Wednesday, 14 July 2010

France's ban on veils gets voted through to next stage

From World News Australia, fedora tipped in the direction of Boganette via Twitter:
French ministers have voted overwhelmingly to ban the wearing of face-covering veils in public spaces, as Europe toughens its approach to integrating Muslim immigrant communities.

...the 577-seat National Assembly lower house voted by 335 votes to one for a total ban.

The bill will now go to the Senate in September, but opponents of the total ban say if it was overturned by the judges of the Constitutional Council, France's highest legal body, it would hand a victory to the fundamentalists.

For while President Nicolas Sarkozy's determination to ban the niqab and the burqa won enough political support to carry it, the critics argue that it breaches French and European human rights legislation.

The bill defines public space very broadly, including not just government buildings and public transport, but all streets, markets and thoroughfares, private businesses and entertainment venues.

...Last week, Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told lawmakers debating the bill that its adoption would assert French values and help to better integrate Muslim communities into the national way of life.

She said being forced to wear the niqab or the burqa "amounts to being cut off from society and rejecting the very spirit of the French republic that is founded on a desire to live together."

"At a time where our societies are becoming more global and complex, the French people are pondering the future of their nation. Our responsibility is to show vigilance and reaffirm our commonly-shared values," she said.

Critics say the law exploits a non-problem -- only about 1,900 women among France's five to six million Muslims wear a veil -- in a bid to pander to anti-immigration voters and to distract attention from France's economic woes...
Click through for the whole thing, including a video segment which I haven't watched.

Personally I don't see how controlling the way women dress, even if it is apparently intended to liberate them, is a Good Thing. And I saw a comment somewhere (I think on Boganette's twitter feed but not from her?) pointing out that stopping women from covering their faces in public is going to further restrict those affected, by requiring them to stay out of public spaces. Which will in turn severely undermine their ability to participate in society. To give just one example, how will they get to a polling booth to vote?


katy said...

It is really hard to talk about this issue in general terms because the local context is so relevant, and this varies a lot and I am not really sure what I think about this particular example in France. I guess it is none of my business... My views on this shift but I have come to accept (maybe) that these kinds of laws might work in communities where there is a lot of family/community pressure to dress in certain ways to the extent that it isn't a choice for the individuals involved. By pressure I don't mean the force of fashion or whatever but if there is the threat of violence if someone doesn't comply.

stargazer said...

nope, katy. the pressure will then be put on to women to not leave the house at all. if you want to deal with abuse, target the abuser. just like if you want to deal with rape, target the rapist. trying to change the victim's behaviour will never, i repeat, never solve the problem.

Boganette said...

Great to see a post on this. I'm fucking fuming over it. Nicolas Sarkozy is a fuckwit. I can't believe in this day and age laws are passed that say what women can and cannot wear. It's fucking disgusting. The repercussions of this are going to be horrific.

katy said...

I do accept the arguments raised here against this law, just taking the chance to think through it a bit more.

I think that the rape analogy is not quite right; from what I understand proponents of the law (and as I said, I am not one of these though I am trying to understand where it has come from) would see it as more like legislating against religiously-motivated male or female circumcision. Defining the "abuse" in order to take the necessary next steps.

From what I understand this French law is an extension of previous laws based on the consitutional principle of lacite (secularity) so the broader context is different from how it would be in NZ, for example, which hasn't had the same historical experience of religious conflict and so hasn't thought so much about where the line between private and public should be.

stargazer said...

from what I understand proponents of the law would see it as more like legislating against religiously-motivated male or female circumcision.

sorry, i don't get the connection with circumcision at all. and i mention the comparison to abuse, because your final sentence mentioned the "threat of violence". if they are wearing it because of a threat of physical or emotional violence, then i think the analogy to rape or domestic violence is perfectly appropriate for that situation. community pressure is also a kind of abuse, and banning the burqa is not going to solve it.

also, the "community pressure" arguments ignore the women who haven't had any pressure, who have come to the decision from their own reading, discussion and thinking etc. this includes women who have converted, women who are the only one in their families who wear the burqa, women who are under pressure from their community to remove the burqa when they really believe in it. yes, i've know of cases of the latter as well - what law would be appropriate to remove that kind of pressure? or doesn't it matter, as long as the answer comes to what WE want or think is best for them?

Anonymous said...

The debates in France (and Australia) about banning veils etc say a lot about the whole issue. It's about white men "protecting" Muslim women from Muslim men and from themselves. And it's a load of shit. It's fucking patronising bullshit and it has nothing to do with building a secular society (something as an Atheist I would support) and has everything to do with telling women what is right for them. And it's also just plain old hate for Muslims.

I mean don't get me wrong - I think the world would be a better place without religion, but that's ALL religion not just Islam. If they were really just sooo worried *rolls eyes* about women being oppressed by religion why haven't they tried to stop the Quiverfull movement, forced marriage/polygamy or Hell even campaign against the Catholic church for their abuses of women (both the sexual harassment/assault of nuns and the the sexual abuse of children)? They won't do that. Muslim women are an easy target. EVERY religion exploits and oppresses women. EVERY SINGLE ONE. The reason why Islam is targeted here, in the States, in France, in Aussie etc is pure geography.

My favourite argument of the whole debate is: "But we can't talk to women if they're wearing a burqa" as if any of those fuckwits have ever tried to engage with a Muslim women.

People need to be honest about what this is about. Women in burqas make some Western men (and sure some women) uncomfortable. They don't like it and see these women as second class citizens so they legislate against them. It's a violation.

Anonymous said...

If they were really just sooo worried *rolls eyes* about women being oppressed by religion why haven't they tried to stop the Quiverfull movement, forced marriage/polygamy or Hell even campaign against the Catholic church for their abuses of women (both the sexual harassment/assault of nuns and the the sexual abuse of children)?

Well let's see. The Quiverful movement is restricted to the USA, so there's no need to outlaw it in France. Forced marriage and polygamy are already illegal there (and the latter is not practiced by any major religion other than Muslims, so this doesn't seem to be an example of what you're saying about not targetting Muslims) and as for campaigning against the Catholic Church, in France it's illegal to display crucifixes in schools. So I think they are actually doing everything you suggest.

Anonymous said...

"The Quiverfull movement is restricted to the USA" - no it's not. At all. We have a Quiverfull community in New Zealand and Australia and the movement stretches all over the world. It's probably strongest in the States but it's definitely in France too. Just as it's only a tiny percentage of people who wear burqas in France it's a tiny percentage of people in the Quiverfull movement. Forced marriage & polygamy is far more common in Christian and fundamentalist religions based on Christianity than it is in Islam. And there's a difference between something being illegal and ignored and an enforced ban.

What does a ban on crucifixes in some schools have to do with priests sexually abusing children or Nuns and female sisters being assaulted and raped? Oh nothing.

Anonymous said...

There are 5 million Muslims in France. Half of them are women. 'Tiny percentage'?

The outlawing of crucifixes and nun's habits is a parallel to the outlawing of burqa and shows how seriously the French government takes Catholic child abuse. They've also arrested several French priests for this abuse. Seems they are treating Catholics and Muslims similarly - in fact the burqa laws are partly existing as a way to prevent Muslims from being given preferential status over Catholics, since before now Catholic headdress was outlawed but Islamic wasn't.

stargazer said...

anon at 6.50, can you please provide proof of the assertion that nun's clothing has been banned and that any nun has been prosecuted in any way? i can't even find any evidence of the fact that habit's were banned prior to the burqa, so would be interested in your source. thanx.

Anonymous said...

"There are 5 million Muslims in France. Half of them are women. 'Tiny percentage'?"

See to you it's as simple as 'a woman is Muslim therefore she wears a burqa'. This is exactly what I'm talking about. People who know nothing about Muslim women supporting laws put there by people in power who know nothing about Muslim women.


The fact is habits have not been banned. Neither have head scarfs on Christian women. A crucifix is NOT the same as a burqa. But then you know nothing of the reasons why Muslim women wear burqas. That doesn't seem to matter at all in this discussion.

Telling women they can't wear a burqa is the same as telling Christian women they're not allowed to wear long dresses that reach their ankles and wrists. But there would never be legislation against that because they're Christian. Christian = Good and Muslim = Bad.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to imply all Muslim women wear burqa. I was simply trying to draw attention to the scale of it.

And I have to disagree - it's been illegal to wear Catholic religious costumes in public in France outside of certain public festivals since 1904 and in some areas since the Revolution.

You accuse me of knowing nothing about Islam and while I certainly could stand to know more about the issue (although it seems the issue of why Muslim women wear the burqa is irrelevant) I think you don't know that much about France either.

stargazer said...

that's twice you've made the claim that nun's habits (or "catholic religious costumes") have been restricted. again, please provide a source to back up your claim if you want to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

"although it seems the issue of why Muslim women wear the burqa is irrelevant" - It's entirely relevant since Muslim women are the only women being targetted. No other women from other religions are being targeted.

katy said...

The law which is being discussed here is an extension of the law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools which also applied to (and was sometimes enforced) kippah, crosses worn around the neck etc. The basis of the law are the old anti-Catholic laws and the concerns expressed reminiscent of those about "veiled" Catholic nuns. Not sure though how French nuns dress when in public institutions.

"Indeed, the debate has a long history in France and is not merely a product of the right, though Sarkozy's opponents denounce it as a nakedly political attempt to attract anti-immigrant support. A powerful, and sometimes irrational, fear of religious influence -- once Catholic, now Muslim -- has long been a part of French society, through the anti-clerical campaigns of the 19th century and the anti-Jesuit paranoia of the Dreyfus affair. It's impossible to understand the burqa debate without understanding the nature of the polemics that shaped it.

Anti-clerical sentiment became a major force in French political life in the 18th century, when philosophers attacked the Catholic Church as an enemy of the Enlightenment and a supporter of the oppressive monarchical government. Many of the early debates centered around women's bodies and freedoms, with religion depicted as attacking society's weakest and most vulnerable members. In La Religieuse (The Nun), Denis Diderot's 1796 novel, a young innocent, Suzanne, is unscrupulously pressed into taking the veil and then subjected to the sexual advances and moral perfidy of her superiors. In the work, the veil is a symbol of imprisonment, darkness, and unbridled, corrupt power. As historian Caroline Ford has shown, "forced claustration" became a legal cause célèbre in the 19th century, as lawyers denounced the loss of women's "civil personality" when they entered convents.

katy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
katy said...

"Anti-clerical campaigners condemned nuns' habits in much the same way that today's commentators rail against the full veil as the ultimate symbol of sexual and political oppression. The 19th century in France saw a massive growth in the numbers of women entering orders, and a corresponding increase in the number of wimples that distinguished their distinctive vocations. Nuns' habits were denounced as outward proof of the church's ability to enforce an unnatural spiritual and physical discipline on victimized women. Even today the occasional commentator acknowledges that the Carmelites and Clarisses Sisters, both contemplative orders, impose a strict confinement on their nuns and require a costume little different from the burqa.

...The fears of today are built on those of the past, the Catholic enemy now superseded by the Islamic menace. This is not to suggest that religious institutions are faultless: The recent revelations about child abuse within the Catholic Church show that secrecy and complicity can indeed encourage the worst kinds of exploitation. And during the Dreyfus Affair, one of the main sources of anti-Semitic invective was La Croix, a newspaper run by the Assumptionist order, which for years ran stories of Jewish financial dishonesty, treachery, and ritual murder.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Katy, that is basically what I was trying to say. It is definitely not a case of 'Christian = Good, Muslim = Bad'.

And as for it not being important why women wear the burqa, if the issue is rights, it doesn't matter why people choose to exercise their right, because that's what it means to have a right.

stargazer said...


katy said...

Good link!