French President’s Opposition to Burqas Sparks Debate

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In June, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his support for the banning of wearing burqas in public. Speaking to the French National Assembly, Sarkozy said that “The burqa is not welcome on French territory. In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity…It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”

Needless to say, in the blogosphere these comments have set off a round of fiery debates reminiscent of the conversations about the 2004 French law that banned Muslim head scarves, Jewish yakamas, and large Christian crosses in public schools.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Liesl Gerntholtz, the director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, argues that we need to look beyond controversial burqas: “Women’s oppression is universal. Those who want to help address this sorry state of affairs should start not by telling Muslim women how to dress, but by tackling the root causes of this oppression both at home and abroad: discrimination, lack of access to services, and unequal economic opportunities.”

Newsweek senior editor Lisa Miller and a professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, warn on the Washington Post blog On Faith that any government decision about which religions’ traditionalclothing is offensive and very dangerous

Over at the fantastic blog Muslimah Media Watch, Krista points out that the problems surrounding sexual oppression aren’t going to simply go away with the burqa:

So when these women make the “choice” to wear the burqa, they are not necessarily choosing between imprisonment and freedom, or between subservience and empowerment; they may be making this choice between multiple forms of imprisonment (symbolic or otherwise), or multiple options that still place them in subservient positions, or they may even be making this choice in a context where the burqa represents the positive side of those dichotomies.

Sources:Huffington Post, Newsweek, Washington Post, On Faith, Muslimah Media Watch

Image by fabbio, licensed by Creative Commons.

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