France Eyes Banning Islamic Burqa Shrouds: Liberation or Oppression?

June 20, 2009

(ChattahBox)—France, proud of its secular tradition, is dismayed by the increasing number of Muslim women appearing in public wearing the conservative Islamic dress of head-to-toe burqas and niqabs. Lawmakers are “studying” the problem and are not ruling out an eventual ban on burqa wear.

French lawmakers believe a ban may be needed to protect the civil rights of Muslim women, forced by Islamic men to wear body covering shrouds, against their will in public. However, the issue is much more complex than one of women’s rights, as France is about to find out.

With nearly 5 million Muslims in France alone, the issue of banning public burqa wear is pitting the issues of a legal right to express one’s religion without persecution, against the principles of women’s equality and civil rights. The burqa wear controversy also illustrates the clash of social and religious cultures between Western and Islamic nations.

The very idea that a woman may be forced to cover her entire body in public against her will, living in total submission to the men in her family, treated little better than a slave, is repugnant to the French belief of equal rights for the sexes and of most modern nations.

And yet many Muslim women insist, they choose on their own, to cover their bodies with burqa wear as a pious display of their faith and as a personal commitment to God. If that is indeed the case, how can France espouse equal rights for all and at the same time deny a woman the right to express her religious beliefs?

France already banned the wearing of Islamic headscarfs and other visible religious symbols from French public schools in 2004, believing the dress interfered with education, despite an outcry from the Muslim community.

The full body shrouds though, are indeed off-putting medieval looking get-ups and just scream of oppression. How can Muslim women, shrouded in billowy fabric from head-to-toe participate in public society? They can’t and therein is one of the main issues. When their dress essentially prohibits Muslim women from holding down a job and otherwise engaging in Western society, what role should government play to liberate them?

A recent court case in Michigan illustrates the problems with rigidly conservative Muslim women, covered in a black shroud in a modern society. They may as well be wearing Halloween costumes, as they stand out to such a degree prompting stares and pointing. The Michigan Judges Association recently implemented new rules allowing them reasonable control over the dress of parties in court.

The judges adopted the new rule after a recent case of a Muslim women appearing in district court wearing a niqab, an all black full body veil, with a tiny open slit for her eyes. The judge requested that the woman lift her veil so that he could ascertain her truthfulness. When she refused, the Judge dismissed her case.

There is also the issue of Islamic countries legally mandating that women wear burqas or niqabs, or risk severe punishment and even a horrific death by stoning. The Taliban warlords in Afghanistan were once the worst offenders, forcing women to wear the bright blue burqas with a mesh screen covering their face.

Either from fear of continued reprisal or rape, most Afghan women still wears a burqa in public, even though it’s no longer legally forced on them.

The Islamic heartland of Saudi Arabia is notorious for its ill treatment of women, subjected to covering their entire bodies or risk severe punishment. The feared and vicious Saudi religious police, the mutaween, patrol public areas enforcing the restrictive burqa dress code on women.

One of the most horrific cases of mutaween dress code enforcement occurred in 2002 in a girls’ school in Mecca that had caught fire. The mutwaween prevented the screaming little girls from fleeing the burning building, because their faces weren’t covered.

The school doors were locked from the outside and the religious police beat some of the girls and firefighters, ensuring that the girls were not saved. Fourteen girls died that day from severe burns and smoke asphyxiation. The enforcement of their extreme religious Sharia laws was more important to the male religious police than the lives of 14 girls.

It was better for them to burn to death than to indecently violate Sharia law and show their faces to men.

When westerners think of Muslim women in burqa wear, they think of the burning girls and the thousands of women who have been stoned to death for showing their faces in public. They look at a women shrouded in burqa wear and they think of the screams of those girls as they burned, with the sadistic, satisfied faces of the all-male religious police, as they stood outside the school.

The burqa and the niqab veils represent the vicious oppression of women to many who view them, and rightly so. Although the Qur’an demands that both men and women should dress modestly, many Muslim scholars dispute the extreme interpretation by men that dictates women cover their entire bodies with burqa wear.

A headscarf, named a Khimar together with modest dress that covers a Muslim’s woman’s arms and legs, is seen as complying with the Qur’an.

French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, admits the issue of public burqa wear is a complex problem and believes the formation of a parliamentary commission to study the issue, would provide French lawmakers with the information they need to make any laws limiting burqa wear.

Meanwhile, the clash of Muslim and Western cultures will continue to present unique challenges that have no easy answers.



5 Responses to “France Eyes Banning Islamic Burqa Shrouds: Liberation or Oppression?”

  1. France Eyes Banning Islamic Burqa Shrouds: Liberation or Oppression? Adding Info on June 20th, 2009 2:45 pm

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  2. France Eyes Banning Islamic Burqa Shrouds: Liberation or Oppression? on June 22nd, 2009 2:13 pm

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  3. Sryan on June 22nd, 2009 8:57 pm

    We must not allow the subjugation of women. We must provide social services that enable us to discover when women are being committed to confinement and not allowed to leave the house or have any social intercourse or independence. The use of the burqa must not be condoned as a means to alleviate subjugation. It is a means to spread fear and subjugation among women, not in any way, shape or form a means to allow freedom to women in a limited fashion.

  4. Saudi Arabia: Is the Burka and Headcover a Sign of Fanaticism Islam? « American Bedu on July 6th, 2009 8:13 pm

    […] such attire was a sign of fanaticism Islam.  The reporter specifically mentioned movements in France, Turkey and Netherlands as well as elsewhere in Europe to make Islamic wear such as an abaya, […]

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