Why the burqa ban makes no sense

Faiza S Khan July 09, 2010

As France convenes to vote on the burqa ban this week, one can only congratulate the country on having rid itself of all its other problems — for example, crime, unemployment, the impact of the global recession on the French economy — because surely only a nation freed from all other societal ailments would find a woman’s headgear a vital enough issue for legislative concern.

Let us for one moment attempt to suspend our disbelief for long enough to consider that Nicolas Sarkozy’s fixation with the burqa ban isn’t in fact a desperate attempt on his part to cash in on nationalistic Islamophobia. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, it is after all possible that Sarkozy’s desire to liberate Muslim women from their veils is not, in fact, a cheap gimmick to grant him a quick shot of popularity amongst an electorate who, judging by recent opinion polls, are all out to get shorty. If the French president honestly believes he’s doing his bit for women’s lib, then one can only express one’s sympathy at how he’s managed to miss the wood for the trees and how the end result of his actions will do French women, Muslim or otherwise, a great and lasting disservice. For the assumption that the burqa is attire that automatically degrades women is as ludicrous as a certain strain of Pakistani belief, which imagines that a black cloth tent somehow confers honour, dignity and respectability upon women.

Both are dead wrong and, as is the case with fascists, even those who stand on entirely different ends of the same issue, Sarkozy has far more in common with our morality police than he’d care to admit. Neither of them can quite come to terms with the fact that a woman is more complex than mere physical appearance, greater than the sum of her parts. Plus, it’s a bit rich for the French to announce that covering your head or your face demeans you while flashing your privates to promote a new movie, a new brand of car or opting for a career as, say, a television personality on the basis of your cleavage somehow exalts you. There’s no winning this, so why not attempt to move the debate away from women’s bodies altogether.

Liberating women would surely mean increasing their opportunities for economic freedom, for social clout, and further stigmatising an already stigmatised segment of society is unlikely to achieve that. One must at some point feel bad for the naivety of the French who appear to really believe that women will fling off their burqas, and opt for miniskirts and show a sudden interest in Anais Nin. Chances are these same women will now find themselves more rigorously pressured to stay in their homes without the option of being able to cover up. The Muslim population will feel itself at an even greater distance between itself and the French population at large and this is unlikely to lead to happier and smoother integration.

It’s worth remembering that the last Shah of Iran tried his hand at forcible westernisation as well, having his agents tear off women’s veils to prove that Iran was a progressive, modern country, paying more heed to this than matters like education, literacy and the poor’s access to medical treatment. The Shah’s short-sightedness paved the way for Khomenei’s revolution. Too large a percentage of France’s Muslims are ghettoised, unemployed, poor, insufficiently educated, subject to violence and prejudice, and already angry with the system. Let’s see what horrors Sarkozy unleashes.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2010.


Sidrah Moiz Khan | 13 years ago | Reply I just LOVED your perspective. Specially how you started off your article. I have no words that can deservingly appreciate you for this!
Ahmad | 14 years ago | Reply Of note is the point that contrary to what you say about a country only involving itself with women's dress after it's rid itself of other ills like crime, social issues etc - Pakistan is a great example to prove that point wrong. Sometimes nations with all the trouble in the world find time to legislate on women's dress, sectarian matters, even debating and deciding who is a Muslim and who is not. Pakistan featured on the top 10 failed states in the world by Foriegn Policy this past week, but let's not forget our worries on how to get rid of more Ahmadis, how to supress women with legislative tools like the Hisba Bill, and how to come up with even more fatwas to cause strife in society are never-ending. People often congratulate writers for saying good things about Pakistan when so much is going wrong, and a congratulatory voice is welcomed. I find this to be the worst kind of self denail. Pakistanis need to learn to call a spade a spade and only then can we move forward to fix everything we've done wrong. Apologies for a completely irrelevant point given the content of your article, but i had to point out the conflict in your opening paragraph.
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