The arguments has its logic, or so I’m told. France is fiercely proud, and protective, of its “secular” republic and so anyone wanting to live in French society needs to embrace its values, values chief among which are the dignity and freedom of women.
Against this backdrop, the Burka is regarded as a backward symbol of religious oppression, harking-back to Taliban-esque values that have no place in modern 21st century European society. It is claimed that many Muslim women are forced to wear their headscarves by over-bearing dominant husbands and so echoes of chauvinistic oppression of women sound across the land.
Vive la France!, but I am afraid I do not share this point of view. For a society that teaches tolerance, this is sounding pretty intolerant to me. I think that France has got it wrong, terribly wrong, when it has embarked down the road of banning the Muslim veil. The sad part is that this is not a French issue, no, not anymore. Spain is now following suit, it seems, with the banning of the Burqua in public buildings in Lleida.
Call me naive, but I grew up here in Gibraltar, surrounded by Muslim ladies, including some that are my friends’ wives or mothers, wearing their veils as devout Muslims, and, shock, horror, no they weren’t sporting a Kalashnikov underneath their vestments. It may appear quaint, but I sort-of enjoyed having a three minute conversation with some of them all the time appearing courteous but wondering inside whether I actually was talking to Latifa from the block or Aisha that worked with my Mother. This is part of the culture here where Muslims are NOT demonized, and where we have grown up together with a fully integrated Moroccan community, a community to whom we the wider Gibraltarian community owes a debt, and for whom we should now reciprocate by removing any hindrances to their full enfranchisement as British Citizens in our community…. but that is altogether another story for another day.
The dignity of women is not on the line, freedom of expression is.
OK back to the ban. The argument being flouted about is that the Muslim veil is an affront to the dignity of women. Firstly, I find it interesting how some see the veil as “undignified” but see vomit-covered, scantily-clad, beer-guzzling, swearing ladettes passed-out on the pavement on a Friday night as modern day liberated women. I guess dignity is relative. I guess dignity is subjective. I guess dignity is a matter of opinion.
Some have said that many Muslim ladies are forced or coerced into wearing this garb. Firstly, they fail to provide the evidence for this statement. Secondly, and more importantly, society’s reaction to this must be to preserve freedom of expression in the way we all dress, whether for religious reasons or other, whilst providing a safety-net for those caught in a relationship of coercion or restricted liberties. It cannot be healthy to respond to an alleged coercion by some, by removing a freedom for all. It is a gross -overreaction, just as it would be to erect a scafolding around a whole building to repair a leaking pipe.
Those proponents of a secular society, such as the French, are quick to point out that this debate has implications of separation of church and state. They point towards demographical trends and see that a particular ethnic group may get to have too much influence over a future society and thus may erode this secular doctrine. This is nothing but hypothetical conjecture. However I would like to add that the doctrine of separeation of church and state is, in essence, a two-way street, meant as much to keep undue religious influence and nepotism from the organs of state, as it is meant to keep the political reach of the state from the freedom to worship according to one’s own convictions.
I speak as a Christian.
As a Christian I must speak out for the protection of our freedom of worship, and our freedom of expression, above all other considerations – The only limitations being when my freedom encroaches on another’s freedom. My Muslim friends should be able to wear whatever they want as an expression of their faith, otherwise, and I speak as a Christian, how long will it be until the Christian Cross, or the Jewish Kippah, are also seen as an afront to a secular society?