President Nicholas Sarkozy stood before the French Parliament today and proposed a ban on burqas, garments that completely cover a woman and mask her face, in France. According to The New York Times, he stated: “We cannot accept in our country women imprisoned behind bars, cut off from social life, deprived of identity. That is not our idea of maintaining the dignity of women.” While Parliament has yet to make a final decision concerning the ban of the burqa, Sarkozy’s proposal alone has created a fair amount of uproar. Is the proposed ban a naïve and overly simplistic idea, a commendable suggestion, or just a calculated political move?
It’s hard to say. Sarkozy is taking on a controversial political issue while also championing women’s rights. What an admirable combo! But is this ban proposal really a constructive, or even feasible, idea? Islamic headscarves and other “conspicuous religious symbols” have already been banned from public schools, so maybe banning wearing head-to-toe burqas in public is the appropriate next step.
But while I’m vehemently against any form of female suppression, I’m not sure that banning burqas will have any positive effects on Muslim women. As an outsider, I see the full body scarves as oppressive and limiting; I agree with Sarkozy that they are debasing, and more of a political statement than a religious one. But I also feel that it is in the hands of the Muslim women to change (if they wish to) their own burqa destiny without pressure from either their religion or Sarkozy. Dictating a dress code, even if it seems to protect women from subservience, might not be very productive. In fact, a ban of burqa-wearing in public might result in limiting — not extending — women’s rights. Muslim women who wish to wear burqas may very well choose to stay confined to their houses—keeping themselves even more hidden from the public eye.
After giving it quite a bit of thought, I still can’t decide whether Sarkozy’s proposed ban is praiseworthy, or whether it will only further stigmatize Muslim women in France. Can you?