Update: France’s ‘Burqa Ban’ and the False Notion of Freedom

France has taken the next step towards the ‘burqa ban’. A majority of votes in the lower house of Parliament has approved of a draft bill which will go to the Senate in September. This act has made France the second European country after Belgium to suggest this ban.

By now it should be clear that this law has not been introduced in order to protect women’s freedom and dignity, even though French politicians in favour of the law claim otherwise. How strange, then, that the ban does not specifically address Muslim women wearing the burqa or niqab. In order not to be accused of criminalizing a specific form of religion, the law punishes the hiding/veiling of the face in public in general, making it sound like a security measure in order to protect people from potential gangsters and terrorists (meaning muslims). However, the ban excludes the wearing of helmets for motorbikes, face masks used by the police and carnival costumes (see: http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/nationalversammlung-stimmt-burka-verbot-zu/1882882.html or http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/13/france-burqa-ban-french-p_n_644433.html )! I agree with Judith Butler that this is not a matter of security and freedom, but a matter of securing hegemony (see my previous article on Butler’s lecture in Berlin). This also becomes obvious when reading comments of supporters of the law who believe in some sort of Islamic conspiracy which takes advantage of ‘our’ Western freedoms in order to infiltrate them and take over the world. The question of hegemony is also implied in the words of Joan Wallach Scott, Princeton historian and social scientist, who says that the law is “a way of insisting on a singular version of national identity that necessarily excludes those whose beliefs and customs are ‘different’ from those of the dominant culture.” You can watch a very enlightening interview with her here: http://bigthink.com/joanwallachscott

I sincerely hope this law will be ruled unconstitutional, and that the rest of Western Europe does not succumb to this false notion of freedom.

4 responses to “Update: France’s ‘Burqa Ban’ and the False Notion of Freedom

  1. I completely agree with your characterization of the hegemonic aims of this legislation. As both a feminist and an anti-racist this debate would ostensibly put me in a rather awkward position: I don’t like seeing these families where the father is dressed in the most casual, modern clothes, eating a cheeseburger, while the mother sits there like some dark pariah, a fossil from a supposedly bygone era of blatant oppression. But then again, as you say, we should oppose legislating against one form of discrimination with an even more insidious (because institutionalized) one. Then there is of course the fact that such legislation will in no way ‘liberate’ these women by stopping the practice, but it will rather force it underground, further ostracising this unlucky bunch toward the margins.
    great article!

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I would like to add that while some women may be forced to wear the burqa, others choose to do so, or have been conditioned by their religion and their upbringing to ‘choose’ it. This choosing for religious reasons appears to me as just another form of asceticism, not so different from fasting or other restraints put on the body in order to achieve spiritual liberation. The only difference is that the burqa is exclusively worn by women. However, would French politicians sleep better at night if muslim men started wearing the burqa? Methinks not!

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