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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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175 Responses

  1. William
    William June 22, 2009 at 11:32 am |

    I’m no defender of Islam (I find anything which uses submission as a starting point to be repugnant), but what the hell is the government of France thinking? Are they going to begin arresting women who wear the burqa? Who, exactly, is going to police this and how are they going to define a burqa? How does a liberal democracy imagine it has an interest in, much less the authority to, restrict what clothing it’s citizens might wear?

    Fucking disgusting.

  2. Maeraj
    Maeraj June 22, 2009 at 11:41 am |

    This post needs some editing: “I’m personally of the mind that calls for women to cover their bodies because the female form is somehow inherently tempting or representative of sex are misogynist, regressive and certainly out of line with the most basic tenets of feminism.”

    Limiting a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants to wear is in no way giving her more freedom. I agree with William, it is absolutely disgusting.

  3. Catherine
    Catherine June 22, 2009 at 11:54 am |

    You voiced my concerns very well. Women who wear these garments will not change their beliefs or their practices because of a law. Outlawing burqas will not secularize them. They will only be restricted to their homes and further stigmatized for their beliefs.

  4. rachel
    rachel June 22, 2009 at 12:21 pm |

    Um, so much for “liberté, égalité, fraternité”…geez.

  5. Gray
    Gray June 22, 2009 at 12:23 pm |

    Polly Toynbee wrote an excellent (if somewhat polemic) article on this subject 8 years ago, which voices the opinions of many, I’m sure.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/sep/28/religion.afghanistan

  6. Gray
    Gray June 22, 2009 at 12:28 pm |

    Re rachel’s comments: France’s values are at the very core of Sarkozy’s point. As he argues, the burqa itself contravenes these very values of liberté, égalité, fraternité as the muslim women who (are forced to?) wear these garments are denied their very liberté as subjects of male possession.

  7. Linoleum Blownaparte
    Linoleum Blownaparte June 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm |

    Why is “choice” such a difficult concept to grasp?

  8. Claire
    Claire June 22, 2009 at 12:33 pm |

    “Outlawing the burqa won’t make women who cover themselves decide to walk outside in a sundress; it’ll just mean that women and girls won’t leave the home as much”

    This.

  9. Gray
    Gray June 22, 2009 at 12:35 pm |

    Does it exist?

  10. Tracey
    Tracey June 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm |

    An additional annoyance for me is how vague they are being. They are going not only after burqa but niqab as well and suggest that other long flowly garments designed to hide the shape may be under scrutiny as well. That makes this even more disturbing. How far are they willing to go in restricting the clothing of women under the guise of “liberating” them? Also, restrictions placed on what women can and can not do in the name of “respect and liberation” rarely work out well.

  11. amandaw
    amandaw June 22, 2009 at 12:50 pm |

    As I was reading this post, I have been browsing Etsy for some new head scarves, which are a huge help to me when I’m having a bad pain day, or even just feel like wearing one. I wear headbands and scarves alike, and have looked at the scarves that women wear during/after chemo treatment. Certain kinds are called “snoods.”

    The hair bands excepted, a lot of these items might fall under this sort of ban.

    And honestly, I think it’s a good perspective on the issue. Wearing head coverings out of convenience, or because you like the look, is just one reason for wearing it. And it is no more legitimate than women who wear head coverings for religious reasons (and many of those reasons are shared even then!).

    If white people have a problem with the head coverings, they might consider why. What are the given reasons? They’re restrictive and imply that there’s something wrong with the female body as it is? Can’t the same be said of high heels? Bras? Heavy make-up? Control-top tights?

    Maybe there’s something more to this than “concern” for the welfare of women. Just maybe.

  12. The Big Boo
    The Big Boo June 22, 2009 at 12:51 pm |

    Who do you think you are kidding? These women hardly have a choice in anything. The display of the burqa has nothing to do with the woman. It is a statement of their subservience and a display of power by their owners. This “offshoot” if you will of Islam is just one of many dispicable attributes of that “religion”. Tribal bestiality at its best taken out on the backs of women. The President has it right and some of you need to be much more precise in your thinking and analysis.

  13. Rene C. Moya
    Rene C. Moya June 22, 2009 at 12:51 pm |

    …the offendingly modest piece of clothing…

    What do you mean ‘modest piece of clothing’? I don’t think it’s the French government’s intention to ban all Islamic head scarves (which is what I think you’re saying here, given the direct translation of the word burqa); it’s to ban the full-body burqa (i.e. with only the eyes open to the outside world) and the niqab (which doesn’t even have that, as the eyes are veiled by some netted material.)

    I understand your point of view strictly from a feminist viewpoint: it could well backfire against those women who are forced into wearing it (as opposed to those who choose to wear it themselves, who could conceivably give it up altogether) and it seems slightly off-kilter to force women to accept their freedom, so to speak.

    On the other hand this is not just an issue of women’s rights, no matter what M. Sarkozy says: it’s also a wider issue of integration and social cohesion. And here, I’m afraid, we cannot just ignore the concerns of the large segments of the population who are uncomfortable with it. I live in London (I’m an American) and I’ll admit feeling rather uneasy when I see crowds of women/girls in the full burqa or niqab. There’s something genuinely, psychologically off-putting about it. And I know I am far from alone in this opinion. I’m a very open-minded sort of chap–quite cosmopolitan, I’d like to think–left leaning and liberal. And I don’t approach this issue from an ignorance of the multifaceted nature of Islamic culture(s).

    Recently there was controversy here in Britain when a young woman was banned from working at a primary school when she insisted on wearing a full-body burqa. One could see this simply as a human rights violation; but there is also the serious counter-argument that such garments impede communication–the majority of which is conveyed through body signals and not through the spoken word.

    This is a very, very vexed question. I’m not sure banning it outright is the way forward; I’m also not sure trying to extinguish it, or at least banning it in schools (as the French have done already) and other public buildings isn’t the way forward either.

  14. Melancholia
    Melancholia June 22, 2009 at 12:56 pm |

    Good point Jill. This plan would probably have bad unintended consequences, especially in the short term.

    However, some people are of the mind that this is a matter of “choice” for women to wear a burqa. To me, Jill nailed down what is bad about this plan – it would be counterproductive and hurt women even more. The “choice” aspect has nothing to do with what is wrong with this plan in my view. The whole notion of wearing a burqa comes from an oppressive, patriarchal system – Islam. It’s not a meaningful “choice” when people have been brainwashed by religion, or a woman fears some horrendous punishment if she violates Sharia. It’s not different to me than Christians in the U.S. brainwashing women to have as many babies as God gives them, or to stay at home, or anything. It’s just oppression aimed at controlling women.

    There should be some way we can break the cycle, but this particular plan is stupid…

  15. Magis
    Magis June 22, 2009 at 1:05 pm |

    Well, I suppose, but….

    Maybe if the men have actually do some of the shopping and other things that women formerly did, it will give them some kind of incentive to lighten up.

    Actually, it has been alluded to but this about about the French hating to see Burqas more than anything else. The Europeans in general and the French in particular see “rights” differently than Americans do. They are more likely to see them as “freedom from” something than as “freedome to” do something.

  16. amandaw
    amandaw June 22, 2009 at 1:11 pm |

    I guess I should have figured we’d have the “Islam EVIL!” people in here pretty quick. Sigh.

  17. Overkill
    Overkill June 22, 2009 at 1:12 pm |

    Lets push it all underground and out of sight putting vulnerable people further at risk. I dont like the burqa, but this is not going to fix the issue or liberate the women who wear them.

  18. norbizness
    norbizness June 22, 2009 at 1:16 pm |

    Jill’s third paragraph is right on, and a reminder of how governments’ “Wars on Something or Other” end up hurting the people they’re designed to ham-handedly help. However, I am wary of the word “choice” as if it’s the same across the fashion spectrum, coercion notwithstanding.

    Or, ditto everything Melancholia@14 said.

  19. Butch Fatale
    Butch Fatale June 22, 2009 at 1:29 pm |

    Rene, I was under the impression that it was the other way around. The burqa has netting, the niqab covers everything but the woman’s eyes. Google bears me out on this, but of course it could be wrong.

    If it is true that women who wear burqas and niqabs do so because they are under the control of male relatives, then doesn’t banning the burqa or niqab simply mean the men who control them will keep them inside? Mind you, I don’t agree that women who wear either are necessarily under someone’s control. I’m trying to point out that if lawmakers actually believe this, the law that is being suggested runs contrary to their supposed aims of encouraging women to move freely in the world. What this really is about is either a) they don’t believe these women are under someone else’s control, and believe they will stop wearing the burqa rather than be house bound or b) they would rather these women stay inside than have to be confronted with their way of moving in the world. Ultimately, a pluralistic society means that some people will make you uncomfortable. Living in a free society means that this discomfort isn’t a reason for restricting people’s rights based on your own discomfort.

  20. Rebecca
    Rebecca June 22, 2009 at 1:30 pm |

    So – Rene C. Moya, Melancholia, norbizness – if the government suddenly passed a law banning the wearing of shirts for women, you would be comfortable going out without a shirt?

  21. gogojojo
    gogojojo June 22, 2009 at 1:32 pm |

    wow. “tribal bestiality” really came off as an appropriate description? wow.

  22. kb
    kb June 22, 2009 at 1:37 pm |

    Rebecca-frankly, yes, I actually do think that it’s bullshit that women are expected to wear shirts, because breasts are so inherently sexual. and just like most people here are saying about this law-you can protest needing to wear something without thinking that a government ban is the way to fix it.

  23. kb
    kb June 22, 2009 at 1:38 pm |

    I should add to my statement, it’s bullshit that women are expected to and men aren’t.

  24. Melancholia
    Melancholia June 22, 2009 at 1:40 pm |

    amandaw @ 16:

    I don’t think Islam is evil because the concept of “evil” has no basis in physical reality or logic. However – to the extent I find Islam repugnant because of its atrocious “values,” the way it enslaves women (and men albeit in different ways), its laughable claims to inerrant access to ultimate truth, and its sheer opposition to everything a rational free-thinking liberal society should aspire to – rest assured I disdain all religions equally for similar reasons.

  25. Rebecca
    Rebecca June 22, 2009 at 1:48 pm |

    kb, that isn’t really what I’m addressing – if you’ve worn a shirt all your life and have been socialized to be uncomfortable in public without one, would a government ban help you or hurt you? (The three commenters I was talking to don’t seem to accept that a woman can wear a burqa without some form of coercion that’s different from the coercion to wear Western clothing.)

    Also, Rene, you seem to be saying that women should be forced to walk around (the equivalent of) topless because you are uncomfortable with their clothing, absent any job- or safety-related reason. How entitled.

  26. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead June 22, 2009 at 1:52 pm |

    Jill, great post.

    Making laws about women ‘covering up’ is fundamentally no different than rules about women ‘showing too much skin’ which I grew up with. It’s still men making laws about women’s bodies and what is acceptable for women to do/wear.

    Melancholia: the whole notion of wearing a burqa comes from an oppressive, patriarchal system – Islam. It’s not a meaningful “choice” when people have been brainwashed by religion

    “brainwashed by religion”–brainwashed by husbands, brainwashed by peer groups, brainwashed by television, brainwashed by fashion, brainwashed by thinness, brainwashed by the New York Times, brainwashed by formal education, brainwashed by parents, brainwashed by sororities, brainwashed by psychology, brainwashed by the counterculture, brainwashed by rock/hip-hop…

    Let (s)he who has never been brainwashed cast the first stone, as my own patriarchal deity once said.

  27. Tracey
    Tracey June 22, 2009 at 1:56 pm |

    Another thing that bothers me (aside from the fact it takes away choice from those who do wear it voluntarily under the guise of giving them”freedom”) is that making it illegal punishes the women for something they suspect some men of doing. Women may be forced to change their behavior because of the actions of some men.
    Also, punishment. If a woman who wears niqab or burqa for whatever reason chooses to defy such a ban (rather than stay in the house all day or defy her religious principles) how will she be punished? Jail time? Fines? What if she can’t pay the fine, does she go to jail? There just seems to be something very suspect about their supposed line of reasoning.
    If a woman is choosing to veil then this takes away her option to wear niqab or burqa because of tthe actions of some men. Some men do bad things and all women are punished.
    If a woman is being forced this does nothing to help her and either regulates her to the house, requires constant male supervision when out, or turns her in to a criminal.
    Not to mention there is still the issue that the French government is looking at other “flowy and covering” garments as well.
    They came for the niqab and I said nothing, they came for the burqa and I said nothing, then they came for trench coats and long skirts I was really ticked because I love jackets and long skirts.

  28. norbizness
    norbizness June 22, 2009 at 1:58 pm |

    Rebecca@20: I think you’re misreading at least me (I’ll let the others speak for themselves); I have no desire to see the government attempt to ban any clothing item for women, men, children… or even dog-sweaters. I would add the qualifier “no matter how well-intentioned,” except given Sarkozy’s history with immigration and minority populations, there’s nothing well-intentioned about it.

  29. kb
    kb June 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm |

    Rebecca-I do understand, and I agree with you that a ban wouldn’t be helpful. I don’t, however, think that just letting it go as “that’s how these women were raised to be most comfortable” is a good idea-the change that is needed is in general ideas about women, not specific clothing.

  30. Rebecca
    Rebecca June 22, 2009 at 2:13 pm |

    norbizness – you seconded Melancholia@14, who said that women’s choice to veil is not meaningful because they are brainwashed by Islam. DaisyDeadhead@26 voiced my objections to this better than I could.

  31. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte June 22, 2009 at 2:21 pm |

    One can accept that the burqua is rarely if ever a meaningful choice and still think that the French government’s behavior in this is missing the point. Certainly, I’ve seen and even known Christian women living under the same kinds of patriarchal oppression at home—there’s lot of Christians in Texas that only allow women out of the house if they don’t cut their hair, wear super long prairie dresses, and have some sort of veiling on their hair. Of course, the men can wear relatively normal clothes, which shows what the function of this sort of “modest” but humiliating female religious garb is about. That said, the alternative for these women is to stay at home, I’m sure. And god knows that more than one young fundamentalist Christian only allowed out of the house dressed like a freak to please her father’s selfishness finds the power to rebel by interacting with the world, something that couldn’t happen if said fathers have an excuse to yank the privilege of leaving the house.

  32. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers June 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm |

    I have an idea. If they want to improve the lot of Muslim women in France, how about:

    - vigorous prosecution of domestic violence issues, no slaps on the wrist
    - mandatory classes for all immigrants, taught in their native tongue, on the rights and responsibilities France expects men and women to have, and the legal recourses immigrants have if a family member violates those rights
    - mandatory life sentence without parole for *anyone* involved in an honor killing, including mothers who lure their daughters back to the house to be killed by fathers, underage sons who commit the killing on the grounds that underage people won’t have as serious a penalty, and so on
    - not annulling marriages on the basis of the wife not being a *virgin*

    But no, it’s more important to ban a *garment* than do anything that could actually benefit Muslim immigrant women in France.

  33. Aishtamid
    Aishtamid June 22, 2009 at 2:54 pm |

    Why all the Islamophobia, Melancholia? Everything you said is true of many Christians and Jews (minus the sole claim to inerrant truth for Jews) as well as many Muslims.

    And it is impossible for everyone to make judgments on the millions of women who wear niqab and burka. They do so for all sorts of different reasons. I don’t agree with any sort of force being used to tell women what they can and can’t wear, whether they are forced to wear modest dress or prohibited from doing so. France and Turkey banning modest Muslim dress is just as bad as Saudi Arabia and Iran which force women to wear it.

  34. Entomologista
    Entomologista June 22, 2009 at 2:56 pm |

    A ban will probably be ineffective at best. However, the quicker people drop their angry patriarchal deities, the better. Abraham raised some asshole children, I tell you what.

  35. Cat
    Cat June 22, 2009 at 2:58 pm |

    It is completely valid, in my view, for the denizens of a culture to insist that their cultural values be respected. I do not feel that the discomfort Westerners — especially Western women — feel when seeing a completely masked and shrouded woman is necessarily a sign of a lack of “understanding” or empathy. Perhaps it is the truthful recognition of a huge disconnect in the ideological treatment of women.

    Western values regarding women depart from Islamic values on profoundly basic premises. Here, France seems to be rejecting the Islamic view of women’s bodies as “awrah,” or forbidden, and the Islamic view that men are automatically tempted into uncontrollable sexual response by the sight of an unmasked, uncloaked, uncovered female form. (See, for example Koran 33:59).

    But it goes even deeper than that, into ideas of personhood, individuality, and agency. In Western societies — after long effort, and admittedly still imperfectly — a woman is viewed much as a man, with a particular face and a particular body. How she chooses to dress it is her decision, but there is a baseline of revealing essential personhood. Those indicators — certainly the face, certainly freedom of movement, a physical openness to things like sun, air, and sound, and most importantly the expressive connection between humans that is completely obliterated by niqab, burqa, and chador — speak to us as the markers of a person. Women are persons. They are not owned objects, open to the sight of only certain people. They are not solely responsible for the sexual behavior of men. These are the ideals of our Western culture.

    A masked, shrouded woman is depersonalizing herself into a fungible, barely-recognizable-as-human female object according to seventh-century Arabian parameters of acceptability. Her “portable seclusion” can be seen as a complete rejection of everything around her — the people, the values, everything down to the level of sound, air, and sight. The apparition of a woman in a dehumanizing shroud and mask is just as insulting to a Western society as the spectacle of a woman in a tank top and Daisy Dukes parading through a mosque would be to Muslims.

    It is entirely acceptable for France, and any Western culture, to reject the essentially Arabian supremacism of female clothing purdah, whether or not it is cloaked in religious pieties and the illusion of “choice.” A culture should be respected if one chooses to live in it. Tolerance is mutual, not a one-way street.

  36. questionforbigboo
    questionforbigboo June 22, 2009 at 3:01 pm |

    Big Boo – what do you mean by “tribal bestiality”?

    The reign of GWB has left me of a fear of what happens to society when ultra conservatives come to power, so I find this discussion is very interesting. Our last election was a backlash against neocons, and I think the same thing is happening in France, although in a way that doesn’t seem very just. I don’t think any liberal society wants to be dominated or controlled by an extreme religion.

    Do you think this analogy is fair? I don’t want to be shot by a stray bullet, so I believe in limiting access to guns. AS IS: I don’t want to live by the majority rule of a neocon religion, so I believe in limiting religious freedom.

  37. jenibelle
    jenibelle June 22, 2009 at 3:03 pm |

    It’s frankly pretty presumptuous to assume that a woman who chooses to wear a burka is “brainwashed” by her Muslim patriarchs.

    I live in France and I personally know one Muslim feminist (yes! they exist!) who wears the hijab for one simple reason: to say “F- you” to everyone who thinks she shouldn’t.

    Secondly, for those who feel uncomfortable being surrounded by Niqab-wearing Muslims — it’s understandable. It’s bizarre, for those of us used to a sea of tee-shirts and jeans. But is it grounds for legislation against those women? Surely not.

  38. Melancholia
    Melancholia June 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm |

    DaisyDeadhead@26:

    There is a difference between the brainwashing that religions do and the “brainwashing” that the NYT, education, etc. might do. Religion insists on itself in a way so it is insulated from any rational critique or challenge to its claims. Religion is not making falsifiable empirical* or logical claims. It claims infallible access to divinely revealed Truth, and therefore there is no demonstration or logical analysis which could even in theory disprove it. The NYT, or counterculture, or education, at least theoretically are making claims that are rationally discussable. If you tell the NYT “hey that article you wrote was bullshit because this new fact came out,” in theory they ought to publish an apology, reform their position, and move on. Religion does not and could not work that way, because it is based on sheer nonsense, with no grounding in reality.
    Also, to make a cruder point, if you disagree with the NYT you probably won’t be shot like George Tiller, or be murdered in the street like Theo Van Gogh.
    In reality, of course other groups do operate like religions in the sense that they insulate themselves from rational criticism (sororities can operate like cults)- but that in itself is a huge problem and in no way mitigates or justifies what religion does. We should not hold off our legitimate complaints about religion (or anything) simply because other groups do similarly bad things. Indeed such a notion strikes me as suicidal. But anyway, nobody claimed religion was the sole cause of bad things in the world, and the fact that they aren’t the only bad thing doesn’t change the fact that they are after all bad.

    ——-
    *Well, I suppose it makes some falsifiable empirical claims, such as the history of the universe and the Jewish people presented in the Pentateuch, which has been falsified by modern science for the most part. Of course, the important empirical claims of religion – “God revealed to A x, y, and z” – are completely unfalsifiable and therefore meaningless.

  39. Natalia
    Natalia June 22, 2009 at 3:24 pm |

    These stupid clothing bans never work. They are about as progressive as state-mandated abayas and chadors.

    Abraham raised some asshole children, I tell you what.

    You know, oddly enough, as a Christian, I tend agree with you there.

  40. umami
    umami June 22, 2009 at 3:32 pm |

    I admit to having mixed feelings about this. I sincerely doubt that the ban will do any practical good. Although there are massive problems with the integration of French Muslim communities into the mainstream, stuff like this isn’t going to do anything to fix it, completely the reverse.

    But I do also think that the fears of people in some European countries that immigrants with misogynist, conservative ideas are going to undermine a more egalitarian, liberal culture are not completely unfounded. And I’m talking about the Netherlands rather than France here because I know a little more about it, but this seems like a symptom of the same fear to me. It’s an emotional rather than a rational reaction to it though, so ultimately it’s useless.

  41. mzbitca
    mzbitca June 22, 2009 at 3:41 pm |

    this is the thing, even if you ban the burqa you are not eliminating the problem (if it is a woman being forced to wear it). If she is in a traditional relationship and she cannot where it, she will not be allowed to leave the house. Is the gov’t of France go ing to make sure that all of these women are not being abused or held captive because the little freedom they had has been stripped from them.

    It’s a big situation of missing the forest for the trees. It doesn’t help those in an oppressive relationship and just pisses of those that aren’t.

  42. kb
    kb June 22, 2009 at 3:45 pm |

    jenibelle-that’s great that she wants to say “f you” to people who think she shouldn’t wear it. but how many of the people who think all women should be forced to wear it see her and think she agrees with them?
    this is not to say, as I have stated above, that I think a ban is the solution, or will do any kind of good. it won’t. but saying “well, not all women who wear it are brainwashed”, while true, isn’t really the problem.

  43. Seth Gordon
    Seth Gordon June 22, 2009 at 4:00 pm |

    <snark> See, French women immigrating from Islamic countries will be able to choose to submit either to their male relatives or to the State! That’s “liberté, égalité, fraternité” for you. </snark>

  44. piny
    piny June 22, 2009 at 4:02 pm |

    kb, that isn’t really what I’m addressing – if you’ve worn a shirt all your life and have been socialized to be uncomfortable in public without one, would a government ban help you or hurt you? (The three commenters I was talking to don’t seem to accept that a woman can wear a burqa without some form of coercion that’s different from the coercion to wear Western clothing.)

    Also, would it actually do a damn thing to address misogynist attitudes towards your body? Would it force men to see your bare tits in a different light? Or would it leave you just as vulnerable to social punishment?

    There are plenty of other signifiers, albeit less clearly-apportioned these days. Long hair, skirts and dresses, heeled shoes, undergarments, pantyhose, and jewelry are all used in our sartorial lexicon to mark women out as different, and that difference is coded as inferior. We have never banned lipstick, even though a made-up face is mandatory in many professional environments. We have never banned heels, even though heels cause physical injury. We wouldn’t only understand that kind of legislation to be invasive and discriminatory. We would consider it a very strange way to alter gender relations.

  45. amandaw
    amandaw June 22, 2009 at 4:04 pm |

    but how many of the people who think all women should be forced to wear it see her and think she agrees with them?

    Women should base their dress on how men percieve them? I thought feminism specifically addressed women’s rights to wear whatever they want, including “low cut” and “tight” and “slutty” clothing that “might” make men think “she’s asking for some.” The solution is not to tell women to change what they do to accommodate mens’ improper attitudes, it is to try to change those improper attitudes.

    It is the exact same issue.

  46. kb
    kb June 22, 2009 at 4:13 pm |

    amandaw-yes, I agree-that’s what I was trying to say. that there is reason to object to the burqua even without banning it, in the same way that we can object to policies here of “you must be at least this modest” I do agree that she shouldn’t be respoinsible for what men think of her outfit/her/her sexual characteristics-this is actually my whole objection to a burqa. I have already in this thread specifically advocated above changing attitudes not necessarily clothing.

  47. piny
    piny June 22, 2009 at 4:15 pm |

    Re rachel’s comments: France’s values are at the very core of Sarkozy’s point. As he argues, the burqa itself contravenes these very values of liberté, égalité, fraternité as the muslim women who (are forced to?) wear these garments are denied their very liberté as subjects of male possession.

    French Christian families have their own beliefs about modesty, generally speaking. Should the French government order church fathers to stop telling vulnerable young women (and their parents) that birth control is a sin?

    France has laws against forcing your female relatives to do anything. If they’re not being enforced, or if victims have no way to access state intervention, the solution is not to tell women that they can’t dress themselves. Other commenters are right: if you can force a woman to wear a burqa with impunity, you can prevent her from leaving the house with impunity.

    Sarkozy doesn’t give a flying fuck about French Muslim women. He just doesn’t. This is a way to make them even less visible to non-Muslim French citizens, so that non-Muslim French citizens don’t have to witness religious devotion that makes them uncomfortable. It’s not a way to make these women more comfortable in their homes, their families, or France. It’s a way to force them to choose between their faith and their citizenship. That’s not free, equal, or compassionate.

  48. William
    William June 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm |

    On the other hand this is not just an issue of women’s rights, no matter what M. Sarkozy says: it’s also a wider issue of integration and social cohesion.

    Is that really a road you’re comfortable going down? Presenting “integration and social cohesion” as something which trumps basic individual liberties like how one will dress or what religious tenets they will observe? You’re comfortable with that level of government intrusion into the lives of individuals justified by what is essentially the comfort and cultural desires of the mob?

    Take Islam out of the equation for a moment and think. Would you be comfortable with a law banning women from wearing pants? Would you be comfortable with the regulation of political language during times of crisis? Would you be comfortable with, on the grounds of “integration and social cohesion,” making the use of non-official languages in public illegal? Say your answer to any of those questions is yes, are you then comfortable with bringing violence to bear in order to coerce submission? Because thats the only tool governments have.

    And here, I’m afraid, we cannot just ignore the concerns of the large segments of the population who are uncomfortable with it.

    I say this with all possible respect, but fuck large segments of the population and their comfort. Large segments of the population in the US are pretty uncomfortable gay marriage, abortion, flag burning, and (until recently) miscegenation. The comfort of the mob is irrelevant if you are to live in a free society. If someone (or even a large group of someones) is uncomfortable with something that does not directly and materially effect their rights then they don’t have a say. What you’re talking about is balancing the concerns of bigots and busy bodies with the rights of individuals.

    I live in London (I’m an American) and I’ll admit feeling rather uneasy when I see crowds of women/girls in the full burqa or niqab. There’s something genuinely, psychologically off-putting about it. And I know I am far from alone in this opinion.

    I agree. Do you know what I do when I see something that is psychologically off-putting, I look away and mind my own damned business. It is not the responsibility of others to ensure than you have a comfortable and psychologically inoffensive day. Welcome to living amongst others.

    I’m a very open-minded sort of chap–quite cosmopolitan, I’d like to think–left leaning and liberal.

    I’m sure you count many of “those people” amongst your friends. Your dinner parties are like menageries. You probably even have a black person’s number in your phone.

    And I don’t approach this issue from an ignorance of the multifaceted nature of Islamic culture(s).

    Indeed it seems you skipped straight on over to the cultural imperialism and fascist populism of the BNP. I respect that you don’t fuck around.

    but there is also the serious counter-argument that such garments impede communication–the majority of which is conveyed through body signals and not through the spoken word.

    I’m sure its tough for lunch rooms to offer kosher options for Jewish students, but in a pluralistic society we expect the state to make allowances for the individual differences of citizens, not for citizens to cede their rights for the convenience of the mob.

  49. shah8
    shah8 June 22, 2009 at 5:31 pm |

    I’m always cautious about this sort of thing…

    In France, this sort of law, as implied by Alara Rogers, is more about making muslims feel unwelcome. I mean, they aren’t really accepted even if they adopt western dress, and so there isn’t really anything to say against different kinds of wear…In any event, this is just a tradional means of hassling immigrants that politicians do in France every so often.

    In Turkey, I’m quite abit more supportive of such laws, because there is a history in which women are coerced on a large scale to wear such things or face violence in the streets, and much of the desecularization folks are extremely reactionary and the consequence for women if they were “allowed to choose” to wear religious garments are probably not good.

  50. piny
    piny June 22, 2009 at 5:31 pm |

    I live in London (I’m an American) and I’ll admit feeling rather uneasy when I see crowds of women/girls in the full burqa or niqab. There’s something genuinely, psychologically off-putting about it. And I know I am far from alone in this opinion.

    What William said–I’m also very uncomfortable with this formulation. I’ve faced the wisdom of disgust, and I know a lot of other people who enjoy gray-legal status because of what their bodies imply to large segments of our population. Come to think of it, that same group of people has had to deal with the threat of hugely invasive constraints from supposed progressives marching under the banner of feminism.

  51. William
    William June 22, 2009 at 5:58 pm |

    I’ve faced the wisdom of disgust, and I know a lot of other people who enjoy gray-legal status because of what their bodies imply to large segments of our population. Come to think of it, that same group of people has had to deal with the threat of hugely invasive constraints from supposed progressives marching under the banner of feminism.

    Sounds like somebody isn’t being a team player. Don’t you know that your body, identity, signifiers, and role need to be controlled by society? I mean, without that there’d be chaos! Anarchy! You should be learning something from the disgust you’ve faced, it serves to communicate a very important message about how you need to alter your behavior/body/personage/soul so that other people, people that matter, don’t have to be challenged or made uncomfortable…

  52. jenibelle
    jenibelle June 22, 2009 at 6:03 pm |

    jenibelle-that’s great that she wants to say “f you” to people who think she shouldn’t wear it. but how many of the people who think all women should be forced to wear it see her and think she agrees with them?
    this is not to say, as I have stated above, that I think a ban is the solution, or will do any kind of good. it won’t. but saying “well, not all women who wear it are brainwashed”, while true, isn’t really the problem.

    KB,
    You could argue the same thing in reverse. If my hijab-wearing friend removes the hijab because of social pressure, how many of the people who think all women should be forced NOT to wear it will think she agrees with them?

    Forcing women to wear the hijab and forcing women not to wear the hijab are both oppressive acts. Telling a woman what she may or may not wear is an oppressive act. Adult women should be allowed to wear 4″ heels, string bikinis, duct tape prom dresses, corsets, overalls or burkas if they please.

    Also, I agree with Piny above: Sarkozy doesn’t give a rat’s ass about women’s equality among Muslim communities.

  53. fuzzytheory
    fuzzytheory June 22, 2009 at 6:08 pm |

    Hmm… there are so many threads of issues that impact this discussion. Long response to follow.

    Addressing people’s discomfort: not to get into the clash of civilizations, but is it not just as discomforting for people from certain cultures to see women with lots of bare skin? Your own discomfort and other people’s discomfort and my discomfort is social training. Admittedly, the discomfort with the burka, for example, has much to do with the present-day goal posts of the symbolism of women’s rights. I remember talking to a white friend who was raised Buddhist who found the baring of men’s nipples (i.e. shirtless men) just as uncomfortable as the same in women.

    Then again, this raises the issue of whether particular garments are inherently patriarchical, or practically so. A similar debate was had in the 80s (and to a lesser degree continues today) over high heel women’s shoes. It can be easily argued, though, that the symbolic meaning of even the hijab in the West is part of the issue. Take for example jenibelle’s friend who wears the hijab as a fuck you to Western stigma to it. I would think that is actually more common than we think.

    The 80s theorizing about the male gaze and how it affects the way we think about objectification does subtly affect our concerns about the hijab/burka as well. Translating the traditional defense of the concern for hijab/burka, I think it reasonable to argue that it is said to be a defense, in theory, against unwanted male sexual attention, i.e. the male gaze. Practically speaking, this effectiveness may be called into question (i.e. Saudi stats on sexual assault).

    Also, I think one aspect that is undertheorized is how while the hijab may be a defense against the sexual gaze, it then opens up space for the colonizing gaze. Women who wear the burka trade one for the other, to a certain degree. To wear the burka is to be subject to the gaze of the colonial, white subject who sees it as exotic, oppressive and patriarchical. Not that this doesn’t stop that gaze without the burka: being brown period, regardless of one’s clothing, makes one subject to this gaze.

    Skirting under the whole issue is also the issue of bad faith arguments: Oh, you think you are expressing agency in wearing the burka, but wearing the burka is capitulation to patriarchy. I find bad faith arguments to be the trickiest. In some ways it opens up a we know better than you subject position: patronizing at best. On the other hand, much of the history of feminist struggle has been awareness raising about the very structures that are hidden and must be revealed. How to mediate these kind of arguments is an art that many cannot do successfully without falling into the various pitfalls that beset bad faith arguments.

    Also, as others have raised, the West is NOT monolithic, as much as we like to fall back on it as a metaphor. France is not the US is not Canada.

    Let us not also forget the impact of colonialism on the very substance of the construction of culture in the Middle East and Africa. Part of the history of gendering Islam in the last two centuries is a hyper-masculine response to the colonial rhetoric of Eastern effeminization. The activities of, say, the Taliban, and to a lesser extent most post-colonized “Orient”, can be historically traced back to a response to this.

    And as much as we want to show solidarity against misogyny at a global scale, much of the defense of things like the hijab (and in India sati, etc.c) is the construction of tradition in precisely anti-imperial ways. That is, saying that the burka or hijab is tradition is often to resist the imperializing cultural arrogance of the West as possessing universal values. In some ways, this strategic use of tradition to resist Western encroachment is like the woman in france to wears it just to say fuck you to those who would judge her for wearing it.

    Finally, I think it would be interesting, though culturally insensitive (but perhaps better for all of that), for men to start wearing burkas. Even just imagining it as a response puts a different light on many of the issues just discussed.

    I don’t think there is one universally right answer to this issue, and I’ve generally only covered a few issues here–but these issues I think necessarily need to be addressed before one can even frame a response to this issue. In this particular instance of France, I think more discussion about France in particular is necessary to think about particular responses to this case. Our responses would be different in the UK, US, and Canada accordingly, with probably some similarity and overlap.

  54. jenibelle
    jenibelle June 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm |

    Right on. I think the idea that an article of clothing is “inherently patriarchal” is just ridiculous.

    Clothing is clothing. Any claims made otherwise should be subject to scrutiny.

  55. Elly d'Yckgirl
    Elly d'Yckgirl June 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm |

    In order to understand the logic of the people arguing for this law, I think it’s good to know that feminism (the fact that the burqa/niqab is a symbol of submission to man) is only one of the reasons advanced by the various people who are currently talking about this law in France. In order to be more convincing, they add some other ones:

    - laïcité, which is initially the idea that a governemnent must be independent from religion, and has quite sprung to the idea that your religion should be kept quite private. (But all the big cathedrals we have a bit everywhere in the country with the bells that ring in christian events are very, very, private, while a girl wearing a hijab in school is a threat to laïcité. Go figure.)

    - security : various politicians have said that the problem with niqab/burqa is that you can’t verify the identity of the individual, that this is a kind of disguise, and it should be prohibited outside carnival or things like that.

    The impression I have personally is that this law (just as the 2004 law that prohibited hijab in school), while advanced in the name of feminism is only a way to stigmatize a religion (islam) and a population (arab people).

    And outside of the racist thing, I think a big problem from a feminism perspective is that this dynamics perpetuates the idea that sexism comes from migrants, etc., and that there is no sexism among white people.

    Not to mention the fact that, concerning either this law, hijab prohibition in school or repression of prostitutes, it’s mostly men (82% of deputies) voting laws penalizing women, in the name of feminism. I think they’re doing it wrong.

    William:
    “Would you be comfortable with a law banning women from wearing pants?”

    Actually, I don’t want to sound too France-bashing, but we had this law until very recently (thought it wasn’t actually applied anymore, and it had an exception if you were nearby a bike).

  56. Lirpa
    Lirpa June 22, 2009 at 6:52 pm |

    Why all the Islamophobia, Melancholia? Everything you said is true of many Christians and Jews (minus the sole claim to inerrant truth for Jews) as well as

    I’m pretty sure that melancholia knew that, considering the fact that s/he said:

    - rest assured I disdain all religions equally for similar reasons.

    Just because people in the Western world are currently at war with people who hold dangerous fundamental Muslim beliefs doesn’t mean that anyone can no longer be critical of Islam. Especially when it’s done right alongside Christianity. Both are fucked up, but you can’t possibly tell people that it’s okay to criticize one and not the other.

  57. jenibelle
    jenibelle June 22, 2009 at 7:08 pm |

    “the fact that the burqa/niqab is a symbol of submission to man”

    This quote. Please, please, please can we open our minds a little bit? Can we please not claim that the burqa/niqab is a symbol of submission to man as “fact” when the reality of symbols is that there are a myriad of meanings and many of them are deeply subjective?

    Of course the burqa/niqab can be a symbol of submission to man sometimes. Maybe even often. But not all the time.

    Here’s a trivial example. A man tells his wife, “Hey, baby, you should take off that niqab — you must be hot, and besides, it’s France, not Afghanistan. You’re not going to get beaten by the Taliban.

    The wife says, “No thanks, I don’t want to take it off. Now can you please go make me a sandwich?”

  58. Aishtamid
    Aishtamid June 22, 2009 at 8:07 pm |

    OK, so Melancholia has a general prejudice against religions, including Islamophobia.

    “Just because people in the Western world are currently at war with people who hold dangerous fundamental Muslim beliefs doesn’t mean that anyone can no longer be critical of Islam. Especially when it’s done right alongside Christianity. Both are fucked up, but you can’t possibly tell people that it’s okay to criticize one and not the other.”

    When did I say or imply that it is not OK to criticize Islam? I have plenty of criticisms of Islam, as well as Christianity and Judaism. Melancholia just gave a stereotype-laden rant, and I was calling him/her out about some very obvious prejudices.

  59. Yolanda C.
    Yolanda C. June 22, 2009 at 8:32 pm |

    No matter how you slice it, Sarkozy’s justification for banning the “burqa” (more than likely he means hijab and/or niqab; I sure wish non-Muslims would learn the damn difference between these garments) smacks of racism and neo-colonialism. Of all the female-gendered garments that signify misogyny, why is the French government focused solely on headgear worn by Muslims? Damn, have French women stopped wearing miniskirts and six-inch heels now? I didn’t think so.

    By the way, I’m really disturbed by the casual Islamophobia I’ve witnessed on this thread. Yeah, other commenters have thankfully called this crap out, but for me there’s an even deeper question here. There’s a reason why women of color and transwomen feel marginalized at the big feminist blogs, and some of the comments here sure ain’t helping the situation.

    As an African American from a Missionary Baptist background, I get really angry when white folks blame society-wide sexism and homophobia on POC religion, especially since the political power of religious POC in largely white Western societies is marginal at best. I mean, did Notre Dame and Saddleback Church suddenly turn pro-feminist when I wasn’t looking? Whatever happened to challenging white privilege and Western ethnocentrism in discussions about women’s lives?

  60. Elly d'Yckgirl
    Elly d'Yckgirl June 22, 2009 at 8:32 pm |

    Jennibelle:

    “the fact that the burqa/niqab is a symbol of submission to man”

    This quote. Please, please, please can we open our minds a little bit?

    I’m sorry I wasn’t clear, but I was meaning that it’s the justification that is usually advanced by many politicians, not that I make it mine, and indeed I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

    The problem is that the opinion is rarely asked to the concerned people, which might know better why they wear what they wear.

  61. amandaw
    amandaw June 22, 2009 at 9:01 pm |

    Just because people in the Western world are currently at war with people who hold dangerous fundamental Muslim beliefs doesn’t mean that anyone can no longer be critical of Islam. Especially when it’s done right alongside Christianity. Both are fucked up, but you can’t possibly tell people that it’s okay to criticize one and not the other.

    You can tell people that these criticisms have been used, and are being used, as a weapon to oppress an already disadvantaged people. People, by and large, of color. By people who are white and quite economically and globally privileged.

    And that the white Christian community isn’t really facing such a crisis, so the criticisms are *not* equal.

    And that people might, understandably, feel a little queasy when these questions “of Islam” — rather than “of patriarchal system” — are brought up, especially when there is no criticism of other religion alongside it (altho’ even with it, it can be troublesome).

    It’s not as easy as saying “But I criticize other groups too”.

  62. chocolatepie
    chocolatepie June 22, 2009 at 9:07 pm |

    To those of you who say that the burqa makes you “uncomfortable,” I must ask, do you have any Muslim friends that wear it on a regular basis? My town is largely Muslim, and there are lots of women around wearing any variation on that theme. You get used to it. Remember that there are human beings who laugh and joke and love and live under the coverings and you get used to it even faster.

    I’m not French, but even as a mere Francophile I must point out the cultural differences in law and religion. Public spaces in France are supposed to be absolutely free of religious influence, since they are secular institutions. The separation of church and state is much stricter, to the point that if you attend public school, not only can you not wear the scarf, but you can’t wear a yarmulke or a crucifix. Banning the burqa outright, instead of only in public service/taxpayer-funded enterprises, seems extreme, I’ll grant you, but the French government has a history of being actively anti-religion, even for their beloved Catholics.

  63. amandaw
    amandaw June 22, 2009 at 9:08 pm |

    Just wanted to quote these two for emphasis. The White Lens is VERY strong in this thread and it’s somewhat disturbing.

    Elly d’Yckgirl:

    The impression I have personally is that this law (just as the 2004 law that prohibited hijab in school), while advanced in the name of feminism is only a way to stigmatize a religion (islam) and a population (arab people).

    And outside of the racist thing, I think a big problem from a feminism perspective is that this dynamics perpetuates the idea that sexism comes from migrants, etc., and that there is no sexism among white people.

    Yolanda C.:

    … I get really angry when white folks blame society-wide sexism and homophobia on POC religion

  64. Lirpa
    Lirpa June 22, 2009 at 9:37 pm |

    And that people might, understandably, feel a little queasy when these questions “of Islam” — rather than “of patriarchal system” — are brought up, especially when there is no criticism of other religion alongside it (altho’ even with it, it can be troublesome).

    It’s not as easy as saying “But I criticize other groups too”.

    You’re right, “patriarchal system” is a good term that encompasses the entire argument. At the same time, it’s doesn’t mean that, when critiquing individual religions, that it’s okay to criticize Christianity, but not Islam. That’s just being willfully ignorant about, and unwilling to acknowledge, the harm that Islam does, because you think that Christians deserve the criticism, because the majority of Christians are also members of many oppresseive groups.

    It’s like you’re saying that anyone who is oppressed is exempt from criticism. That’s obviously a problematic statement, one reason of which being that you can’t possibly determine who deserves more punishment, or who is eligible for it at all, when considering all of the intersections involved in privilege and oppression.

  65. Lirpa
    Lirpa June 22, 2009 at 9:41 pm |

    And outside of the racist thing, I think a big problem from a feminism perspective is that this dynamics perpetuates the idea that sexism comes from migrants, etc., and that there is no sexism among white people.

    This is incredibly inaccurate. I think we’re all pretty clear about the fact that whites can be sexist. Regardless of our various ethnic backgrounds, I think that it’s pretty safe to assume that he majority of us see inequality as a product of white male supremisism, and that the white person (especially the white male) is the perpetuator of racism, and the person that benefits the most from racism.

  66. Tracey
    Tracey June 22, 2009 at 10:36 pm |

    @Yolanda C (59): YES!!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Why are so many people on board to have a group of predominately white men tell a group of predomiately WOC what to wear, and I notice the voices of niqab and burqa wearing women are missing.
    @William: hugs, lots and lots of hugs. I’m sick of people complaining that people should assimilate. Not only is the standard generally racist and sexist, it suggests that any government anywhere should be able to pass laws that infringe on non-harmful choices (non-harm to others). That is esp. sick given the restriction of movement, ppls decision for immigration are varied. In this case niqabsand burkas are not harmful, forcing women to do so is so go after the men. Changing women’s actions b/c of male behavior, not okay.

  67. Andrea
    Andrea June 22, 2009 at 11:54 pm |

    So, presumably this means that France is seriously going to crack down on the oppressive, patriarchal garments of Roman Catholic nuns in the country?

  68. beth
    beth June 23, 2009 at 12:10 am |

    to all the people who seem to be saying something along the line of “if they’re gonna live here they should deal with our culture” think about some of the ways we have contributed to their homelands being a bad place to live.

  69. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes June 23, 2009 at 12:51 am |

    I am very strongly against legislating against religious modes of expression, where those are an expression of personal faith and not intended to evangelise to others concerning one’s faith.

    By itself one cannot tell whether a burqa, niqab or hijab is a personal expression of faith or a capitulation to patriarchal pressure from misogynist believers, but it is my firm belief that a woman has the right to show as much or as little of her skin as she wishes. In fact, it would be helpful if more women felt free to adopt burqa-style dress if they feel pressured by Western patriarchal “pornified” male gaze as well as for women also to feel better about going shirtless (to use the example cited above) or even nudist/naturist. The same goes for men, although the sexualised oppression is much less of a factor for us.

    As an example of reductio, the logic of the French version of liberty for women could end up that all women will be forced to wear trouser suits and no other form of costume in public: because anything else is either covering up too much (and therefore a symbol of gendered oppression) or else is not covering up enough (and therefore also a symbol of sexualised oppression).

    On the matter of the burqa or niqab making Westerners feel uncomfortable, this has been covered by Jack Straw MP who complained that some of his Muslim women constituents would attend meetings with him in burqas and he couldn’t “read their eyes”. This to me ties very strongly into the racist language of former times when foreigners (especially the Japanese) would be described as “inscrutable”, because their facial expressions were not easily interpreted by Western folks. People in this thread have written about “masking body language” and “complete rejection of everything around her — the people, the values, everything down to the level of sound, air, and sight”. These are irrational fears that spring not from anything we know about these people, but out of what we suspect them of being or doing, because they look different.

    It is incumbent upon us to own our fears about the different, but also to recognise them as irrational and unfounded. Recognising this, we can choose to respond more positively and allow others not to be controlled by our fears, because we ourselves are not controlled by them.

    If this law is passed in France, then what I would love to see is protest marches with thousands of women (and men!) of all religions and none wearing burqas and niqabs uniting to say that there is nothing wrong with the garment.

  70. Blue Collar Todd
    Blue Collar Todd June 23, 2009 at 1:49 am |

    The mental gymnastics you have to do assert that: Outlawing the burqa won’t make women who cover themselves decide to walk outside in a sundress; it’ll just mean that women and girls won’t leave the home as much. The women who are supposedly victimized and imprisoned by some pieces of cloth will instead be prisoners in their own homes and communities. is truly amazing. Islam oppresses women all over the world and now feminists here and at feministing are defending a huge symbol of that oppression?

    Maybe you have not been paying attention to the women being brutalized in Iran right now? It seems to me that feminists will loose all credibility if they start defending the oppression of women, even if it is claimed that they are making a “choice” to wear such things.

  71. jenibelle
    jenibelle June 23, 2009 at 2:20 am |

    Hi BlueCollarTodd,

    Au contraire, feminists are defending a woman’s right to choose what she wears. It’s not up to you to decide that a burka is a “symbol of oppression.” Cultural symbols have a myriad of meanings and reducing the burka to being nothing more than a symbol of oppression is more than presumptuous. The truth is, you have no idea what a woman in France who decides to wear the burka is actually thinking. And assuming that you do know is the height of arrogance.

    Second, what do the women being brutalized in Iran have to do with the women in France? Are all women the same? Do all women cover their hair for the same reasons? Do all women interpret the symbolic meaning of their clothing in the same way? No one is saying forcing a woman to cover up is OK! It’s not OK. I find that mental gymnastics (relating women in Iran to women in France) to be pretty amazing too.

    I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: forcing a woman to take off an article of clothing can be just as oppressive as forcing her to put it on.

  72. jenibelle
    jenibelle June 23, 2009 at 2:30 am |

    One more thing:

    For the people who think “Islam oppresses women” I say FAUGH!!!! Unless you’re a renowned Islamic scholar, I say you don’t know what you’re talking about. Are the scores and scores of Muslim feminists totally deranged? Are the Muslim women who fight for women’s rights all over Muslim countries bad feminists? They don’t need your assumptions. It’s not helping anyone.

    Men oppress women. Men often use Islam to oppress women (and women often use Islam to fight for their rights). Patriarchy oppresses women. Middle-aged tribal customs oppress women.

    And punishing women for exhibiting symptoms of her oppression (covering up because she feels coerced) is frankly pretty brutal.

  73. LeftieLeftist
    LeftieLeftist June 23, 2009 at 3:19 am |

    I wonder why does France’s president just criticizing some garments in public merit such a strong response from feminists while countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran actually flogging and stoning women for wearing the wrong clothes get a complete pass. I mean both of these countries are outside the US, so why focus on one while ignoring the other. Is it that most feminists secretly desire a strong patriarch?

  74. LeftieLeftist
    LeftieLeftist June 23, 2009 at 3:20 am |

    Okay, the last sentence was trollish but I still wonder about the previous part.

  75. Bunny Mazonas
    Bunny Mazonas June 23, 2009 at 4:54 am |

    Leftieleftist, we DO criticise the treatment of women in other countries. Personally however, not being from a country with a mostly Muslim background I feel it more appropriate to aide the cause of feminism abroad by giving my support to the women who actually live there, who are fighting for themselves. I can’t help but feel such women are far better placed to be vocal about such issues than white, fat, liberal, Pagan me living in the UK.

    Besides which, just because one entry of a single blog focusses on one issue, doesn’t mean the whole blog does. There have been dozens of posts on this blog regarding the fight for equal rights and the fight for change in non-Western countries.

  76. Maria P.
    Maria P. June 23, 2009 at 5:40 am |

    Chocolatepie: AMEN. I’ve had headscarf-wearing Muslim friends since I was a kid, but the niqabi ladies made me both curious and uneasy. Now that I live in a place where about 25% of women cover their faces, I’ve learned that it’s not that exciting or strange. There’s a real, live woman there, people. She can laugh, cry and have her own thoughts. (I can’t believe I have to write this!) You want to know what she thinks? Want to know if she’s feeling oppressed? Want to know what you can do to help her? Well, why don’t you friggin’ ask?

    Maybe you don’t want to acknowledge her, but she doesn’t have the luxury of not acknowledging you. Especially if you’re going to be legislating what she can and can’t do.

    (Note – when I say to ask her, I’m not just talking about one woman, who has all the right in the world to tell you get lost. Like Bunny Mazonas@74 says, women are already working on this stuff themselves. Learn about that, then come back with an opinion, politicians.)

    (Oh yeah — and African women are wearing burqas? Srsly? If they can’t even get their terminology straight enough to make sense, they have no place making this kind of legislation.)

    End rant.

  77. Catherine
    Catherine June 23, 2009 at 6:11 am |

    I just want to say one thing. I have noticed both here and at Feministing, the bloggers and commentors both, have given themselves airs as if they speak for feminists, and argue THE feminist position.

    I feel strongly that to claim there is a “choice” when a woman dons a burqa is laughable. I think that comparing the burqa to miniskirts and high heels is the very height of silly feminist dogma and that anyone who makes the claim is silly. It’s a general rule of thumb that the sillier the argument, the more dictatorial the person making it will behave.

    I want to know who told you that it’s okay for the cultural values of FRANCE to be disrespected. The burqa is inhuman and to compare it to the headscarf, or high heels, is dishonest and stupid. You sound like a bunch of radical libertarians claiming that black people have the “right” to “choose” to sell themselves into slavery.

    But mopst importantly what I want to tell you is that you don’t speak for me. You don’t speak for all feminists and neither does Jessica Valenti.

    I agree with a ban on the Burqa and I Am A Fucking Feminist.

    You don’t get to tell me what a feminist is. I am 44 years old and I already know. I won’t try and tell you what one is, but I’ll be damned if I’ll sit hear and allow a handful of feminist blogs and their commentors dicate “the feminist position” on burqas. Frankly I think you do feminism a huge disservice with your advocacy of the “choice” to don the burqa, but you have every right to say it. What you don’t have the right to do is attempt to browbeat and marginalize as anti-Muslim or anti-Feminist anyone who deson’t agree. I don’t agree. And I AM A Fucking Feminist. I also financially support women’s and children’s groups in Afghanistan. I give them my money. I am well-read and understand that change must come from within.

    But I don’t agree that religious fanatics of any stripe have the right to move to other cultures and enforce their “culture” of oppressing, beating and enslaving women on them. I am for the burqa ban, and I’ll say it one more time: I AM A Fucking Feminist.

  78. Mounia Abousaid
    Mounia Abousaid June 23, 2009 at 6:21 am |

    Just a (longish) update about how the debate is evolving in France :

    I’ve been following debates about this on french television for a few days, and the argument in favor of banning the burqa goes like this :

    - those women can’t choose freely to wear the niqab ! they clearly are alienated ! (alienation being the word Mr. Gérin, leftist mayor of a Lyon suburb, and one of the lawmakes who iniated this.)

    - One of the core values of France is la laïcité, the separation of church and state : this violates it as well.

    - a core value of france is also gender equality ! and that violates it ! we therefore need to outlaw it !

    I’m barely exaggerating. I can’t seem to find detailed stories in english, but for those who speak french, the whole argument admirably *cough* demonstrated in this video, a recording of a debate show : http://www.france5.fr/c-dans-l-air/index-fr.php?page=resume&id_article=4538 .

    I don’t know since when alienation is against the law, and what in the world spearation of church and state has got to do with this.

    Oh : while the initiative to ban the burqa isn’t Mr. Sarkozy, here’s what he said, yesterday, in a speech to the french parliament and senate :

    “the burqa isn’t welcome in the republic “, “[the burqa] isn’t a religious issue” but a “an issue concerning women’s dignity and freedom”.

    translation mine, full speech (also in french) here : http://www.liberation.fr/politiques/0101575575-congres-de-versailles-le-discours-de-nicolas-sarkozy-devant-les-parlementaires

  79. Natalia
    Natalia June 23, 2009 at 7:28 am |

    For a foreign woman living in a predominantly Muslim country, it sucks, SUCKS when you overhear people making derogatory statements about the way you look, when some see you as a “corrupting influence” and aren’t shy about expressing that, or when people make snap-judgments about you based on your name or hair colour or something ridiculous like that.

    Having experienced this firshand, I can imagine how shitty it is for a woman to walk down a Paris street and experience the same level of discrimination and/or derision. It’s a nasty experience and nobody should have to go through that. Especially not in the name of “values,” geez. Which is why I think Sarkozy is missing the point.

    There are safety issues to be addressed when it comes to covering the face (hell, they are even being addressed in Muslim countries where some men have been known to put on face-veils in order to escape the law), but the outright banning of certain garments is a huge step backward. And I would second what people are saying about how this will restrict the mobility of some women.

  80. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery June 23, 2009 at 7:52 am |

    As others in this thread have already mentioned, the problem isn’t the burqa, it’s the submission. How about a French public school course teaching children their rights, and to distrust and question all authority figures, whether they’re wearing a beret or a taqiyah?

  81. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick June 23, 2009 at 8:11 am |

    The Apostate’s words on this subject are the ones I’m inclined to trust.

  82. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 8:53 am |

    I think there are arguments both ways, but haven’t heard here any discussion of Sarkozy’s argument that banning it is the best and maybe only way to limit violence or coercion against women who do not wish to wear it.

    Also, I grant that there are women who have made the free choice to wear it. There are also women who have “chosen” to do this in the Stockholm Syndrome sense of women who didn’t vote, who live in abusive regimes or households, etc., adjust to this environment.

    I think ability to choose what one wears is an important right. But as an attorney, I (and many others here) should know it’s easy to argue one side or another, and the challenge is in weighing them. In doing that, I think the ban wins out.

  83. Natalia
    Natalia June 23, 2009 at 8:59 am |

    Frankly I think you do feminism a huge disservice with your advocacy of the “choice” to don the burqa, but you have every right to say it. What you don’t have the right to do is attempt to browbeat and marginalize as anti-Muslim or anti-Feminist anyone who deson’t agree.

    Huh? First of all, the idea of “choice” when it comes to the burqa is a very subjective issue, I think that much is agreed. The “choice” is, in most cases, wholly dependent on whether or not one lives in a fairly egalitarian household. And even then, you might have a husband who’ll say something like, “well, I wouldn’t FORCE you to wear it, but I’d prefer it…” So you might be scrambling to please him for the sake of harmony in the household. What category does that fall under? I don’t know.

    But a ban – on a burqa, or the more Arab niqab (face-veil… honestly, as Yolanda said, it’s important to keep distinctions in mind, and I personally have no idea if Sarkozy is keeping them in mind) – isn’t going to make your husband more open to the idea of you not wearing. If anything, there is going to be a backlash.

  84. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 9:05 am |

    OK, not to be a contrarian here, and I know I wasn’t offered the cookie (yet!) but I do think “You don’t have to like the burqa to realize that outlawing it will have a hugely negative impact on women” reads as stating the Feminist position, to the extent that it claims to have the ability to assess the collective impact on women.

    I don’t think this is so easy. There are women who will avoid going outside because of the ban, certainly. There are others who will be relieved to avoid coercion or punishment for something that has become a prison to them. We cannot assume that those in the latter category don’t have the desire or the courage to do this.

    We all have the ability to decide which side, pro or con, we feel is most compelling. But stating that there is a conclusive verdict as to the impact on women? Maybe if one had done a study (assuming there was a way to do it accurately) and focus groups of the women affected. Otherwise? It’s claiming inappropriately to state the feminist position.

  85. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 9:29 am |

    Wow.
    Just, wow.

    The level of Islamaphobia in this thread is disgusting, and I am frankly surprised it wasn’t moderated more heavily. We are tolerating this sort of rhetoric now?

    I’m American, and as such I recognize that I have different ideas from the French state as to what is and is not a sacred right. That said, the government has ZERO right to dictate what I put on my back, unless it directly endangers another person. So, I can see perhaps niqab checkpoints at airports or other sensitive locations (carried out by female personnel).

    Also:
    I have an idea. If they want to improve the lot of Muslim women in France, how about:

    - vigorous prosecution of domestic violence issues, no slaps on the wrist
    - mandatory classes for all immigrants, taught in their native tongue, on the rights and responsibilities France expects men and women to have, and the legal recourses immigrants have if a family member violates those rights
    - mandatory life sentence without parole for *anyone* involved in an honor killing, including mothers who lure their daughters back to the house to be killed by fathers, underage sons who commit the killing on the grounds that underage people won’t have as serious a penalty, and so on
    - not annulling marriages on the basis of the wife not being a *virgin*

    But no, it’s more important to ban a *garment* than do anything that could actually benefit Muslim immigrant women in France.

    YES. This.

  86. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 9:32 am |

    Also, how many of you have bothered to ASK a niqabi or a hibabi what she thinks? Like oh, my next door neighbor? Or my NP at the doctor?

    Jesus, people. THESE ARE REAL WOMEN. Try talking to them sometime.

  87. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 9:33 am |

    *Sigh* Hijabi, not hibabi. My bad.

  88. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 9:51 am |

    OK, not to be a contrarian here, and I know I wasn’t offered the cookie (yet!) but I do think “You don’t have to like the burqa to realize that outlawing it will have a hugely negative impact on women” reads as stating the Feminist position, to the extent that it claims to have the ability to assess the collective impact on women.

    I don’t think this is so easy. There are women who will avoid going outside because of the ban, certainly. There are others who will be relieved to avoid coercion or punishment for something that has become a prison to them. We cannot assume that those in the latter category don’t have the desire or the courage to do this.

    We all have the ability to decide which side, pro or con, we feel is most compelling. But stating that there is a conclusive verdict as to the impact on women? Maybe if one had done a study (assuming there was a way to do it accurately) and focus groups of the women affected. Otherwise? It’s claiming inappropriately to state the feminist position.

  89. William
    William June 23, 2009 at 9:54 am |

    I want to know who told you that it’s okay for the cultural values of FRANCE to be disrespected.

    I want to know who told you that the government has the right to use violent force in order to coerce minorities into respecting the cultural values of the majority. Or are individuals basically just the property of the state in which they live, worthy of only what rights are necessary to advance the ideals of those who wield power?

    The burqa is inhuman and to compare it to the headscarf, or high heels, is dishonest and stupid.

    Objections to dogmatic proclamations kind of go both ways.

    You sound like a bunch of radical libertarians claiming that black people have the “right” to “choose” to sell themselves into slavery.

    Nice straw man, but you’ve failed twice. First and foremost, I’d wager that pretty much any radical libertarian capable of elucidating the philosophy have read both Mill and Locke (and quite probably Nozick) and would be able to tell you all sorts of reasons why a person cannot choose to be enslaved. The question of slavery, and why one cannot volunteer to be a slave, is foundational to libertarian philosophy. What you’re thinking of are imagined caricatures or high school kids on live journal.

    Second, I’m pretty sure you’ll find a range of opinion regarding whether the burqa is oppressive or not. I’m of the opinion that it likely is, and that it is certainly a symbol of a system discipline that I find repugnant. But thats not really the discussion most people here have been having. The discussion is actually pretty simple: targeting a vulnerable group for oppression because they are oppressed does not advance anyone’s liberty. Moreover, these discussion do not exist in a vacuum. France has some pretty serious problem with racism and Sarkozy is at the forefront. His stated motives are somewhat irrelevant given what we know about him and French politics.

    But I don’t agree that religious fanatics of any stripe have the right to move to other cultures and enforce their “culture” of oppressing, beating and enslaving women on them. I am for the burqa ban,

    But the burqa ban is neither intended, nor likely, to have any effect on that. All it does is force women to choose between submitting to the state or submitting to their culture. The choice it gives to women forced to wear the burqa is to westernize or stay home. It is essentially a measure that, at best, seeks to liberate women by punishing them for being oppressed. Moreover, it does so in a way that is likely to make the oppressed women even more invisible by either removing them from public entirely when they are forced to stay home or removing them from public consciousness by making them less offensive/mysterious/discomfiting to the majority. A ban on the burqa doesn’t focus on helping women, only on making French people more comfortable. Any help some women might reap from the increased oppression is a side effect.

  90. Manju
    Manju June 23, 2009 at 10:27 am |

    “Why are so many people on board to have a group of predominately white men tell a group of predomiately WOC what to wear”

    Would it really make a difference if WOC were telling other WOC what to wear? If women of your ethnicity organize to outlaw abortion would that make it ok? What about the individual…the smallest minority of them all?

    To base a woman’s right to wear a burka on group rights, in this case the rights of muslims not to have western norms imposed on them, is to inevitably run up against the conundrum of what happens when Muslims decide to impose their standards on a Muslim woman. Since we’ve already conceded imposing western norms are wrong, protesting such an act of repression becomes more than a little convoluted.

    I prefer to cut right to the chase. The individual’s right to freedom of religion and autonomy over their own body is universal. Community norms, be them french or Muslim, be damned.

  91. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 10:40 am |

    Manju, that makes sense only to the extent that women have a free choice to either wear or not to wear a burqa. If women in France could decide, free of coercion or stigma or negative result, NOT to wear one, then this would be a no brainer. While some do make this free choice, not all can.

  92. Manju
    Manju June 23, 2009 at 10:45 am |

    “Also, how many of you have bothered to ASK a niqabi or a hibabi what she thinks?”

    While this sounds like a terrific idea, to actually practice is to inevitably runs up against the problem of diversity of opinion. The assumed consensus often turns out, if it turns out at all, to be much less than advertised.

    Like, for example, SunlessNick in 81 decided to consult The Apostate on the matter and here’s what she had to say:

    “I really wish western women who don’t have a clue how oppressive the Islamic dress code is to women, physically, sexually and morally, would just shut the fuck up. Seriously. Shut the fuck up. You have no idea what the fuck you are talking about.”

    So, what to do now?

  93. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead June 23, 2009 at 10:50 am |

    Melancholia: DaisyDeadhead@26:

    There is a difference between the brainwashing that religions do and the “brainwashing” that the NYT, education, etc. might do. Religion insists on itself in a way so it is insulated from any rational critique or challenge to its claims.

    Really? Because I critique my own religion all the time, particularly the fact that it will not allow women priests.

    As Amanda noted, I learned to make these particular theological arguments by interacting with other rebellious women of my religion, reading their books, etc.

    Would I have learned to do that if I were cloistered and hidden away at home?

  94. The Czech
    The Czech June 23, 2009 at 11:04 am |

    Why does it seem that for some women “feminism” means “imposing my white Western liberal values on WOC and non-Westerners”?

    That’s cultural imperialism, not feminism. And you are not uniting yourself or allying yourself with non-Western women.

    Also, I know plenty of strong, feminist Muslim women, some who where a scarf and some who don’t, and saying that Islam oppresses all women would seem laughable to them. Of course, ‘we’ don’t seem to be asking Muslim women how they feel about this situation.

    We don’t need to! White post-religious Westerners know best! J/K

    Do non-Muslims assume that by the fact that she is Muslim, a woman clearly cannot decide for herself, since Islam is ‘clearly’ an anti-woman religion? Or what exactly is the line of reasoning here?

  95. Rebecca
    Rebecca June 23, 2009 at 11:06 am |

    Men oppress women. Men often use Islam to oppress women (and women often use Islam to fight for their rights). Patriarchy oppresses women. Middle-aged tribal customs oppress women.

    QFFT

    I feel strongly that to claim there is a “choice” when a woman dons a burqa is laughable. I think that comparing the burqa to miniskirts and high heels is the very height of silly feminist dogma and that anyone who makes the claim is silly….The burqa is inhuman and to compare it to the headscarf, or high heels, is dishonest and stupid.

    Do you have any rational reason to think this? (“Rational” of course rules out “Islam is eeeevil.”)

    I want to know who told you that it’s okay for the cultural values of FRANCE to be disrespected.

    As far as I know, the first cultural value of France is liberté. But putting that aside for a moment, I want to know who told you it’s okay to strip a population of their rights for the sake of the “cultural values” of the society in which they live. You call yourself a feminist, but you sound a lot more like those right-wingers who want to take away the civil rights of women and LGBT people while going on about abstract values like “family” and “womanhood.” Tell me – the “cultural values” of the United States include the free market – do you think, then, that laws preventing pay discrimination are wrong?

    I’d also be interested in finding out, Catherine, if you actually read the thread before commenting.

  96. William
    William June 23, 2009 at 11:08 am |

    Manju, that makes sense only to the extent that women have a free choice to either wear or not to wear a burqa. If women in France could decide, free of coercion or stigma or negative result, NOT to wear one, then this would be a no brainer. While some do make this free choice, not all can.

    Thats certainly a problem that needs to be addressed, but I don’t see how a ban on the burqa addresses it. I don’t see how further restricting freedom helps the problem of restricted freedom, how adding yet another patriarchal authority to the list of people who have a say over your body helps the problem of people other than you telling you what to do with your body.

    What the ban demands of us is a very specific series of assumptions. We must first assume that the burqa is oppressive in all or most situations. Then we must assume that most women, given the choice, would decide not to wear one. Then we must assume that other methods of introducing this choice are infeasible. Finally we must assume that a universal option backed by coercive force is the best or only option. From there we conclude that forcing women into compliance with a state mandated dress code is what is best for them. At each step we must assume that racism, sexism, our own taste and comfort, and what we might want if the roles were reversed doesn’t factor into the discussion. We must also assume that the unintended consequences of such a measure are unlikely to create a problem that is of similar or greater magnitude than the problem we seek to address.

    But really, all of that is just set dressing to the fact that the proposed ban doesn’t really pass the sniff test. Essentially what we have is men telling women what to wear to protect them from men telling women what to wear. That seems off.

  97. ACG
    ACG June 23, 2009 at 11:09 am |

    jenibelle-that’s great that she wants to say “f you” to people who think she shouldn’t wear it. but how many of the people who think all women should be forced to wear it see her and think she agrees with them?

    My opinion on that pretty much mirrors my opinion on any of the feminist issues that arise from skirts, heels, makeup, whatever – if I allow someone else to influence my choices, I’m doin it rong. If I wear makeup purely because patriarchal beauty standards demand it, I’m giving up my choice. If I go without makeup purely as an “f you” to patriarchal beauty standards, I’m still letting them dictate the way I dress. The only way to really embrace choice is to just wear what makes me comfortable.

    And, okay, let’s say my standard of comfort is the result of societal brainwashing. How do we address that? Do we ban shirts as some kind of unwilling immersion therapy to force me to become comfortable shirtless, with the result that I might just stay in my house and never emerge? Whether or not my aversion to shirtlessness is the result of an oppressive culture, requiring me to go shirtless is just another way of taking away my choice.

    The way to address the problem of oppressive religions and cultures isn’t to ban the things that can, in some cases, give some women some semblance of freedom. It’s to influence the culture itself – as someone upthread said (can’t find it – speak up if it was you), we need to educate (and punish, as necessary) the oppressors and offer support and help to the oppressed. Punishing the oppressed by replacing their oppressors’ demands with our own isn’t going to make anything better.

  98. Tracey
    Tracey June 23, 2009 at 11:13 am |

    Manju
    I doubt you read my other posts but I made it pretty clear I believe that any laws that oppose on the indiviual are illegitimate. As a matter of fact I believe I said that in the same post you qouted from. As a matter fact I believe I mentioned how no country has a right to pass laws govering indiviual behavior if it causes no harm to others in the name of “culture”. I never suggested cultural norms ever,ever trump indiviual liberty.
    And yes, I think race and xenophobia do play a part in this reasoning. Obviously I would be against imposition of social “norms” on the indiviual regardless of who was doing the imposing, however I am not going to pretend that race, xenophobia and sex are not an issue in some cases. In this case there is a group of mostly white men telling a group of mostly WOC how to behave. Yes, I do believe that in many instances white men feel they have a right to tell WOC, women, and POC what to do, whether it be out of a sense of supremancy (White Man’s Burden), “benevolent” patriarchy (protection), or any other factor.
    At the root I believe it is about personal liberty and the recognition that punishing one group of people in order to “protect” them or regulate the behavior of others is not okay. However, I think it is important to know people’s frame of mind and underlying reasons, so yes, bringing up sex, race, and immigration status or perceived “foreigness” is sometimes appropriate, as I feel is the case here.
    It doesn’t do a lot to talk only about freedom to choose, as you seem to suggest, with a bunch of people suffering from “The White Man’s Burden” in some way, shape, or form and believe that women who wear niqa or burqa can never choose to do so. You want to argue choice with people who don’t believe it is one without calling out the racism and sexism that make it so easy for them to argue it is never a choice. I think most of the people in favor of a ban would argue that a woman in niqab who engages in family planning or gets an abortion has exercised choice in reproductive areas but not in wearing the niqab. So, niqab and burka wearing women can only be viewed as making choices when their choices fit a pre-conceived notion of what freedom is in France or other western countries. I am not going to pretend that race, sex, and a construction of “normalcy” is not at play here, and I am not going to pretend that we can create a dialogue about choice where the others do others believe a choice is present. I get the feeling even if the voices of niqab and burqa wearing women were heard, only those who said they were forced would be validated. The women who said they did so of their own choosing would be branded as liars, having Stockholm’s Syndrome, brainwashed, etc. Unless we examine why these particualr women are being signaled out as oppressed and incapable of making decisions, arguing choice is not going to get us anywhere.

  99. Magis
    Magis June 23, 2009 at 11:28 am |

    If a law banning the Burqa is bad, how about a law banning female circumcision (mutilation, clitorectomy, etc.) Both flow from the same cultural norm?

  100. W. Kiernan
    W. Kiernan June 23, 2009 at 11:34 am |

    We start out with one bunch of self-righteous male jackasses inflicting their ignorant-ass opinions on women as to what they can and can’t wear, as though it were any of their business how someone else chooses to dress. Now we add a bunch of policemen, also ordering the same women to wear this or not wear that, as though that were any of their business. To make it perfect, the two commands are contradictory, so no matter what the woman does she’s caught in the middle, where there will be a whole pack of pushy, abusive creeps who disapprove and seek to punish her.

    This is ridiculous. All the idiots involved in this mess need to back off and have some respect for what the women themselves would prefer.

  101. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 11:35 am |

    William: you make some good points. But the fact remains that you are setting up the issue as patriarchal authority vs freedom. You have not demonstrated, nor as I pointed out earlier can anyone without an open discussion with and survey of the women affected, that the existing situation constitutes a free choice.

    Your point about other methods for introducing this choice is a good one. This should certainly be the first strategy attempted here. Coercion by any outside body isn’t a preferred solution, I certainly am not arguing this. But do we know this hasn’t been discussed or tried?

    “At each step we must assume that racism, sexism, our own taste and comfort, and what we might want if the roles were reversed doesn’t factor into the discussion.”

    You are right to suggest that we look at whether sexism or racism is affecting our thinking, our own desires should this be inflicted on us, and the possibility of
    unintended consequences. But intelligent and unbigoted people can find these problems on either side of this issue, and it’s intellectually lazy to suggest that the only reason someone could disagree with your own verdict is that s/he must be bigoted or s/he hasn’t examined the issue enough.

  102. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 11:54 am |

    Jill: certainly many pundits do it, but then they are doing what Catherine suggested: stating therein that they are the authority on their topic. Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners like Krugman and Kristof arguably do fit that. Often when they make such claims, they’ve done exhaustive first-hand research and groundwork to support them. And you may qualify in such august company, but you should be honest that by stating things in absolute terms, you are making a fairly bold claim that you’re prepared to corroborate substantively, rather than just writing in a particular style.

    Stating that an impact will be “hugely negative” does state a certainty, and suggesting that those who don’t like the burqua and disagree with you on impact are categorically wrong does suggest that people who disagree with you don’t get it.

    I think the argument in your last para is fair. You have the right to take serious issue with certain legislation restricting women’s freedom. But you must also be aware that this is the slippery slope. If you would prohibit all legislation proscribing women’s ability to do what we wish with our bodies, what about foot binding if seemingly freely chosen but perhaps stemming from societal stigmas? If at some point we’d agree that legislation makes sense, then it’s not either/or but instead an argument about what point in the spectrum something becomes OK.

  103. Melancholia
    Melancholia June 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm |

    I just want to clarify that I am against this law, primarily for the reasons Jill originally laid out. I never defended the law, I only attacked the Burqa itself as a symptom and symbol of oppression.

    I stand by what I said about religion generally. People have thrown “Islamophobia” at me and others, completely ignoring my specific critiques of of Christianity as well, which I think is just as oppressive as Islam. Just because some Muslims are oppressed by the West does not mean their entire belief system is shielded from criticism. If despising all religion makes me “Islamophobic,” then the term is useless. When people are enjoying the benefits and protections of a Western society, that society has the right to enforce reasonable and decent treatment of women.
    Also, it’s curious that some people argue that these French Muslim women are not coerced to wear the burqa. Again, I am not defending the law. But as I said earlier, my disagreement with the law has nothing to do with women having a “choice” to wear the burqa. Think about the logic here: everyone defending Islam here seems to agree that the French law will have the unintended consequence of imprisoning women in their homes and only further isolating them. How would such an adverse consequence happen if Islam itself was not oppressive of women, to the point of imprisoning them if they don’t hide their shameful bodies from the public? It seems to be very strained and contorted reasoning.
    I agree that the pain caused to these living breathing women outweighs any benefit from the law and so it should not be enacted. People are right to point out that some might be motivated to support the law because of cultural imperialism. We should not forget the real interest here – in bettering the lives of actual women. And change does need to come from within a religion, and cannot be imposed by force. But let’s not pretend that religion is a force for good with regard to women. Hopefully in the future humanity can shed all superstitions, which have wrought so much misery for so long.

  104. taggle
    taggle June 23, 2009 at 12:02 pm |

    Babe for Buqas — not cool

    FemiSex has a far more relevant post up.

    Burqas are a lot like smoking, very bad for those who partake. Obama has just taken on smoking in new tough ways; this removes agency from no one. Banning a burqu is like banning smoking from public places: a very good idea for public and private health.~FemiSex.com
    The wise writers at FemiSex also make hash out of the stay at home bull that Jill poses. They say it is clear Jill has not been to places where burqa is forced.

  105. umami
    umami June 23, 2009 at 12:05 pm |

    What will be the positive outcome of outlawing it,

    I think the idea is that women who don’t want to wear it can’t then be intimidated into doing so.

    Am I the only one seeing an analogy with arguments about minimum wage laws? If a worker wants to work for a dollar an hour she should be legally permitted to do so. That’s better than her not having a job at all. It’s an unacceptable restriction on her freedom to outlaw it. Etc.

    I think the proposed law is probably a bad idea. But I’m becoming oddly less convinced of that, the more I read arguments against it.

  106. piny
    piny June 23, 2009 at 12:24 pm |

    I think the argument in your last para is fair. You have the right to take serious issue with certain legislation restricting women’s freedom. But you must also be aware that this is the slippery slope. If you would prohibit all legislation proscribing women’s ability to do what we wish with our bodies, what about foot binding if seemingly freely chosen but perhaps stemming from societal stigmas? If at some point we’d agree that legislation makes sense, then it’s not either/or but instead an argument about what point in the spectrum something becomes OK.

    This differentiation along a spectrum would be a change from centuries of legal reasoning how, exactly? Bodily sovereignity is never absolute. We already have laws that prohibit certain bodily decisions–organ sale, suicide, drug use–and we already agree that a contract can’t make murder or slavery legal. We also already have plenty of prohibitions that specifically target women or disproportionately impact women as a class. And we have prohibitions that restrict parental interference in minor bodies. They’re not new. Whatever their validity, they haven’t made it more difficult to distinguish between surgical and sartorial decisions, and this society has not seen fit to legislate against the latter. There doesn’t seem to be a slippery slope.

  107. Rebecca
    Rebecca June 23, 2009 at 12:50 pm |

    Also, it’s curious that some people argue that these French Muslim women are not coerced to wear the burqa. Again, I am not defending the law. But as I said earlier, my disagreement with the law has nothing to do with women having a “choice” to wear the burqa. Think about the logic here: everyone defending Islam here seems to agree that the French law will have the unintended consequence of imprisoning women in their homes and only further isolating them. How would such an adverse consequence happen if Islam itself was not oppressive of women, to the point of imprisoning them if they don’t hide their shameful bodies from the public? It seems to be very strained and contorted reasoning.

    I’ll ask you again – if shirts were banned, do you think women, whatever their religion, would suddenly be comfortable going outside topless? Would you?

  108. Mover
    Mover June 23, 2009 at 12:56 pm |

    It looks/sounds like a whole bunch of non-Muslims think they know a whole lot about Islam.

    I’d like to actually see a Muslim woman discuss this, instead of a bunch of self-righteous non-Muslims.

  109. La Lubu
    La Lubu June 23, 2009 at 1:07 pm |

    Nodding along with Yolanda C. and William. The ban isn’t on forcing a woman to wear a clothing item, it’s banning the women’s act of donning that item. See the difference? Why is the burden being placed on the woman if it’s supposed to “help” women? Bah. This is all about the visual statement of non Western appearance.

    Is the real purpose of the ban to get fewer Muslim women to emigrate to France? And perhaps thereby lower the Muslim birthrate in France, hmm?

  110. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 1:07 pm |

    @ Manju–

    Well, that’s a risk when you ask anybody different from you, especially when you have privilege they don’t, about anything. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them. I’m well aware of how violent the Islamic dress code can be to women, having lived around, with, and to a mild extent in it. But like you said, there isn’t a monolithic consensus among them about it.

    ….unless your reply was ironic, which re-reading it is entirely possible?

    @ Melancholia? Seriously???? I don’t even know where to begin with this. Let’s start with one basic fact: ISLAM never invented the burqa. It is an outgrowth of specific, pre-existing cultures that had that kind of dress and mores for women prior to Islam. That’s why you only see the burqa in certain geographic areas. With the rise of radical Islam and the prominence of Saudi it is spreading, but that isn’t how it came to be.

    Now, I’m not saying I don’t have issues with the burqa and the culture it represents. But to blur that all into “Islam” makes you look ignorant and yes, Islamophobic.

  111. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery June 23, 2009 at 1:11 pm |

    It looks/sounds like a whole bunch of non-Muslims think they know a whole lot about Islam.

    I’d like to actually see a Muslim woman discuss this, instead of a bunch of self-righteous non-Muslims.

    I want so desperately to be on the side of the people who oppose the ban, but why do we have to keep trotting this out? Should all non-women get out of the thread, too? Non-French people? What about Muslims from cultures that don’t wear Burqas or Niqabs?

    I think the proposed law is probably a bad idea. But I’m becoming oddly less convinced of that, the more I read arguments against it.

    For real, yo. For real.

  112. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm |

    I’d also like to point out here that this is NOT the first time France has pulled this shit, and it is just as abhorrent now as it was when they forcibly unveiled women during the Algerian war.

    THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE WELFARE OF WOMEN. This is about policing a minority through the control of women’s bodies. If it were about the welfare of women, how about zero tolerance for honor killings, FGM even when practiced outside the country, and haven programs for young Islamic girls whose parents do not allow them to leave the home.

    Not as sexy as policing the veil, but a hell of a lot more helpful.
    .

  113. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 1:29 pm |

    One final clarification:

    Does Sarkozy even know what specific garment he is banning, and that the “burqa” law will specifically target Pakistani and Afgani communities?

    Or does he intend to also ban the abaya, chador, etc?

    “Burqa” is an easy word to throw around (I think I even did it above when I mentioned Saudi women, who actually wear the abaya). But it’s worth being precise about this since it affects which minorities clothing is getting outlawed.

  114. Amanda in the South Bay
    Amanda in the South Bay June 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm |

    @chava:
    I vaguely remember reading that, yes, the burqa does indeed pre-date Islam-I’m thinking it was in Leila Ahmed’s book about women and Islam. However, I’ve never seen it practiced by present day adherents of religions in the Middle East that pre-date Islam-Zoroastrians, Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonian and Nestorian Christians, the Mizhari-I mean, surely if full body covering for women was prevalent in the pre-Islamic societies of the Near East, surely it would have survived among those peooples?
    Coming from an Orthodox Christian background myself, I’m pretty familiar with mandatory covering of women’s heads while in church, an d that many Orthodox women wear pretty modest clothing outside church as well. But never to the extent of the burqa.

  115. Amanda in the South Bay
    Amanda in the South Bay June 23, 2009 at 1:36 pm |

    Oops, spelled Mizrahi and peoples incorrectly.

  116. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 1:46 pm |

    I think it became heavily associated with Islam and also with the upper classes over time, although I’m not an authority on historic Islamic fashion. Many of these (I think the burqa originally) were an upper class covering, and since the upper class was Muslim, well, you can see how it stuck.

    Some Orthodox Jews have begun veiling but that’s a modern practice. I would actually say that many of the alternative religious coverings I’ve seen are less comfortable than some of the Islamic clothing I’ve gone about my daily business in. Trust me, an abaya or jellaba + scarf is WAY more comfy than a long heavy skirt, full length sleeves, and wig. You can wear basically PJs or a light mumu under the thing, and many women do.

    That said, the burqa is an extreme form of covering even among women who cover pretty exclusively. But no reputable scholar on Islam will tell you it is in ANY way mandated by the religion.

  117. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 1:55 pm |

    Piny — agree that it’s not an absolute. My point was the spectrum is hard to define. Is it surgical vs sartorial? Where does foot binding fit?

    Additionally, I think most would agree that the alternative William proposed of exploring non-dictatorial alternatives of opening up choice on both ends (ie, to wear or NOT to wear) is preferable. It would only be after the failure or unenforceability of such measures is demonstrated (I don’t know if that stage has been reached) that the costs/benefit analysis of a ban should be undertaken — obviously, without ignoring the women who will be directly affected. I just don’t think we, sitting here, can state categorically that we know the ban will have a hugely negative impact on women.

    .

  118. William
    William June 23, 2009 at 2:08 pm |

    If a law banning the Burqa is bad, how about a law banning female circumcision (mutilation, clitorectomy, etc.) Both flow from the same cultural norm?

    Well, as I understand it, most instances of FGM happen when a woman is fairly young. As such, I’d be inclined to see it as child abuse. Seeing as its a permanent, elective, and medically unnecessary removal of body parts before the age of consent, I believe one could also make a pretty compelling argument for assault. So really, your analogy doesn’t hold water.

    A better analogy to the burqa ban would be if France decided to ban bikini waxing on the grounds that it women were being oppressed into having bikini waxes. While I’m sure that might be true in some instances, and while there are many good arguments for why bikini waxing is potentially problematic, I’d still object to a law which punished women for engaging in a behavior which could be the product of either coercion or choice. If there is a problem with the burqa, I’m pretty sure it isn’t on the part of the women who wear it. Coercive state action should be focused on the oppressors, not the oppressed.

  119. William
    William June 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm |

    But the fact remains that you are setting up the issue as patriarchal authority vs freedom. You have not demonstrated, nor as I pointed out earlier can anyone without an open discussion with and survey of the women affected, that the existing situation constitutes a free choice.

    The reality of the situation is likely that for someone women wearing a burqa is a choice, for others it is something they are coerced into doing, and for many more the situation is somewhat more complicated. My argument isn’t patriarchal authority vs freedom, my argument is that the state is lying as to it’s motivations.

    I’ll be clear, since there seems to be some confusion. I don’t believe the government of France gives two shits for the state of muslim women, their liberty, or their needs. I believe that this law is an example of people in power trying to make a minority invisible and justifying their actions with some bullshit about protecting the targets of their hate.

    Why do I believe this? Because if the motivation was to reduce the coercion women who wear burqas faced, they government would be focusing on the offenders, not on a garment. In a free society women would be capable to choose whether to wear a burqa or not; you can’t squeeze liberty out of coercion no matter how hard you try or who is doing the coercion.

    Coercion by any outside body isn’t a preferred solution,

    It seems you misunderstood my point. My point is not that coercion by an outside body isn’t a preferred solution. My point is that it is not an acceptable solution under any circumstances. Coercion can only be rightfully aimed at individuals who violate the rights of others, not that those whose rights have been violated.

    But intelligent and unbigoted people can find these problems on either side of this issue, and it’s intellectually lazy to suggest that the only reason someone could disagree with your own verdict is that s/he must be bigoted or s/he hasn’t examined the issue enough.

    I can understand the reasoning that would lead someone to disagree with my judgment, I just reject it. The fact of the matter is that I reject restrictions on liberty and I don’t really believe that you can reduce oppression by further oppression an already oppressed group. Most of the arguments in favor of a ban have basically boiled down to a trust in the government coupled with discomfort of difference, cultural imperialism, and a belief that smart white people know best.

    I hold that in a free society the government stops aggressors, not victims. I hold that if going after oppressors hasn’t worked than the government hasn’t tried hard enough. I hold that under no circumstances would it be acceptable for even one woman to be prevented from wearing a burqa if she so chose. Those aren’t really points of debate for me. If taking a stand is intellectually lazy, well, I could break out the Foucault and Mill and Nozick to trace exactly where I’m coming from, but that seems kind of like overkill.

  120. William
    William June 23, 2009 at 2:27 pm |

    I think the idea is that women who don’t want to wear it can’t then be intimidated into doing so.

    Am I the only one seeing an analogy with arguments about minimum wage laws? If a worker wants to work for a dollar an hour she should be legally permitted to do so. That’s better than her not having a job at all. It’s an unacceptable restriction on her freedom to outlaw it. Etc.

    I think you’re missing the directionality of the law. If your proposed worker worked for $1.00 an hour, she wouldn’t be arrested or fined if the government moved to enforce the minimum wage. The constraint is not upon the worker, but upon the employer. A worker could work for a dollar and hour, but an employer would not be allowed to pay her such a low wage. If the worker decided to donate all but $1.00 an hour to charity, the government would have no means of preventing that.

  121. amandaw
    amandaw June 23, 2009 at 2:31 pm |

    You’re right, “patriarchal system” is a good term that encompasses the entire argument. At the same time, it’s doesn’t mean that, when critiquing individual religions, that it’s okay to criticize Christianity, but not Islam. That’s just being willfully ignorant about, and unwilling to acknowledge, the harm that Islam does, because you think that Christians deserve the criticism, because the majority of Christians are also members of many oppresseive groups.

    It’s like you’re saying that anyone who is oppressed is exempt from criticism. That’s obviously a problematic statement, one reason of which being that you can’t possibly determine who deserves more punishment, or who is eligible for it at all, when considering all of the intersections involved in privilege and oppression.

    This is a standard bingo card spot. “You’re just using your status as XYZ as a free out from criticism.” I don’t mean this disrespectfully — but consider what you’re saying. Things are much, much more complicated than that.

    And that is, anyway, beside the point. I never said criticism of Christianity is ok because it’s people we don’t like, or that criticism of Islam is not ok because there is a history of oppression.

    What I am saying is, basically, step carefully. Our culture and history colors our perceptions so completely and yet so invisibly. We are affected by our own status as privileged persons in ways we can’t even see, even when we are trying our damned best.

    And we, as privileged people (particularly as white, Western, financially privileged people) have immense power over minority people, even if we don’t want to and don’t intend to. We have an institution with a long, long history and a long, strong arm backing us up, even when we don’t realize it. Even when we are checking our privilege and think we are acting for freedom and liberty of all people. We have been raised with this power and we cannot abdicate it. We can’t just claim feminist cred and therefore no longer be using that power to oppress. It isn’t a matter of individual will.

    And that is the realization I think is vital when looking at these issues. Yes, our criticisms of Islam have a vastly different effect than do criticisms of Christianity or of religion in general. And even our perceptions are strongly colored, as our culture raised us with a sense of what is normal and what is outside normal. Which is how we can end up criticizing a group of people who are very different, as though their flaws are somehow inherent to their group status and not to humanity as a whole — because we have been innoculated against the ways that *OUR* culture does the same, or similar things. They seem normal to us, and therefore invisible. And when compared, they just seem naturally different. This is a result of our being raised in this culture of power and it is something we cannot ever fully escape — again, it follows you whether you want it to or not…

    This is why we should be so hesitant when it comes to these issues. We are used to using our power without even realizing that *we are using power.* So the solutions we come up with to address problems will naturally trend toward that, because we don’t realize it. But the people affected do.

    This cannot be reduced to “No criticizing these groups allowed.” That’s the wrong frame, entirely. The issue is so much more complicated than that.

  122. melancholia
    melancholia June 23, 2009 at 3:00 pm |

    Chava:

    I didn’t say that the burqa is metaphysically essential to the core of Islam. There is no essential element to any religion, because religion is invented by men and whatever its currently practitioners say it is, is what it is. For instance, the idea of the immaculate conception, which was made up out of whole cloth by the Vatican theologians in recent times, is “essential” to Catholic faith. I just meant that the burqa has similarly become a part of these people’s Islam, which is all that matters. Just because the burqa historically has its roots in non-Islamic practices is completely irrelevant, because it is now justified as part of Islam.

  123. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 3:08 pm |

    William: I wasn’t suggesting that “coercion by any outside body isn’t a preferred solution” was your point. I was stating that it is MY point. So no, I did not misunderstand. Directing the law this way would only be appropriate if coercion *cannot* be aimed at the oppressors in this case. And as I stated, I don’t know the answer to that.

    Whether or not some of the counters are coming from imperialism or not (and clearly, they are), it’s inappropriate to say that because some are, all necessarily are.

    Also, there seems to be a misunderstanding re my point about what is “intellectually lazy.” Nowhere did I state that taking a stand is problematic. I do that all the time. For clarification I will reproduce below what I did state:

    “it’s intellectually lazy to suggest that the only reason someone could disagree with your own verdict is that s/he must be bigoted or s/he hasn’t examined the issue enough.”

  124. norbizness
    norbizness June 23, 2009 at 3:14 pm |

    La Labu @ 117: That was exactly my thought when Sarkozy, immigrant-baiter and former far-right interior minister that he was, proposed the law. It’s not even the law of unintended consequences with him, it’s the law of intended consequences. As somebody upthread pointed out in a laundry list of other legislation that could be aimed at curbing religiously proscribed practices without impinging on individual autonomy: those would be the laws I could see the French government offering in at least arguable good faith.

  125. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 3:19 pm |

    Not to get into the issue of minimum wage pro or con, but the argument that a worker is free to work for a dollar and then donate the rest to charity misses the point. The point is that as long as the employer has to pay a certain amount, certain workers will not get employment opportunities they would otherwise get. So therefore, those who suffer include the employees, in terms of lost job opportunities. (I am not here arguing right or wrong, simply that the “charity” example misstates the underlying economics).

    THis is similar to arguments sex workers make about the Swedish Model. While it ostensibly punishes only the johns, some sex workers argue that it results in lost employment for the worker, and possibly forces them to accept more risky employment.

    Bringing it back: those who argue “legislation should only impact the offender!” are not (always) acknowledging that often legislation can impact the offender by being exercised on someone else. My question here is: is there an “only” between “offender” and “by”? If so, that might provide a justification. Otherwise, not.

  126. piny
    piny June 23, 2009 at 3:20 pm |

    Piny — agree that it’s not an absolute. My point was the spectrum is hard to define. Is it surgical vs sartorial? Where does foot binding fit?

    Then we’re not agreeing. You wouldn’t have brought up either foot binding or clitoridectomy if you didn’t see them as distinct from a covering garment; you’re using them as examples because you know that the other commenters will be repulsed by them if not burqas because they’re not the same as burqas.

    How do you think that foot binding–the practice of compressing the foot and breaking its bones so as to shrink it into a particular shape–differs from wearing clothing? How do you think that the bandages traditionally used in that paractice differ from most kinds of foot coverings? From heeled shoes? From surgeries used to better fit the foot into heeled shoes? Why might the practice of permanently altering the shape of the foot not be considered the same as clothing oneself?

    There are answers to these questions. Long, niggling, but not subjective or unavailable. Legislators answer these questions on a daily basis. Shape, objective, outcome, circumstance: French legislators will in finalizing this law need to distinguish between burqa and bathrobe, greatcoat, balaclava. You don’t seem to see that as an impossible task.

    I just don’t think we, sitting here, can state categorically that we know the ban will have a hugely negative impact on women.

    The stated reason for the ban is that women are being forced–by their communities and families–to wear the burqa. France is incapable of protecting them from this coercion, and so the option must be taken away from all women, coerced and uncoerced. If the French government can only regulate treatment of women in the public sphere, and cannot interfere in abusive home situations, and cannot even make a meaningful distinction between coerced and uncoerced women, how exactly will it prevent all those abusers from using the same threat of violence to imprison women at home? I know how abusive marriages and families work; I know the level of control they can enforce. I know that the French government has just announced its ineptitude in the face of those closed doors. Why shouldn’t we believe them?

  127. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 3:30 pm |

    melancholia–

    And as has already been said, wife-beating, polygamy, and forced birth is justified by some sects of Christianity. That doesn’t mean that “Christianity” sanctions such. I realize you seem to detest all religion equally, that doesn’t make your Islamophobia any less problematic. (“Look! I’m an equal opportunity bigot! That makes it all ok!”)

    I think the last sentence of your post is revealing:
    Just because the burqa historically has its roots in non-Islamic practices is completely irrelevant, because it is now justified as part of Islam.

    And we’re back to your lumping everything under “Islam” when *in that very post* you tried to tapdance around what you said previously, that “Islam” created the burqa and oppresses women.

    And yes, it IS relevant, because being aware of the historical facts might lead us to, say, address Afgani or Pakistani culture specifically instead of “Islam” as a whole. Saying Islam makes Afgani women put on the burqa is like saying Judaism makes me eat chopped liver or geflitefish.

  128. William
    William June 23, 2009 at 3:35 pm |

    Not to get into the issue of minimum wage pro or con, but the argument that a worker is free to work for a dollar and then donate the rest to charity misses the point.

    Not in this discussion it doesn’t. We can talk about the additional consequences of a law, but the minimum wage cannot punish a worker who works for less than minimum wage. The worker is the protected party, not the party which faces a restriction. The side effect might be to reduce the overall number of jobs on the market, but that has as much due to demand for a product or service as it does with how much an employer is required to pay an employee for providing that service or making that product.

    The ban on burqas in France seeks to punish women who wear burqas directly, it seeks to use coercive force against them. All of the other discussions about motivation or unintended consequences come second to the fact that what we’re suggesting with a burqa ban is really something rather unusual: that we restrict oppressed people in order to protect them from oppression. Its like banning rainbow clothing to prevent gay bashing or making it illegal for women to drink alcohol in order to prevent rape.

    Traditionally, we punish people who transgress upon others, not those who are transgressed against. What this law is suggesting is that it is a crime to not resist oppression strongly enough. I find that suggestion patently offensive.

  129. Amanda in the South Bay
    Amanda in the South Bay June 23, 2009 at 3:38 pm |

    @130
    I agree, as to whether or not the burqa (or any other piece of female bodily covering) has its origins in the pre-Islamic past is an irrelevant issue. For example, you could argue that Christianity borrowed the idea of the eucharist from Judaism and various Hellenistic pagan religions, but no one would dispute that the eucharist is an extremely important ritual and issue of belief for nearly all Christians throughout all age, whatever its origins.

    Of course, just how essential female bodily covering is to Islam is another issue, probably dealt with better by genuine scholars of Islam, not half assed pundits like myself.

  130. ACG
    ACG June 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm |

    The stated reason for the ban is that women are being forced–by their communities and families–to wear the burqa. France is incapable of protecting them from this coercion, and so the option must be taken away from all women, coerced and uncoerced.

    This. What Piny said. There seems to be the assumption that a husband is going to read the paper and say, “Huh. Burqas are out. Hey, honey! Go put on your PJs; we’re going to the mall and getting you a minidress.” Or, for that matter, that a woman is going to read the paper and say, “Hey! Burqas are out! I suddenly feel empowered to go to the mall and buy a minidress. There certainly won’t be any consequences to that from my father.”

    This law imposes a penalty on a woman for wearing a burqa; it doesn’t relieve the penalty she may suffer within her household for not wearing one. Don’t pretend to solve the problem by keeping women from wearing burqas if they want to. Solve the problem by protecting women from a culture that makes them wear burqas when they don’t want to.

    And if, as some insist, no woman would ever voluntarily wear a burqa, then there won’t be women in burqas anymore.

  131. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 4:00 pm |

    @ Amanda–It isn’t the history of it that makes it an important distinction–it is the fact that a distinction between practices rooted in culture and those rooted in Islam needs to be made. Now admittedly those do get intertwined and religion is a part of culture. But that doesn’t mean we write of cultural difference and nuance altogether.

    The euchrist is an essential part of Christianity in a way that the burqa is not. It is not accepted as a universal religious symbol in *nearly* the same way. We aren’t talking about ALL forms of covering here–we’re talking about the burqa, which is a specific garment with a specific cultural and sociological context.

  132. chava
    chava June 23, 2009 at 4:01 pm |

    should be “the euchrist is a part of Christianity in the way the burqa is not of Islam,” sorry.

  133. Schmorgluck
    Schmorgluck June 23, 2009 at 4:02 pm |

    There are women who will avoid going outside because of the ban, certainly. There are others who will be relieved to avoid coercion or punishment for something that has become a prison to them. We cannot assume that those in the latter category don’t have the desire or the courage to do this.

    That’s an interesting point, but that does raise a worrying issue: how come those women don’t feel already protected from said coercion and punishment? There are laws about that already. Improving how they are enforced could be a worthwhile approach, albeit complex.

    You have not demonstrated, nor as I pointed out earlier can anyone without an open discussion with and survey of the women affected, that the existing situation constitutes a free choice.

    I certainly hope the investigations will take this course.

    There isn’t a law project for now: the parliament just started investigating the issue. Because this is definitely an issue, one that is worrysome even for most Muslims in France, and must be adressed carefully.

    Alas, Omnipresident Nicolas Sarkozy is not known for being light-handed. “One issue, one law” seems to be his motto. Even if the parliamentary panel formulates its conclusions with prudence and balance, I’m worried of what kind of legislation the government will try to push.

  134. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 4:06 pm |

    Piny: I did not bring up clitoridectomy. And I do feel foot binding is a different point on the spectrum from burquas, which are a different point on the spectrum from stripper heels. I don’t see burquas as simply “clothing,” no, in reading accounts of women who’ve worn them.

    I don’t see the statement that the French ban is announcing its inability to impact offenders through closed doors as categorical proof that the ban’s cons outweigh its pros. So I guess we’ll have to disagree on that.

    William, re minimum wage: whether or not the worker is the protected party, the side effect does have collateral damage to the worker. It benefits the worker in other ways. So again, not arguing how the cost/benefit balances: the point is that it does impact the worker. It’s irrelevant whether it does so in a direct or indirect way: in the real world, the worker feels an effect, either positive or negative.

  135. William
    William June 23, 2009 at 4:54 pm |

    So again, not arguing how the cost/benefit balances: the point is that it does impact the worker. It’s irrelevant whether it does so in a direct or indirect way: in the real world, the worker feels an effect, either positive or negative.

    The thing about the law is that it really isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a cost-benefit analysis. We are not a utilitarian society. We are a society of side constraints and negative rights. Take the Tuskegee syphilis study, for instance. Now, we learned some very valuable things about the course of syphilis from that study, it was scientifically useful, and one could make the argument that more people benefited from what we learned there than were harmed. At the same time time, it was unconscionable. People’s rights are not swept away once a certain threshold of public utility is met except under very specific circumstances (conscription being the only really common one).

    It is easy to forget here that what we are talking about is clothing with cultural/religious meaning. Yes, there is the issue of potential oppression. At the same time there are questions of bodily autonomy and freedom of conscience, two of the most basic of human rights. You can’t just bargain those away because the government claims it is too difficult to prosecute offenders. That is a problem for the government to solve on it’s own. What we have here in the suggestion of a burqa ban (if you take the government at it’s word) is that it would be too difficult or controversial for the State to do it’s job so a compromise on human rights must be made by the people the government believes to be victims. That is, quite simply, unacceptable.

  136. Cynthia
    Cynthia June 23, 2009 at 5:04 pm |

    When the French first passed the law against students wearing headscarves in school, I thought it was ridiculous – headscarves having historically (though not recently) been a pretty standard item of female apparel throughout Europe. So can non-Muslim students still wear headscarves, since in their case the headscarf is utilitarian and not symbolic? Is it ok to wear a headscarf as long as it is tied behind the neck instead of under the chin? Can boys wear headscarves?

    My point is that outlawing something on the basis of its symbolic meaning, as opposed to its actual deleterious effect on other people is a legal mare’s nest. If we assume that all adults have agency and freedom of expression, then outlawing a particular form of dress is nonsense. If the problem is that some adults appear to not have agency, which is to say that someone else is systematically violating their right to individual self-determination in identifiable ways, then that is the problem that needs to be dealt with.

    As for everyone who said that non-Muslims should not comment on this, I would like to point out that legal precedent in France is going to affect everyone in France. Furthermore, the discussion of when (if ever) it is appropriate to suppress symbolic actions is of general interest (we have plenty of related controversies here in the United States).

  137. Anne
    Anne June 23, 2009 at 5:39 pm |

    I asked The Apostate in comments about this issue, and she said:

    apostate, on June 23rd, 2009 at 1:33 pm Said:
    Anne, if the ban applies to a burka (the full-body drape like what the Afghanis wear), then I’m in favor. If it applies to normal all-covering clothes plus headscarf, then no.

    I’m in favor of the ban for France, not universally. Different culture, different set of laws, different problems with immigrants (compared, for instance, to the US). My opinion is context-based.

    I’ll read about it and then maybe do a post.

  138. octogalore
    octogalore June 23, 2009 at 6:33 pm |

    From what I have read, it’s applicable to the burqa. Sarkozy refers to “burqa” and “behind a screen.”

  139. Lukovka
    Lukovka June 23, 2009 at 6:46 pm |

    This isn’t a new issue–women’s bodies are often the means through which patriarchal powers try to assert dominance over each other. Meanwhile, the women who actually inhabit those bodies have to try to keep living their lives. People here shouldn’t be so glib to assume women must be brainwashed if–when forced to choose–some would prefer to be on the side of people who brought them up or were raised alongside them than on the side of people who consider their culture backwards and inferior.

    You can read about how that dynamic played out when the Soviets wanted to radically modernize Uzbekistan and “liberate” women from heavy veils, in the book “Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia”: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4057

    But I’m sure there are plenty of books, too, on how France, specifically, has pulled this stuff as a colonial power.

  140. Malaysian Heart
    Malaysian Heart June 23, 2009 at 8:34 pm |

    I strongly believe that it would be very wrong for France (or any other government) to ban, discourage or restrict any form of ethnic or religious clothing (or practice), if they do it with the following purpose:

    1. out of intolerance or hate for Islam, or the religions of any minority groups, or
    2. to force minorities to adopt the majority culture, thereby assimilating them.

    If my religion requires the wearing of the burka, my religious community must be free to encourage & promote it without undue interference from government, as long as we respect just laws & human rights. The secular nature of a country must never, never be used an an excuse for the denial of anyone’s religious & cultural rights.

    However, we cannot deny that women are still oppressed, both by their families & communities. Sometimes, this oppression is even justified in the name of religion, culture and tradition. An example would be the old Hindu/Indian practice of suttee, where a widow would be burnt to death on the funeral pyre of her husband. If France were to face a suttee problem today & ban it, I’m sure all of us would praise France, because we all (hopefully) realize that killing people violates their human rights.

    Granted, suttee is a very extreme & old example, but there are many other examples of the oppression of women still existing today, such as forced marriages, “honour killings”, female genital mutilation, “domestic” violence, exclusion from national & public life, subservience at home, unequal treatment, etc. We face similar injustices in Malaysia too.

    So, In my opinion, the French burka issue must be decided based on 2 questions:

    1. What is the motive & objective of the French government? Do they have a hidden agenda behind this condemnation of the burka?
    2. What do Muslim women in France really want? Does the burka in any way oppress them & are they in any way being coerced into wearing it?

    In order to find the answers, there needs to be respectful, open & honest dialogue, within communities & between them, with no prejudice & stigma attached to minority cultures & religions. At the same time, religious communities should take the initiative to engage with governments to discuss issues vital to national harmony. Most importantly, the views & wishes of Muslim women (who are directly affected by this ruling) must be heard & respected.

    The desired end result must be the freedom to rightfully practice ones religion & culture, and the upholding of human rights for all. Each of us has the right to choose what we believe in, wear & do; therefore, if I want of my own free will to wear a burka, no government should ever unreasonably stop me.

  141. William
    William June 23, 2009 at 11:02 pm |

    Granted, suttee is a very extreme & old example, but there are many other examples of the oppression of women still existing today, such as forced marriages, “honour killings”, female genital mutilation, “domestic” violence, exclusion from national & public life, subservience at home, unequal treatment, etc.

    All of those forms of oppression either consist of force directed against an individual or demands that are backed by the threat of force. It would seem to me that the logical place to aim the violence force of legislation would be at the people who are using force to oppress, not the people who are being oppressed.

    Still, the burqa presents a slightly different problem from many of the situations you’ve described in that it is not necessarily an oppressive arrangement and might actually be chosen by some people. Few people are going to volunteer to be the victim of an honor killing, but I can imagine some women might be more comfortable in traditional clothing.

    What is the motive & objective of the French government? Do they have a hidden agenda behind this condemnation of the burka?

    How do you propose we divine the truth that lies in the hearts of various legislators and (potentially) local enforcement authorities?

    What do Muslim women in France really want? Does the burka in any way oppress them & are they in any way being coerced into wearing it?

    Do we expect Muslim women in France to be of one opinion on the matter or do we form a consensus? If the later, at what point do we tell dissenting women that their feelings, wills, and religious requirements are invalid and they must submit to the authority of the state? Do we loose the dogs to unveil 30% of Muslim women in France? 20%? 10%? What do we do with the women who resist? Prison? Fines?

    engage with governments to discuss issues vital to national harmony

    Perhaps my ‘Merican is showing, but given our shared history with France I’ll let it out. Fuck national harmony. Human rights or a bullet for each tyrant.

  142. jenibelle
    jenibelle June 24, 2009 at 2:06 am |

    Human rights or a bullet for each tyrant.

    Thank you! If this were Facebook I’d friend you for that!

  143. Malaysian Heart
    Malaysian Heart June 24, 2009 at 5:35 am |

    @ William,

    Fisking certainly has its place in online discussions, but for maximum effectiveness, one must not neglect to read the post in its entirety. I would suggest that missing my last paragraph might detract somewhat from understanding my point fully. I repeat it here for the benefit of all (with added bold emphasis):

    The desired end result must be the freedom to rightfully practice ones religion & culture, and the upholding of human rights for all. Each of us has the right to choose what we believe in, wear & do; therefore, if I want of my own free will to wear a burka, no government should ever unreasonably stop me.

    As for “a bullet for each tyrant”, I’m afraid I lack the courage to take one myself when the tyrant comes for me. IMHO, It’s better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. Perhaps I’m just being Malaysian, but jawing helps me to avoid proposing simplistic solutions to complex social issues.

  144. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes June 24, 2009 at 12:24 pm |

    Just about any time I find myself on the opposite side to the rabid right-wing rag “The Daily Express”, I think I’m on safe ground: Ban the Burkha here in Britain. That story cites “moderate” Muslims as supporting the ban, but the headline actually misrepresents their position (which has been alluded to in this thread) that the burqa/niqab is not required by Islam.

    The Muslim Council of Britain, which is an umbrella group for Muslim organisations in the UK has spoken out against the ban, with both male and female figures decrying the proposals and language used by the French officials, including Sarkozy.

  145. William
    William June 24, 2009 at 2:42 pm |

    The desired end result must be the freedom to rightfully practice ones religion & culture, and the upholding of human rights for all. Each of us has the right to choose what we believe in, wear & do; therefore, if I want of my own free will to wear a burka, no government should ever unreasonably stop me.

    Right there, that word “unreasonably,” is where I believe you and I have our fundamental disagreement. I cannot imagine any situation in which a government could reasonably tell someone not to wear what they please, period. I don’t believe in social harmony or the will of the majority or the comfort of groups or even people not being offended. I can’t imagine a situation in which I would think it acceptable for the government to ban even clothing that was intentionally and patently offensive, worn by a person whose only stated purpose was to be obnoxious and hateful. The fact that in this case the clothing in question has religious significance to some just makes my antagonism towards social controls greater.

    . Perhaps I’m just being Malaysian, but jawing helps me to avoid proposing simplistic solutions to complex social issues.

    Jawing is great, its always my option of first resort, I enjoy it quite a lot. I’m just saying that both America and France have a history of, you know, killing police and government officials in order to enforce their rights. Once upon a time you found some of liberty’s fiercest defenders in these countries. It seems today that more and more they’re becoming nations of petty autocrats unconcerned with anything beyond their own prejudices. I doubt I’ll live to the day when jawing ceases to be an option, but history can still be instructive sometimes.

  146. Aishtamid
    Aishtamid June 24, 2009 at 4:07 pm |

    @Taggle 113 – That is absurd. Burqas are not a public health risk.

    @Melancholia – “I stand by what I said about religion generally. People have thrown “Islamophobia” at me and others, completely ignoring my specific critiques of of Christianity as well, which I think is just as oppressive as Islam.”

    Your argument is like calling a black person the N word and then saying “well, I hate Asians too so I’m not racist.”

    Why is it so hard for some people to realize that not every Muslim woman in traditional dress is being forcibly coerced while accepting that some are?

  147. Aishtamid
    Aishtamid June 24, 2009 at 4:10 pm |

    How did genital mutilation and footbinding come into this? Putting a piece of cloth over your face is not the same as physical abuse. Cutting off the clitoris of an 8 year old is not consensual; it is abuse that will scar her for the rest of her life. Wearing a burqa, which is sometimes a choice and sometimes not, just doesn’t compare.

  148. William
    William June 24, 2009 at 5:53 pm |

    How did genital mutilation and footbinding come into this? Putting a piece of cloth over your face is not the same as physical abuse. Cutting off the clitoris of an 8 year old is not consensual; it is abuse that will scar her for the rest of her life. Wearing a burqa, which is sometimes a choice and sometimes not, just doesn’t compare.

    You and your sense of proportionality!

  149. Nora
    Nora June 25, 2009 at 3:02 am |

    I wish that Western feminists could hold off on judging what is and is not oppressive. I was raised in an Islamic household. Many of my female relatives thought that Western women were almost “forced” to dress to please men. My aunt, who immigrated here, left, partly because of how she thought women were treated. She said that women here were treated only as sex objects. Now, I can’t attest to how true this is all over the world, but it’s not like all Muslim women are dying to break free of the burqa. However you feel about sex-positive feminism, I think we can all agree that if an Islamic country enacted a law to stop Western women from wearing more revealing clothes, so they would be protected from being objectified, Western feminists would be horrified. I think it’s difficult to comment on someone else’s culture without understanding it, but Western feminists have the privilege of “knowing best.” While it is true that many Muslim feminists find the burqa to be oppressive, we don’t need white saviors to come and save us. We do not need Western feminists to liberate us or tell us what is oppressive and what is not. We need allies to help fight the battles we want fought.

    In conclusion: These law has nothing to do with helping women, who can organize for themselves. It is just another example of the xenophobia that plagues France.

    Fun(?) Fact: The reason that many women started putting the burqa back on was to silently rebel against the colonial forces in their countries (read about women’s roles in the Algerian War of Independence).

  150. Lianne
    Lianne June 25, 2009 at 8:33 am |

    Crap…I’m late on this and thus really don’t have the time to read all the comments, but I got through about half of them.

    I’m a Muslim feminist, born and raised in America and Canada to the daughter of an immigrant Arab. As a lot of people have already mentioned, we in the West need to stop grouping Muslims and Muslim women together and telling them what they’re doing right/wrong/why they’re doing it. Followers of Islam are ridiculously diverse, culturally and ethnically and racially and everything else. How the hell can we generalize? Seriously, how the hell can we say “Muslim women do this because of this?” Do you realize that there are about half a billion Muslim women in the world from pretty much every single country and you’re trying to break them down into the two words “Muslim women” and make sweeping statements about their intents and desires? Especially about how they DRESS? When you get dressed in the morning, do you stop and think about the political, social, and/or feminist message you’re spreading by wearing that color of stripe?

    Look. Islam was never “other” to me because I was raised by it. When my dad told me to do things my brothers didn’t have to do (or vice versa), sometimes I thought it was Islam talking, other times I thought it was him. Most of the time it was probably a mixture of both. Just like anyone with any kind of belief system (religious or not), you mix those beliefs with your personality and then you make life choices. I never assumed Islam was sexist even though my dad could be at times (not to bash an otherwise wonderful man). I didn’t think Islam was a conspiracy intent on keeping me down. Islam is just another belief system, and it influences people. It’s not some “other” force intent on turning otherwise feminist men into wife killers or otherwise feminist women into submissive slaves. Some people use Islam to oppress themselves and others, others use it to liberate themselves and others. I fall into the latter category, although some have tried to push me into the former (or better yet, TELL ME I’m in the former when I have the AUDACITY to say that Islam itself is feminist, even if it’s a very different type of feminism from most types of Western feminism).

    These women are people. Just like Western women, some choices they make willingly, others are forced on them by families, societies, whatever. They’re not “other.” Stop trying to separate them from everybody else and give them new rules to single them out. That’s alienating, ignorant, and unfair.

    If you want to hear opinions from Muslim feminists who are generally over the “dress is everything!!11!!” branch of Western thought on Islamic feminism, I’ve got a quick and easy link for you: http://muslimahmediawatch.org/

    P.S.–The French govt has pulled this sort of bull before, and I’m inclined to believe it’s because of an agenda against religion and/or people from countries often associated with Islam. No way is this about helping women. NO WAY.

  151. chava
    chava June 25, 2009 at 10:17 am |

    Word, Nora and Lianne. I wish people would even realize that they might *need* a 101 education on these issues before they shoot their mouths off. I’m flabbergasted as to why we excoriate people for a lack of basic 101 on say, trans or FA, but not this. Gah.

  152. Margarita
    Margarita June 25, 2009 at 11:26 am |

    A bit of perspective: burga is a complete body covering (like a tent), with only a mesh for the eyes (niqab allows for open slits just for the eyes and includes gloves). Burqa is worn almost exclusively in Afghanistan or in the Afghani refugee camps in Pakistan (I’ve not encountered it in any other Muslim country). Because of the mesh, burqa wearers develop serious vision problems (never mind the lack of fresh air). In addition, if you live in a modern country, with cars and regular street traffic, a burqa is a real safety hazard as it limits one’s ability to hear and see well enough and move quickly.

    While it may be politically correct to object to a govt. banning something that should be personal choice, very rarely is burqa a covering of choice (there are other ways to dress modestly – as recommended by Quran – and Sarkozy is not banning niqab, for example). Europe has significant and growing Muslim population, and I would bet that one reason for the ban is fear that people would get used to seeing it, accept it as normal, and let it spread. Burqa is about controlling and suppressing women – before 1979, when Afg. was more stable, at least in the larger towns, burqas were much less frequent and Afghani women wore western clothes (even minis – if you can believe that). Mandatory burqas were revived with the emergence of Taliban – in the mid-90s.

    It is also important to point out that Islam is not evil – at least not anymore than any other religion (to the extent most religions are about power and control). When Quran was written (in the 7th cent.), the norms it codified (and/or recommended) were actually a serious improvement over the existing customs. As a trader, who travelled extensively, Muhammed saw how other cultures lived and wanted to improve the Arab tribes’ lives. The new text also contained improvements for women (non-existent in the west at the time); and it did recommend modest dress for women. (Also, if one lives in a dessert, a head covering makes a lot of sense. In those times, mostly the rich women covered their heads; the poor ones had to work and a head-covering was not always practical.)

    The problem w Islam – at least from the Western perspective – is a lack of separation between the church and state. This is the only thing that saved the West from a fate similar to one of the Islamic community. And the main reason the West achieved the separation is because of a bunch of power-hungry rulers in the middle ages, who resented the Popes having all the power (Henry VIII anyone? – but there were many others) and fought them for it. Being able to develop thoughts and institutions outside of the church’s dogma gave the West a huge advantage. As for women’s rights, the West itself was pretty slow to grant them (8/26/1920 – women’s right to vote in the US).

    There is a sense, however, that Islam – as a concept to guide people’s lives – has not developed to accommodate the changing times. In my view, part of the reason may lie in its history – i.e., after the initial development, its people and territories came under almost perpetual assault (e.g., the Crusades, the Golden Horde, the Turks (who occupied most of today’s Middle East for centuries but did nothing towards the development of those societies), and then the West (e.g., Napoleon in Egypt at the end of the 18th century – never mind the Brits and then the Americans who support oppressive regimes for its own economic gain). Being constantly under threat makes one hardly receptive to change – and Afghanistan is a good example for that.

  153. Nora
    Nora June 25, 2009 at 12:39 pm |

    Margarita – I do not disagree with the premise that many who wear burqas are forced, but how does that justify not allowing women to wear them? Let Muslim feminists take on this battle. If France really cared about helping women, they wouldn’t be disallowing burqas. It’s a forced assimilation and has nothing to do with a Muslim woman’s well-being. To understand why Sarkozy supports this, we need to examine the current political environment in France. Even though it’s a bit dated, I find “The Dignity of Working Men” by Michele Lamont to be a good starting point to understanding the xenophobia in France and the comparison between race relations there and in the United States. There are different goals in different cultures. Muslim feminism isn’t (and doesn’t want) to follow in the footsteps of Western feminism.

  154. Nora
    Nora June 25, 2009 at 12:52 pm |

    Re: last sentence of my comment – I’m not trying to speak for ALL Muslim feminists, but in this thread, I feel like I’m being forced to. Echoing chava’s sentiments: Muslim feminism 101 or Muslim women 101 or accepting your privilege 101? Please…just when I think we’re beginning to make progress in discussing international/post-colonial feminism effectively, people make comments regarding cultures they know nothing that reflect an unacknowledged privilege. I’m just asking that we’re a bit more careful with issues that deal with a culture many here do not belong to. I’m not trying to preach, because I too have issues seeing how my privilege in other ways affects the way I look a topics. Western feminists can critique other cultures as much as they want, but Eastern feminists do not have that same luxury. Just because the women’s movement in the West is concerned with an issue does not mean that is holds the same import to other women.

  155. H.Z.
    H.Z. June 25, 2009 at 1:17 pm |

    It looks/sounds like a whole bunch of non-Muslims think they know a whole lot about Islam.

    I’d like to actually see a Muslim woman discuss this, instead of a bunch of self-righteous non-Muslims.

    I am a Muslim feminist. For reasons that kind of go without saying, I avoid this region of the feminist blogosphere, but I happened to be strolling by today and saw this discussion. Oh my. Where do I begin?

    Well, let me tell you nice folks a bit about myself so we can nip the inevitable false assumptions in the keister right from the start. I’m an American. None of my relatives are Muslims. My husband is a Buddhist. I am a hijabi, and quite obviously not being forced or even pressured by anyone to dress like this. There are exactly two reasons why I do not wear a burka:

    1. I live in a humid climate. There are times of the year that it would be very difficult to breathe with my mouth covered. As for not wearing it during the less humid times of the year…

    2. Islamophobes, much like the ones in this thread, who think it is ok to discriminate against me because I exercise control over who can and cannot view my face and body. Mind you, hijabis face discrimination too, but it seems to get worse depending on exactly how much of your body you attempt to take ownership of. Uh, yeah. Thanks for the “liberation.”

    If I lived in a colder climate that wasn’t full of bigots, I wouldn’t think twice about making the switch from head scarf to burka. To understand why a Muslim woman would want to wear a burka, it helps if you understand the difference between hijab, the veil, and the burka.

    Hijab: for me, this is a head scarf, and a jilbab or abaya worn over “normal” clothes.

    Veil: for me during the brief time I dared to wear it, it was exactly the same as hijab, only with the addition of the veil. It takes an extra thirty seconds to put one on.

    Burka: like jilbab + head scarf + veil, all rolled into one article of clothing. Pull it over your head, and you’re ready to go out the door! And really, the less laundry that needs to be done the better. xD

    The burka can mean very bad things when ignorant Muslim men force women to wear it. For me, the differences between the three aren’t a big deal. The burka is an extra bit of coverage that I’d like to have. I do not feel as though it erases my identity, because I believe there is more to a woman’s identity than her physical appearance.

    Some folks here may wonder why I would even choose hijab. Setting aside the most obvious motivation (I believe Allah wants me to), there are lots of reasons to wear it:

    1. The length and style of my hair is a non-issue.

    2. Windy days are a non-issue.

    3. Sunburn is a non-issue.

    4. Going to the grocery store in my pajamas on a lazy Sunday morning is a non-issue.

    5. Men staring at my boobies is a non-issue. They’re too busy staring at my head scarf.

    6. Lost tourists pestering me for directions to museums and hotels is a non-issue. They assume I can’t speak English, and pester somebody else.

    And there you have it, my friends. ;)

  156. chava
    chava June 25, 2009 at 1:32 pm |

    Margarita—

    So, I don’t think any of us are saying the burqa is a happy force for good. I really don’t grasp your argument though. Because it can cause vision problems and women are sometimes (or even most times) forced to wear it, we should ban all women from wearing it?

    If you’re going with that argument you just as easily can use Western high heels. We often are forced to wear them in professional situations or lose our jobs, they cause severe knee, ankle and back problems, and present us as sexual objects for the pleasure of men. And they are certainly a danger crossing the street.

    Now, fearing losing your job isn’t the same as fearing your family will kill you. But isn’t the solution then vigorously prosecuting those who force women into wearing it as domestic abusers/perpetrators of hate crimes?

    FYI, developing countries have cars and loads of dangerous traffic, honey. The whole “but in modern countries” the burqa is more dangerous line? Errrrrm….

  157. chava
    chava June 25, 2009 at 1:36 pm |

    OK, that last bit may have come off too snippy. Margarita said:

    “In addition, if you live in a modern country, with cars and regular street traffic, a burqa is a real safety hazard as it limits one’s ability to hear and see well enough and move quickly.”

    Presumably as opposed to rural Pakistan or Afganistan. I still feel that the phrasing is very odd–if you have been (as it sounds like you have) to “not modern” (why the word “modern”?) countries, you KNOW they have insane traffic if you are in an urban center.
    I once saw an 11 year old run over by a BMW–on the same street a donkey cart was traveling.

  158. kwolfe
    kwolfe June 25, 2009 at 10:08 pm |

    It’s an interesting balance that France has being a staunchly secular society. I can see where the efforts to remove the burqas in public is a move to remove the highly visible garb with strong religious overtones from the public sector, but it does nothing to encourage the religious freedoms within the country itself.

    The desire for women to express themselves however they wish could be used as an argument for this ruling. But consider if the woman actually DOES wish to wear the burqa, if it is her decision and is not expressly required by her husband or other men in the family. Who are we to say that women who dress conservatively in other ways are not told to do so by their husbands? By removing the burqa from public dress, it doesn’t actually solve the perceived problem.

    As it was said in the post, the women with out burqas will just not be in public as much as before, will not have the freedoms to be active in society, and will become even more of prisoners in their homes and communities than the government is perceiving them to be by just wearing the religious attire.

  159. William
    William June 26, 2009 at 12:32 am |

    As it was said in the post, the women with out burqas will just not be in public as much as before, will not have the freedoms to be active in society, and will become even more of prisoners in their homes and communities than the government is perceiving them to be by just wearing the religious attire.

    Well yeah, but if white people can’t see the problem then who the fuck cares.

    THAT is the core of this discussion. Everything else is just set dressing.

  160. Republique
    Republique June 27, 2009 at 5:44 am |

    A Lot of nonsense spouted here.
    I dont think you are very aware of the reality on the ground. I suggest you all go to the muslim womens feministy movement Ni Pute Ni soumise. You can wiki that.
    They are one of the key groups supporting this as are many other feminist movements.

    What people wear is already controlled in France and elsewhere. Try walking around naked in public if you are unaware of this.

    Also be aware you are supporting a radical chauvinistic interpretation of a religion.

    Wearing a Burka is not a “choice” or a “freedom”when you are pressured and indoctrinated into wearing it from the age of puberty.
    It also excludes the wearer from interacting normlly in society and excludes others from doing so with the wearer. It is a public advertisement of ridiculouis loathsome and biologically inaccurate view that women are only an object of sexual,desire, that men cannot control themselves and that withdrawing from society is the only option.

    You may not agree, but the overwhelming majority of people in France expect the state to have a say in society and to ensure its stays secular. In other words as little religous influence as possible.

    Freedom of expression is not some ABSOLUTE which we must all obey to. In fact NO country anywhere considers it as such.

    Freedom of expression is always balanced with other rights and obligations such as Equality or Solidarity with others or state security.
    In this case the supposed “Freedom” to wear a burka is less important then the Freedom to not wear one and less important then Equality of women. A Burka IS a symbol of submission of women and as such advertises the denial of the basic rights of all people to Equality.

    I would have thought a feminists would be more concerned about lapidation and other crimes in uncivilised countries.

  161. Republique
    Republique June 27, 2009 at 5:54 am |

    Margarita said
    ” – I do not disagree with the premise that many who wear burqas are forced, but how does that justify not allowing women to wear them?”

    Because the State has an obligation to create a society that is as equal as possible.
    The state cannot take a “laissez faire” attitude to this. And shame on you for even suggesting this.

    If a person is drowning in a pool near you – your freedom of action and expression no longer exist. You must help immediately. You are legally obliged. Promoting swimming lessons is not a valid alternative.

  162. Marcy Webb
    Marcy Webb June 27, 2009 at 7:43 am |

    Co-signing with H.Z. She bottled the answer in as far as I am concerned.

  163. Mel
    Mel June 27, 2009 at 2:43 pm |

    I haven’t been able to read all of the comments, so forgive me if I duplicate. I think people in a variety of web discussions concerning this are ignoring the role of anti-religious sentiment in these decisions. In France, it is also illegal for a child to wear a yarmulke, headscarf or other visible religious symbol in a public school, which means that many Jewish and Muslim children have been pulled out of public school. Some have migrated with their families. (Oddly, a small cross is okay.) Apparently forced conformity is the accepted French way of dealing with the difficulties that surround human diversity.

    Secondly, many Muslim women choose to cover despite the objections of their family and spouses. A friend at work chose to begin wearing hijab years after getting married and her husband (from traditionally conservative Pakistan) simply conceded to her wishes. Members of her family objected as they’ve never worn the various head coverings. But ultimately, it was her CHOICE. Denying choice based on someone else’s discomfort is an offense to human rights.

    Third, for those who compare the Muslim and Western viewpoints, I’ll remind you of a few facts. Within living memory, women were considered property under U.S. law in some respects. (See Lord and Master laws) Until the 90′s, women could not charge their husbands with rape, because their bodies became property at the moment of marriage. Even today, rape cases are replete with public discussions of a woman’s previous sexual history, mode of dress, “putting herself in a dangerous situation,” etc. How many rape victims are told they “asked for it” by not being pure enough or modest enough or because they dared to be in a situation not deemed fit for women (like being alone with a man or out at night). The attitude that the revelation of a woman’s body (even partly) would lead a man to unspeakable acts beyond his ability to control is NOT purely a Western one.

  164. Mel
    Mel June 27, 2009 at 2:44 pm |

    Sorry, that should have read “NOT purely a Muslim one.”

  165. Sarkozy to the Rescue! France, Burqas, and the Question of “Choice” « Muslimah Media Watch

    [...] post re-hashing why this latest incarnation of the clothing-ban debate is problematic.  Jill at Feministe and Wendi at Racialicious have also looked at this particular issue in detail (although some of the [...]

  166. Stefan Powys
    Stefan Powys June 30, 2009 at 8:22 am |

    When it comes to religious requirements especially, we know that outlawing certain garments in public doesn’t make women shed the offending item of clothing; it just makes women refrain from public interactions.

    I’m not sure that’s a good argument. A hypothetical analogy: outlawing beating your wife in public might lead men do it more in private. Does that mean it’s a mistake to outlaw public wife-beating?

    Surely the principal is to legislate against things considered wrong (e.g. female subordination). The symbols of that wrong (i.e. headcoverings) inevitably become a part of the scope of that legislation.

  167. Virginia Haussegger – taking feminism backwards since 1964 « Chasing My Own Tail

    [...] oppression that may or may not be a factor in wearing it. It just pushes it further underground, as this post at Feministe has perfectly illustrated. In that respect, the French choosing to ban it outright is just [...]

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