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My Most Immediate Problems with the Sarkozy War on Burqas

Posted by libhom Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The ideology behind burqas is offensive. It is based on the Muslim belief that women have this sinister sexual power over men that must be defeated by covering women up as much as possible. Female skin and female sexuality are treated as evil menaces, which is incredibly misogynistic.

You might think that I would be all about the policy of French President Sarkozy's effort to get rid of the symbols of misogyny. I see practical problems. If Burqas are banned, will women wearing them be fined or otherwise punished? This would be grossly unfair since most Muslim women who wear the garments are being coerced by men to do so. They can face abuse or being ostracized. Being ostracized in immigrant communities can be extremely damaging, given how dependent immigrants often are upon each other and how closely knit those communities can be.

Another problem I have is that I'm not keen on the state telling us what we can and cannot wear. Laws against (or mandating) burqas are part of a larger problem which includes laws against public nudity, mandating school uniforms, and banning low riding pants. People really should be able to wear as much or as little clothing as they wish.

However, I can understand the cultural discomfort that covering faces and obscuring body language can create for people in Western societies. We use these signals to evaluate peoples' behavior and establish trust or distrust as part of our culture. When immigrants come to foreign lands, they should try to accommodate the cultures of the countries as much as they reasonably can. Religion is no excuse. Muslim men who come to Western countries and insist on burqas or veiling are acting like ugly Americans.

I also understand how hard the French have fought for a secular society and freedom from the oppression of the Catholic Church. They enforce their wall between church and state much more stringently and correctly than we do here in the US. Immigrants to France should realize that the French have earned their status as a largely secular society and respect that.

While I don't see much good coming from legislation banning burqas, I do think that Muslim immigrants in Western countries need to understand that burqas and other forms of veiling are inconsiderate and inappropriate here. If they want to live in societies oriented around Islam, they need to go elsewhere.

 

3 comments

  1. belle Says:
  2. I posted this at postbourgie too. Thanks for commenting.

    I don't buy that logic either. But it's not my culture. I've known women who feel more comfortable with their burqas on than off. I'm hesitant to impose my own feelings of misogyny as long as it is a personal choice.

    I read your post and I enjoyed. The larger issue is the state dictating what people wear and do not wear. This in particular is practical:

    "I can understand the cultural discomfort that covering faces and obscuring body language can create for people in Western societies. We use these signals to evaluate peoples' behavior and establish trust or distrust as part of our culture."

    However this:

    "When immigrants come to foreign lands, they should try to accommodate the cultures of the countries as much as they reasonably can."

    --What in your opinion, in the context of the veil ban, is reasonable?

    "Muslim men who come to Western countries and insist on burqas or veiling are acting like ugly Americans."

    --This is an extremely general statement. And again it ignores that fact the there are women who prefer to be veiled.

    And then there is this:

    "If Burqas are banned, will women wearing them be fined or otherwise punished? This would be grossly unfair since most Muslim women who wear the garments are being coerced by men to do so."

    --I know it is hard for people with feminist leanings to accept. But this is not an issue of general coercion. Similar to when I see women who pump mountains of chemicals into their faces, or walk around with breasts to big for their bodies in order to hold on to some image of their twenties, or sadly their husbands, I have to remind myself that this is also a choice for many. Are there cultural cues? Yes. Are their expectations? Yes. Is there sometimes coercion? Yes. But who are we to dictate?

    If Sarkozy really wants to protect women, perhaps providing friendly services where they can seek help is a better solution. Does France do this? I'll look into it.

     
  3. Riverwolf, Says:
  4. Yep, it's a sticky wicket, for sure. If the burqa is banned, it really does infringe on freedom of religious expression, and as you say, we should all be able to wear what we like. And yet these religious people need to understand that societies have certain standards. It may be my "belief" that nudity isn't offensive, and yet I'll be arrested if I go the grocery store nude (Not to mention "shrinkage" in the dairy aisle! Brrrr!) If they don't like how France does things, MOVE!

     
  5. libhom Says:
  6. belle: Interesting reply.

    "I've known women who feel more comfortable with their burqas on than off."

    That's the kind of anecdotal argument that Ronald Reagan used to use all the time. (E.g. he would use the example of one black woman cheating the welfare system to imply that most or all black women on welfare were cheating the system.) Your motives are much, much, much better than his were, but the style of argumentation really bothers me.

    An irony is that the coercive nature of veiling with the majority of Muslim women is one of the strongest arguments against punishing it.

    My basic point about the is that immigrants who come to Western countries should not veil or or pressure others too because it violates basic cultural norms here that are part of how we communicate and function in our societies. If that basic way of interacting bothers someone that much, that person should not immigrate here. It's like when Americans travel to or work in other countries and insist on behaving as if American ways are the only appropriate ones regardless of the feelings of the people in the society where they are at.

    Most Muslim women in all but the most fundamentalist Muslim countries don't wear burqas or similar garments. One of the first signs of militant Islam taking hold is when gangs of men harass or assault women who don't cover up. Keeping girls from going to school usually is the next step.

    Yes, there is a minority of women who wear burqas free of coercion. But, that doesn't absolve governments or society from taking the widespread coercion that does exist into account.

    Also, remember that women can be misogynists. When women are raised to believe that they will go to Hell if they don't buy into misogyny, many will buy into it. That is hardly unique to Islam.

     

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