July 7, 2009

Burqa on the line in France

Say what you like about the French (go on, you know you want to), but they do take their secularism seriously. Good for them!\

Bless their little silk socks, a French parliamentary committee is underway to decide whether or not the burqa - fashionista garb of choice for devout Muslim women near and far -is a symbol of subjugation rather than faith, and, therefore, a mode of dress with no place in the French republic.

The inquiry, upon which 32 parliamentarians will turn their attentions, won't report for another six months, and when they do, they will announce whether wearing a burqa is incompatible with secularism, and if so, whether the solution to the dissonance is an outright ban on the head to toe covering.

Five years ago France prohibited open displays of religious symbols from state schools, and the same ban is in place for French civil servants. Banning the burqa would be a consistent progression.

In the small cacophony of opinion expressed prior to the announcement of the inquiry, the burqa was variously described, by the French PM and other pollies, as a degrading prison depriving women of identity, dignity and social life, a sign of submission, a garb that undermines women's rights and secular values.

If Aussies find Muslim women's choice of outdoor wear confronting - and for many it is, let's not pretend otherwise - the French, unlike us, eschew political correctness:

"The sight of these imprisoned women is already intolerable to us … It is totally unacceptable on French soil"

On the opposing side of the debate, Irfan Yusuf gets all sentimental about days of ye olde, waxing lyrical about Muslim women who used to lounge about in their burqas, waited on hand and foot by servants, with their primary undertaking in life being regular shopping outings to buy luxuries for themselves.

His little refrain about his maternal (Indian) grandfather's insistence that the women of his household practice a form of traditional aristocratic seclusion known as purdah is so grossly misplaced it's impossible to know what matter of substance he was hoping to contribute to current public discourse. As a defense of the burqa, the intellectual argument - if you can find one in the irrelevant history snippet offered by Yusuf - is, at best, opaque and dishonest.

If his is the best effort anyone can present in favor of contemporary burqa-wearing, then long live a ban on the burqa, not just in France, but everywhere. Of course, such bravery will not come to pass; the French will stick their naked arse into the breeze on behalf of the rest of us, as only the French are wont to do.

French may outlaw burqa

The fuss over the burqra is out of kilter


  1. Anonymous2:02 AM

    I mentioned this the other day but it's good it is being picked up in Oz, too. Sarkozy brought it up in his State-of-the-Union-speech equivalent and called on the committee you mention to do the right thing - ie, ban the burqa.

    It should be noted, though, that the burqa is not a common mode of dress in France. It's estimated thatbetween 30,000 and 50,000 women in France where the burqa out of about 30 million women. Numerically, that's about 0.2% or 1 in 500 women. Still, when it comes to preserving the secular state, France is always ahead of the curve. Hell, the ban on religious symbols in pulic schools was largely driven by the very high profile cases involving just a few families, though it obviously went on to affect many more people.

    I'm proud that Sarko and - likely - the National Assembly will stand up for women's rights in this way. I'm not convinced, though, that it will make the women forced to wear the burqa by their husbands/family any more free: if your husband or father or whoever canforce you to wear a burqa in public I think it's likely he'll be able to force you not to leave the house altogether. Still, I hink Sarko's point holds:

    "This is an issue of freedom for women, it is an issue of the dignity for women. The burka is not a religious symbol, it is a sign of subservience, it is a sign of debasement."

    I doubt the French example will be followed in Australia anytime soon (though is there really a debate over such things in Australia outside of the opinion pages of The Oz and on The Punch?) but I can't help but hope that it will.

  2. Anonymous2:59 AM

    Wow: apologies for the obvious spelling and typographical errors...

    "where the burqa" = "wear the burqa"

    "pulic schools" = "public schools"

    "canforce" = "can force"

    "I hink" = "I think"

    "anytime" = "any time"

    Time for a vodka/black beer, I reckon.

  3. Bwah - your typing is much like mine Dylan!

    A perpetual puzzle to me that, once we all started composing to screen, rather than writing our notes and typing them up, my mind increasingly (over some years) thought one thing, but typed another.

    My theory is that we can't think (compose), look (at the the screen), and do (type) all at the same time - the human mind has a weird meltdown when required to do what is, ostensibly, quite a simple task.

    I'd be flabbergasted if a burqa - or any religious - debate was seriously undertaken in Oz, Dylan.

    Good grief, our media goes into meltdown over individual kiddies being banned from wearing religious jewelery to school, for example, or
    other such trivia that comes up from time to time.

    Anything that has a slight whiff of impinging on a person's right to advertise their religion and their moral superiority ostentatiously is reported with all the hysteria of the end of the world being nigh.

    Thankfully Oz is more secular than we like to own up to, but jeez, we take our religious tolerance to strange exulted places.

    Imagine any of our pollies having the backbone to ban religious symbols or the burqa, Dylan?

    Nah, neither can I.

    P.S - At least you didn't type "pubic schools". The typo's could have been worse!

  4. Solomon6:58 PM

    This has already been tried in the Muslim world; note Ataturk and Turkish secularism and the banning of the Chador in Iran by Reza Shah in 1936. According to Bellaigue's "In the rose garden of the martyrs" the consequence was that women didn't leave their homes. Talk about a no win situation.

    I'm going back to France next year.

  5. Yes, as Dylan alluded to, there might well be blow back Sol, even in this modern era and a European republic, women might well be ordered to stay in. However, it's not the Middle East and not 1936, so there is a smidgen of possibility that the Muslim men would adapt, bend a little. It would be worth a shot.

    Nice to hear that you're going to head back to France, jealous, but very pleased for you. How long do you think you will stay this time? Do you speak French, or picked up some while you were there last?

  6. Solomon8:20 PM

    When I was there last I learned the word for exit ("Sortie"). Other than that I spoke in English. I'd like to learn to speak French but its difficult to motivate myself here without any immediate cause to.

    Tendre est la nuit.

    Next year I plan to stay 3 months, which is my reward for living at home for 12 months on disability support whilst I do away with this accursed degree. I passed planning and environmental law and now I've just got one more subject, intellectual property, to go. When that is finished and my holiday gone, I will submit my novel (hopefully then completed!) to the Vogel competition, then move away somewhere interesting in Australia, hopefully devoting myself to working in some field of law.

  7. Sortie, means exit? I didn't know that.

    Interesting that you got about France speaking English. I was always under the impression that the French - even those who can speak English - are disdainful and unhelpful to anyone who turns up without having bothered to become proficient in French speaking before they arrive - a harsh standard! But then, I would say that, as a mono-linguist.

    I do have some French language CDs, that I must motivate myself to use one of these days. Having never learnt a language I fear it might be too late to try, but it's one way to try to create some new brain paths, a new way of thinking, at least for me. Besides, French always sounds so delicious.

    How glorious that you'll be going for three

    Accursed course?! No, no! No degree is ever accursed. You've done so well, better than most would be my guess, your law degree will serve you well in life Sol, and I'll be so pleased for you when you graduate. Only one unit to go - whoo hoo! :-)


    Where in Australia is "interesting" - where do you think you will roam when you come back from France?

  8. Solomon10:01 PM

    I found the French just wanted you to spend money and get to the point, French or otherwise. I think at one point I tried to give an under-aged kid a cigarette.

    My Mother learned Indonesian at an older age, so its not impossible. I was thinking I might get some primary school maths textbooks and try and do the problems using French numbers.

    I've been studying for so many years now, in and out of hospitals, that the degree must mean something to me. Its been pain-staking trying to piece it altogether.

    I don't yet know where I will move to. Melbourne, Canberra, Alice Springs? Wherever there is work, I suppose. I'd like to live like a normal person for a while.

  9. Good luck with the maths thing. Jeez, more challenging than anything I'm planning on setting for myself!

    Yes, painstaking, but take pride in that, more so than others who reach the same outcome without the struggle. Believe me, I know, my one and only degree was a struggle, done in stops and starts when I could afford to enroll & buy books. I loved the study though, would have stayed forever if it wouldn't have been a financially irresponsible act. One of my lost fantasies.

    And the novel, how are you feeling about it, how long is it, have you had some input from trusted critics?

  10. Solomon12:46 AM

    What was your degree, by the way?

    The novel is progressing slowly. I've got nothing at the moment worth showing anyone. What I've got is more like a journal of ideas, which have yet to take form.

  11. Social Sciences, majors Sociology & Political Science.

    Prior to that, did half a degree in Media Studies and Communications, which I picked up again after having a baby (but at a different university), eventually became momentarily beguiled by economics, which I pursued for a couple of years, before deciding that I would not make for a good economist (I was not very accepting of economic theories and practice as they were taught, and continue to be), then finally wound up majoring in sociobiology & pol science.

    Took me a while. Not how I would recommend anyone do it, quite inefficient, should have had two degrees if I'd planned things just a little.