The very day French parliamentarians endorsed their president’s controversial burqa ban, their foreign minister urged Pakistan to do more to help the war in Afghanistan. Bernard Kouchner claimed that Pakistan was giving shelter to Taliban leaders. “Everyone knows that Mullah Omar is in Quetta,” he remarked sagaciously, “if he’s not in Karachi.” Actually, monsieur, the Mullah has since been in Lahore owing to an appointment with a renowned hairstylist/beard-trimmer/image consultant and is soon boarding a plane to Paris to receive a lifetime achievement award from the International Cave-dwellers Association!
Seriously, one expects better intelligence – in both senses of the word! – from top-ranking officials of a country like France. Then again, their government seems to be floundering of late and statements like these are symptomatic of a larger rot afflicting the current administration. With his ratings dwindling, Sarkozy is scrambling toward the right in a tawdry attempt to capitalise on the prevailing mood in the western world. Bash the immigrants, ratchet up nationalism, go tough on Muslims: Voilà! You’ve bagged the next elections.
While a Francophilic apologist (Zara Barlas, ‘Do as the French do’ – September 18) has defended the burqa ban robustly in these pages, the action does fly in the face of religious freedom and cultural pluralism. Let’s face it, this isn’t about security or isolationism or secular finery. Announcing her parliament’s approval of the ban, the French justice minister dismissed those arguments herself. She said it was about social order and republican values. Well excusez-moi, but why are those suddenly under threat now? Whether driven by his current wife (the former brazen supermodel) or plain carpetbaggery, he has bared his regime’s near-fascistic tendencies.
For those who say you can’t wear bikinis in Saudi Arabia, here’s something: the Kingdom never claimed to be a secular state; it never harped on about egalité, liberté and fraternité. I concur with the Francophilic writer on one thing: socio-cultural values of a society need to be respected and France has no obligation to change its values to cater for Islam’s needs. But what about catering to its own values, the ones that prevailed for decades before Sarkozy and 9/11 warped them? Why draw comparisons with Saudi Arabia; why not with the UK, US or Canada, where the veil remains legal? The analogy reminds me of what ultra-Republican Newt Gingrinch recently said: “You can’t have a mosque near Ground Zero as long as there are no synagogues in Saudi Arabia!”
Sarkozy’s opportunism and rightist fixation have manifested in other ways as well. His recent eviction of the Roma – gypsies who happen to be EU citizens – and his rabid, jingoistic defence of it at a recent EU summit are cases in point. He also opposed opening up Europe's doors to Pakistani trade supposedly to protect textile workers in France’s Limoges region. Then there’s his threat of rescinding citizenships of immigrants (read: Muslims of North African ancestry) who may be involved in crime. These are all indicative of the direction in which his government is going: down the drain. It wasn’t the veil that led to violent riots in Paris a couple of years ago, it was joblessness and poverty along ethnic lines. For a people who gave us the proverbial Fries and the Kiss and, uh, the Letter, the French lately find themselves in quite a fix.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2010.
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