Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stop the French headscarf ban

Ever since France amended its old constitution in 1905 to formally separate church and state (which was reaffirmed in the revisions of 1946 and 1959), the issue of laïcité or secularization has bedevilled the country.   Like other states in the now EU, France has tried to strike the right balance between freedom of worship and freedom of the state while ensuring the two do not trample on each other.   Of course, the separation took place to get the Roman Catholic Church -- by far the largest denomination in France -- out of the affairs of both the Élysée and Parliament.   It's when it comes to minority rights that there has always been a problem.   We're all too familiar with the persecution of the Hugenots (the French Calvinists) and the Jews of France.   Recently, the easy target has been Muslims.

Some time back, France tried to ban people from wearing religious symbols such as the cross or the Magen David.    Now, the French Parliament is proposing a law that would ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab or burqa, or Sikh men from wearing the dastar or carrying the kirpan, etc.   Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, has said he will sign the bill if passed.   I say without blushing, Sarkozy and the French Parliamentarians are pinheads.

I say that because this is laicization gone way too far.    When there was a kerfuffle a few years back about a Sikh who wanted to wear a dastar as part of his Mountie uniform instead of the familiar tilted Stetson hat, the old Reform Party openly opposed changing any part of the RCMP dress as part of the RP's platform, the "Blue Book," that the now Conservative Party ignores and has even disavowed.    At least Harper and Company have the good sense to leave well enough alone on this as well as the other uniformed services and the civilian public service.

Not all Muslim women wear a hijab but many do.   Not all Sikh men wear a dastar but most do (a notable exception of one who doesn't is former British Columbia Premier and now federal MP Ujjal Dosanjh).   Not all Jewish men wear a yarmulke, or all Jewish women a tichel, but some do -- and many of us Gentiles wear one (depending on gender) on a visit to a synagogue or at a shiva as a sign of respect.

Do we really want a country where "different" people are branded?    It hasn't been that long -- just over 60 years -- when Nazi Germany branded Jews, Roma, homosexuals and the disabled.   Desegregation only happened in the States in 1964 -- along with the legal end of discrimination against women -- and we still see gentrification in neighbourhoods and women excluded from many country clubs including the one where the Masters is played.

Wearing a headdress or not, or any kind of religious symbol around the neck or waist, should be a matter of personal preference.   At the very least, I think Sarkozy's proposal violates not only the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 (incorporated into France's 1959 Constitution, and which Declaration every French student still memorizes by heart) but also the European Declaration of Human Rights which is incorporated into the laws of France and every other EU member.

Even suggesting the law in the first place is a license to sanction discrimination and violence, and especially now when the Eurozone is still trying to recover from the recession (notwithstanding Spain's huge continuing decline, but that's a topic for another upcoming post) it sends the wrong message across the open borders of what should be a tolerant Europe.

No party leader here in Canada should even think of something this mean-spirited.  It doesn't matter which party -- any self-styled "Dominionist," any Christianist or any bigot of any stripe should be kicked out of his or her party and banished from politics, permanently.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.


Anonymous said...

I am female, and consider myself to be a feminist. On the one hand, I should be able to wear what I want, on the other, no social customs insinuated upon me should be allowed to erase personhood. To me, the purpose of the full face cover it to remove the value and identity of the wearer, and for that reason, I oppose it. If a woman wishes to cover her hands, hair, feet whatever as a way to show her devotion to and Invisible Friend, I'm okay with that. But to me, covering the face removes the identity and therefore the value, and from a equality of gender point of view, I therefore object to the full face cover and would support a ban on it in public places. I know, its not the popular view, but its what I have come up with that works for me, especially since it is a gender-based covering -- men aren't showing their devotion to a religion by hiding their identity, so to me, then it is an anti-women custom of subservience, and not emancipation, and should not be tolerated.

BlastFurnace said...

My view on it is quite simply, if it's the woman's personal choice then let it be her choice. If she is being forced to wear it (as is the case in a number of countries) she should have the right to object to it.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to'When in Rome as the Romans do'..a polite way of saying. 'this is my country but please treat it as such.'I feel thar the face is more important to see.I wish they would leave our Merry Christmas ,alone.

BlastFurnace said...

There are reasonable limits as to how far we should take this -- for example, the Passport Authority does allow headscarves provided the face is fully visible. But this isn't Rome, it's Canada. As for "Merry Christmas," I actually agree -- if they have to have something PC I'd much rather have "Peace on Earth" than Season's Greetings.

Koby said...

"My view on it is quite simply, if it's the woman's personal choice then let it be her choice."

This law may be taking things too far. However, you constructed a straw men and knocked it down. This is just as much an issue of freedom from religion as it is one of freedom of religion. While in Canada women do not face violence for not wearing a head scarf, muslim women in France frequently do and that is one reason why the majority of French females with a muslim background supported the ban on religious symbols in schools.

Omar Ha-Redeye said...

Great post, especially the Blue Book part. They really would have us forget their history.

skdadl said...

The doctrine of laïcité violates the democratic principle of separation of church and state. The purpose of that principle is to protect all faiths, all convictions of conscience, not to impose a national view of conscience.

I've been a feminist all my adult life (I'm now 64), but I think these regulations are shameful. For one thing, they clearly discriminate against the blind -- with such a law in place, blind people could not be hired as civil servants; they're being told that they're not competent to judge who is trustworthy. And for another, there's something sickening about a guy like Sarkozy -- or really, any other male politician -- deciding he has the right to order women to disrobe.

You're quite right, BlastFurnace: the French had it right the first time, in the Declaration.

Anonymous said...

I too support the woman's rights, but not to just cover or not, but in all things including abortion. Funny how everyone gets all up in arms to protect the womans right to choice when it comes to religiosity but when real choice issues are raised this changes. Just saying.

BlastFurnace said...

I haven't had a chance to be online the last couple of days so I just wanted to add a quick note to this ...

Some have said the proposal has been made because women who wear the hijab, even by choice (as is usually the case) are made targets for discrimination and even physical attacks. The answer to that is you prosecute the hate crime.

Forcing people to get rid of the headdresses or caps doesn't address the underlying problem which is minority groups will still be discriminated against because of their names or religious practices.

As I wrote a few months back, the EU's Parliament issued a directive that member states should have a minimum three year sentence for crimes motivated by hate. It's not a binding law, but France should take the hint. You can't cure the disease if the "cure" is worse than the disease itself.

Bottom line, it's not the minority groups that are the problem; it's the criminals that are.

Anonymous said...

i believe that by banning hijabs/headscarves that france is not only violating their human rights but that they are also discriminating against muslims.