The president of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said something that no French President has ever said before and no American President would dare say. He has denounced the wearing of the burqa as incompatible with human rights.
According to Reuters: “‘The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue, it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,’ Sarkozy said.
“‘The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory.'”
President Sarkozy spoke in support of French law makers who are expressing concern that more and more Muslim women in France are wearing the burqa, which covers the body from head to toe. Lawmakers in France are divided whether an outright ban of the burqa should be passed or whether some other measure to discourage its wearing should be passed.
A burqa is an extreme form of dressing modestly, as the Koran admonishes women to do, that covers the wearer from head to toe, literally concealing the woman’s identity. Women wearing a burqa have difficulty seeing what is around them, as there is only a cloth grill for the eyes to look out.
Opinions are divided on this form of dress. Those who champion religious freedom maintain that wearing a burqa is a woman’s way of expressing religious faith in Islam and, in countries which honor religious freedom, the burqa should not be banned. It would be unthinkable for any American government, for example, to ban wearing any religiously based clothing, except for matters of safety or for uniform conduct in the military.
On the other hand, people like President Sarkozy point out that wearing a burqa is an extreme form of dressing modestly, that very often Muslim women are forced to wear a burqa by their husbands or fathers. Therefore no free, religious choice is being exercised by anyone wearing a burqa. Also wearing a burqa is not exactly French. France is not as tolerant of other cultures besides its own.
Of course the question arises where does it end? France sought to prohibit the wearing of Islamic head scarves in state run schools and was obliged, in the end, to ban all religiously based clothing, including Jewish yarmulkes and Christian crucifixes.
France is the home of Europe’s largest Muslim minority. Unlike in the United States, which encourages diversity and full participation in public life by all, Muslims living in France have been discriminated and alienated by a culture they find alien. A ban of the burqa might be seen as another attack on Islamic culture by France.
Source: Sarkozy says burqas have no place in France, Estelle Shirbon, Reuters, June 22nd, 2009