Today’s Guardian has a piece looking at the effects of the French burqa ban. In a nutshell:
France’s burqa ban: women are ‘effectively under house arrest’
Since France introduced its burqa ban in April there have been violent attacks on women wearing the niqab and, this week, the first fines could be handed down. But a legal challenge to this hard line may yet expose the French state as a laughing stock.
I have to show off about my predictive skills here, although anyone with at a week’s experience of living on this planet could have predicted the outcome.
But still, in June 2009, I said…
Some members of the public will demand police action against women wearing burqas. At the very least, insulting women as they go about their daily lives will become more, not less, common. Burqa-wearers will be afraid to appear in the street.
…Exactly the consequences that today’s Guardian report talks about…
There’s some shame for atheists in this story
Secular France has a complicated relationship with the veil. In 2004, all religious symbols including the headscarf were banned in schools. Even among Sarkozy’s opponents there are very few feminists or socialist politicians who would defend the right to wear niqab in a country where secularism is one of the few issues that still unites a fragmented left. Barely a handful of people came to Notre Dame cathedral to protest against the law in April. (from the Guardian)
I refuse to see how interfering with women’s chosen modes of dress “for their own good” can be in any way feminist.
It makes me really uncomfortable to see secularism used as a smokescreen for racism.
I thought I was at least in favour of the French banning all religious symbols in schools but I’ve started to even reconsider that, when I look at it logically. I hardly think it’s a battle worth fighting. It’s basically unenforceable without causing religious believers to become even more entrenched in their sense of having a beleaguered cultural identity.
How do you define a religious symbol in order to ban it? What are the boundaries of religion?
What about an innocent wearing a piece of jewelry with a Chinese Buddhist symbol? The English youths tattooed with Maori warrior symbols for gods they’ve never heard of and couldn’t pronounce even for real money?
Does it only count if you know what the symbols mean? In that case, most wearers of religious insignia would be OK.
What if you know what the symbols mean but just don’t believe in them? (I’m looking at you, all you people with silver rings carrying Egyptian ankhs.) You might have bought a tourist T-shirt printed with a scene from the Sistine Chapel. You might be wearing a reversed cross as a fashion item. You might even be wearing a religious item ironically (like the plastic rosaries incomprehensibly fashionable a couple of years ago)
More seriously, what about dreadlocks? They can be read in dozens of different ways. Locks have religious significance for some rastas. They also have several forms of cultural resonance for many people wearing them who wouldn’t subscribe to the religion – from people who see them as symbols of African heritage to eco-warriors. Some people wear them for purely aesthetic and fashion reasons. Are they banned in French schools? Would they be acceptable for people who could prove they didn’t follow the religion?
However you follow through these ideas, they become nonsense.
If secularist are to subscribe to the idea of banning religious artefacts worn on the body, how can we be sure that any given object doesn’t have religious significance?
By the way, this might be the time to mention that I have recently joined a religion which venerates the holy lounge suit. We are a small religion but utterly fanatical. All men in our faith are required to wear a lounge suit, with the tie of the Eternal Cosmos wrapped around the neck in a complicated knot that represents the interconnectedness of all life.
I sincerely trust that this doesn’t cause more than minor inconvenience in the French parliament.