One day at my high school a group of boys came to school wearing skirts, tight sweaters and excessive makeup. They were following through on a creative assignment from their English class, inspired by the novel Black Like Me: live a day in the life of someone unlike yourself, and experience the world from their perspective. Not a bad assignment, though it played out rather comically, and without much genuine effort (Although I did hear one boy remark on how uncomfortable the bra he had borrowed from his sister was).
As a Christian Arab-American, I have often wondered how my life is different from my Muslim brothers and sisters. In our post 9-11 world, my sensitivity to ethnic profiling and sweeping generalizations has heightened significantly. I sometimes imagine going “under (head)cover” for a day to see if I’d notice a change in others behavior/attitude toward me. I am especially curious in light of the recent legislative actions taken by the French government.
Why is the #the burqa ban# being proposed by the French government, and what would it actually achieve?
Fans urge that the measure will promote women’s equality and help maintain French values and secularism. Unfortunately (even as a genuine aim) I observe the ban as yet another expression of legislating citizens’ Islamophobic and xenophobic concerns as Europe adapts to an ever-diversifying immigrant community (#banning minarets# anyone?)
So among the issues this controversy brings to the fore, a major point of contention for me stems from the issue of personal choice. We can’t determine whether the estimated 1,900 veiled women in France are being coerced to don the burqa or niqab, or whether their actions come from personal belief/religious motive/cultural choice. If the choice is being made based on religious or cultural conviction/ identification (like this young #American girl# ) then the ideal of secularism is stripping individual liberty in the process.
Furthermore, regardless of their reason for covering, the ban will effectively disenfranchise and further alienate these women. If it is the case that their husbands are requiring them to cover, legislating a removal of the burqa won’t liberate the woman, but further enslave her (her husband/family member potentially refusing to allow her to leave home since she cannot be covered). I suppose that is my biggest fear and concern about the ban: it will not liberalize the attitudes of this minority, but further ostracize them.
“There needs to be substantive change in Muslim men’s attitudes towards Muslim women rather than superficial change mandated by a government that seeks to erase those parts of immigrant populations they find distasteful. ” #tasha fierce#
Martha Nussbaum presents a much more thorough argument than mine here.
The NY Times has a comprehensive topic page on Muslim veiling here .