The ban has the backing of President Sarkozy, who said last year:
"The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it's a problem of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That's not our idea of freedom."As things stand, we're planning a proper consideration of this subject in the next issue of New Humanist, in which we'll look at both sides of the argument. As with the bans under consideration in other European countries, such as Belgium and Spain, it will be interesting to see how the French ban, if passed, stands up to legal challenges, particularly in European courts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the French police union has already expressed concern over how officers will be expected to enforce a ban.
As a prelude to covering this in the next issue, I'd be interested to know what readers make of bans on the full veil. Is it right that liberal, Western democracies should draw certain cultural lines of this nature, in order to protect the rights of women? Or does a ban violate the rights of women in relation to a key Western secular value – the right to express their religion as they see fit, so long as it does no harm to others? In Sarkozy's view, the veil does not represent an expression of religious freedom, but rather the oppression of its wearer by a men. What do you make of that interpretation?
A great deal has been written about this online this week. Here are some links to dip into:
- From Salon, Mona Eltahawy, an Egypytian Muslim, liberal and feminist, argues in favour of bans.
- On Index on Censorship, Myriam Francois-Cerrah argues that a ban will not protect women
- For the New York Times, philosopher Martha Nussbaum suggests the arguments for a ban do not stand up to scrutiny.
Update: I also should have linked to this 2008 New Humanist piece by Joan W Scott, in which she considered the political reasons for France's ban on head scarves in schools.