Numerous criticisms have emerged on the issue of France’s decision to ban the full-face veil, particularly focused on how this move is targeting Muslims. “Why don’t they ban the head-dress worn by nuns too?” — a question asked repeatedly by Muslims insulted by the French parliament's new legislation.
The crucial point appears to have been misunderstood. Nuns do not cover their faces, only their heads. And in France, while the full-face veil is being banned, it is not forbidden for a woman to cover her head, regardless of whether she is Muslim, Christian or atheist. Indeed the banning of headscarves has been implemented in primary and secondary schools in France, but this is part of the wider law that bans the wearing of all types of conspicuous religious symbols, and not just those associated with Islam. This, then, indicates France’s enjoyment of its secularist status — something that it has a right to do.
The purpose of the ban on the full-face veil is not a personal attack on Muslims. It is in adherence to France’s values as a secularist state. It is a condemnation of the act of concealing one’s entire face so that the person cannot be visibly recognised, which conflicts with France’s values and perceptions on public social order. In addition, it is both a security threat and socially isolating. There is evidence aplenty to vouch for this. You would not wish for people to be free to walk into public areas, banks and shops wearing masks over their faces, because it is threatening to the public. Wearing a full-face veil presents the same issue.
Unfortunately, many Muslims have taken it to heart that the French government has a personal vendetta against them. Each government will attempt to preserve and protect its own ways, depending on the government’s political standpoint, and the social and cultural values of the state. Whatever is perceived to be adequate within that culture will be implemented, provided that the legislation is justified rationally and agreed democratically.
In most societies, people have the liberty of dressing as they choose only so far as it does not offend or pose a threat to society, irrespective of their religion. A woman cannot walk down a street in Saudi Arabia wearing a bikini. In the same way, a woman will not be able to walk down a street in France wearing a full-face veil. The social and cultural values of a society need to be respected and adhered to. France is not a Muslim country, and it has no obligation to change its own social and cultural values to cater for Islam's apparent needs. It is a secular state.
Even Syria, a predominantly Muslim state, has banned the full-face veil in universities. So is this Muslims targeting Muslims?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2010.
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