Burqa debate: "Forget national identity, it’s about women’s rights”
Issued on: Modified:
Despite a warning from France's top legal body that a ban on full veils would be vulnerable to legal challenges, some members of the ruling UMP party are continuing to push for a bill. Meanwhile, in Belgium, MPs have voted to prohibit wearing clothes that impede identification, in a move aimed directly at the burqa. Read more...
Women wearing the burqa on the Champs-Élysées, Paris. Photo posted on Flickr by Tin Green.
Despite a warning from France's top legal body that a ban on full veils would be vulnerable to legal challenges, some members of the ruling UMP party are continuing to push for a bill. Meanwhile, in Belgium, MPs have voted to prohibit wearing clothes that impede identification, in a move aimed directly at the burqa.
The "burqa debate" emerged in France in June 2009 when a communist MP called for a parliamentary commission to examine the full veil. Two months later, a report released by France's Interior Ministry estimated the number of women in the country who wore the niqab (which allows the eyes to show) and the burqa (full veil) at roughly two thousand. In October, Immigration Minister Eric Besson launched a controversial debate on "French identity", which was criticised for allegedly stigmatising Muslims.
In January 2010, the parliamentary commission filed its report, advising a partial ban on the burqa in public buildings. On Tuesday, however, the State Council, France's top legal body, ruled against the plans, warning the government that a ban "would have no incontestable judicial basis".
"The xenophobic hype that was sparked by the national identity debate pushed out the question of women's rights"
Myriam Moufid is a student in Ottawa, Canada, where the Muslim veil is not prohibited.
There are only 2,000 women in France who wear the veil and seeing as there are no legal grounds, the ban is merely strategic. Politicians are amplifying the debate by pushing the burqa as a symbol of Islam, and one that has no place in secular France.
The issue of Muslim immigrants' difficulty to integrate in French society is magnified by the media and results in a lack of enthusiasm for politics. This in turn explains the high abstention rate.
The burqa is portrayed by some political parties as a sign of Muslim intolerance. They say it threatens France's integral concept of secularism in the public sphere. French Muslims feel chastened, because they have to keep their religious beliefs private and are not allowed to display religious symbols in public. Wearing the burqa symbolises a protest against the negation of Islam in French politics.
The patriotic electorate focuses on problems linked to immigration, without examining their causes. It neglects the aspect of women's rights in favour of national identity. Supporters of [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy say they oppose the veil because it goes against secularism and is backed by Islamic extremists. The left, on the other hand, has abandoned its fight against marginalisation and has labelled the veil a regression for the feminist cause. The xenophobic hype that was sparked by the national identity debate has simply pushed out the question of women's rights.
And that poses a dilemma for women. Either they move towards the right, or they wait for the feminist movement to get back on track and start fighting their cause through the Socialist Party. I think that French chauvinism, carried by the right-wing media, has triumphed over feminism.