Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
When I was at university, the one person I would have difficulty saying ‘hi’ to on campus was a junior who kept her face hidden by a thick black veil. As is the case with cursory greetings in the passing, so much is gauged with facial expressions that I could never make out her response. Then, in my last year, a close friend made the decision to start wearing the niqab and subsequently almost completely dropped off the social radar. I felt her decision was extreme and unnecessary and I felt a lot of hostility towards the piece of clothing.
So you can understand that I’m all for banning the niqab – just as long as you don’t invoke republican principles to justify it.
“This is not about security or religion, but respecting our republican principles,” says Justice Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie.
But the burqa ban – passed in the French parliament on Tuesday – flouts the foremost republican principle: respect for individual liberty. The best that the French lawmakers have come up with is that the niqab restricts the full participation of women in society – and my experience with niqab wearing friends confirms that. But then shouldn’t the state take action against recluses of all description?
When the country in which the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen were written begins to disguise the ban as an act of liberalism, that’s when I begin to have problems. This ban is nothing more than a fascist in a liberal’s clothing. And while France, like a fretful nanny state goes ahead with the ban, it should remember that this law changes not just the kind of garments women wear but the way in which people will view liberal and secular philosophy.
At the heart of any liberal philosophy is pluralism – the ability of different belief systems to coexist without one threatening or assimilating the other. The burqa ban negates this concept and by equating liberalism with the way one dresses rather than with a tolerant, accepting, inquisitive frame of mind, it does liberalism and the republican character a great disservice.