France, France, France…oh my France

Posted on December 8, 2011

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I just checked on the news and France is trying, yet again, to ban all things Islamic.This time senators of the Radical Party supported by the Socialist Party aim to extend the ban on wearing the veil in nurseries and in recreation centers and resorts. The proposal also prohibits symbols or words related to religion.The escalation by Islamophobic discriminators is also to apply to childminders. It claims therefore to ban the veil of Muslim women even in their own homes under the pretext of secularism.

[With all the Islamophobia going on in France the past few years I am truely ashamed to say I am French or that my family was from a now-renamed providence before coming to Canada and then down to Michigan to settle. If only my last name was not so obviously French lmao.]

The proliferation of Islamophobic acts in the last decade is sadly reminiscent of a dark past not so long ago:

One of the top priorities of The Nazis was the “expulsion of Jews from German society.” They triggered a campaign of propaganda and terror on a large scale and unprecedented violence, designed to stigmatize German Jews, isolating them from the rest of the population and forcing them to emigrate. The Nazis also used traditional anti-Jewish attitudes for the population to accept their plan. Measures were taken to exclude Jews from public service, many professions, and a sector of the economy after another. German Jews were gradually relegated to the margins of society. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 withdrew their equality conferred by the laws – three generations after emancipation – and full civil rights. Simultaneously, the system continually promulgates new regulations aimed at stripping Jews of their property before they emigrated.

These laws are not as scandalous as one might now imagine.Nazism was greeted warmly, at first, by many great minds, including the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, of Jewish origin.

Are the Muslims of today taking the place of the Jews of yesterday? You can’t turn on the news or read the paper without some country trying to ban something related to Islam.

Out of a total Muslim population between four and six million, the French government estimates no more than 2,000 women wear a burqa or niqab. Nevertheless, full face veiling in public has been illegal in France since April and those who violate the law risk a €150 fine. Those who support the law say they are worried about veiled women compromising the nation’s secular foundations and undermining women’s dignity that comes with gender equality. In addition, some claim that Muslim men are forcing these women to cover their faces, resulting in oppressive isolation. On the other side, opponents argue the law is a pretext to reduce the visibility of Muslims in public spaces.

I am sick and tired of the “debate” over the burqa ban. The issue at stake is not the burqa. It is Islamophobia; as per usual, the war of cultural values is being fought on the battleground of women’s bodies.

Islam is the second largest, and the fastest growing religion in France. The vast majority of Muslim immigrants come from Francophone ex-colonies in the Maghreb, primarily Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

These laws are not about ‘saving’ these 2,000 women from their patriarchal, oppressive cultures. It is about re-enacting colonialism on French soil, teaching the culturally backwards “other” the “superior” ways of the west. It is an effort to further ostracize an already stigmatized population to “purify” France.

Though the ban actively imposes state regulations on a religious practice, French President Nicolas Sarkozy claims that the burqa and niqab violate the principles of la laïcité[a concept denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs]. While many agree and argue that the full veil is too explicit a religious symbol for France, this is only one example among many on Sarkozy’s notoriously racist track record. In 2009, Sarkozy’s right-wing government launched the infamous “debate on national identity,” a paranoid response to increasing immigration, extrapolating xenophobic criteria in an effort to strictly define what it means to be French. After this, but before the burqa ban was officially imposed, Sarkozy and the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) called for another clearly exclusionary debate on the place of Islam in a secular society. And ast month, a ban on street prayers came into effect in the capital Paris.

As far as the burqa “debate” is concerned, it is the same as any debate: nuanced and unsolvable. There are plenty of women who wear the burqa or niqab as a symbol of their personal spirituality. Likewise, there are also plenty of women who are forced to veil by their husbands, fathers, and other men in their lives. What this “liberating” law does is inhibit all veiled women from participating in the public sphere by intimidating them from conducting their daily lives. As “Karima,” a niqabi living in Paris told the French Publication Rue89:

I am not afraid of the police or the fine. I am afraid of the daily troubles –what if my boulangere refuses to serve me? I could go to the Arab bakeries, but these are more expensive. What if a cashier at the super market reports me to the police? I am afraid of these daily troubles. If I have an accident, I will not be able to go to the hospital because they might refuse to make an appointment for me.  My life as a mobile woman ending terrifies me. What am I supposed to do if I stay home all day? Sort the trash? Even then, I would doubtlessly be reported to the police by a neighbor who works for La Front National.”

In other words, women will most likely not embrace the opportunity to shed their burqas and promenade down the Champs Élysées in a state sponsored miniskirt. Instead, they will continue to be stigmatized as Muslims and further segregated from the rest of French society, so what good are these laws? What is France(and the rest of Europe & America for that matter) so afraid of?

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