin complains skip gym in school for religious reasons will be pulled out of junior high by their parents, kind of like the evangelical Christians in the U.S. who home school their kids. And maybe the fundamentalist Muslim women who demand female doctors won't visit the hospital at all but try to give birth at home. If women in burqas are forbidden from even walking down French streets, these scenarios are likely. But maybe French lawmakers won't care because they'll have rendered these women invisible, and France will resemble the idealized France of yore.