Well this ain't right.
Apparently, sometime this month France's government will vote on a proposal to outlaw burkas, full-body coverings with a mesh eyescreen, and niqabs, full-body veil with eye slits. Jean-Francois Copé, parliamentary leader of the majority UMP, said that the law would fine anyone whose face is "fully covered in public," 750 euro.
That's $1,075 at current exchange. Not exactly chump change.
Anyone who forces a woman to wear either a burka or a niqab would subject to an even heftier penalty.
Copé insisted that the law is rooted in public safety and gender equality concerns, and bears no mark on religious expression. He says, "We spoke to religious and secular figures who all confirmed [the burka] was not a religious prescription. Wearing the full body veil is about extremists who want to test the republic."
This is not the first time the French have expressed distaste for the conservative garments; last year French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the burka was, "a sign of subservience and debasement that imprison women…[which is] not welcome on French soil." He has not revealed how he will vote on the proposal.
It seems many French feel very strongly this way; French urban affairs minister, Fadal Amara, who is also a women's rights activist and Muslim, recently called the burka a "walking coffin." French justice minister, Michelle Alliot-Marie, spoke out against the garb, saying Muslim men whose wives wear burkas were not welcome in the country.
Those are some pretty strong words from some pretty important people!
Still, not all French are on the burka-banning-bandwagon. Benoît Hamon, spokesperson for the Socialist party, said "The burka is a prison for women and has no place in the French Republic. But an ad hoc law would not have the anticipated effect."
According to interior ministry data, approximately 2,000 women in France still wear full burkas or niqabs in public.
Oh boy, this is a tricky one. On the one hand, we agree that burkas are wrong and should never be worn against a woman's will. We also agree that the entire mindset behind the burka is backward and debilitating for women.
That said, while we think burkas are heinous and wrong, this isn't just about personal beliefs, it's about rights. People should be allowed to believe what they believe and have the freedom to wear what they want to wear. They may not be our beliefs, but at the end of the day its no skin off our noses if they choose to limit themselves. And while we like the idea of fining men who force women to wear them in theory, in practice, how would you enforce that?
Now, no one understands the public safety argument more than we Americans do. We totally get that the government wants to keep everyone safe and that this is a worthy and admirable cause. But limiting dress almost seems archaic at this point. It's silly to think that if you take away burkas there's way evildoers could otherwise hide themselves. And plus, aren't we beyond that? Metal detectors, dogs, surveillance - it seems that if burkas, there should be some other way to maintain security and safety while avoiding taking away people's rights.
And therein lies the reason we're most strongly against this idea. If the government starts micromanaging the dress code of its citizens, where do they draw the line? Things like this seem reasonable on their own, but down the line, if this law gets passed, what's next?
Ultimately, you can't force your perceived notion of freedom on people. Think about it this way: if you woke up tomorrow and there was a new law forbidding you to wear your favorite shirt, you wouldn't feel any differently about the shirt, you'd just resent the people who took it away. Which is exactly what's already happening: in July, al-Quada leaders issued a call to arms against France based on the anti-burka movment, warning, "We will seek dreadful revenge on France by all means at our disposal, for the honour of our daughters and sisters."
That's some pretty scary stuff.
We get where the lawmakers are coming from and we pretty much agree with their notions about the dress, but we think a law is crossing the line.
What do you think?
[Image via AP Images.]