VERSAILLES, France (AFP) — President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday that the burka was not welcome in secular France, condemning the head-to-toe cover as a symbol of subjugation rather than the Muslim faith.

“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” he said. “That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity.”

“The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience,” he told lawmakers in a major policy speech. “It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic.”

The speech came just two weeks after Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama diverged on whether states should legislate on religious clothing, an issue which has sparked controversy in Europe.

Now here’s a slippery slope if ever there was one. France has more Muslims than any other country in Europe, in excess of 5 million. Several years ago, a muslim woman was denied french citizenship because she wore a burka and was subjugated to her husband. I guess she didn’t know the French way of doing things. Several thousand women in France wear the burka.

Somehow a burka is just not the same as a head scarf. A burka is a clothing prison. President Obama defended the head scarf and took a departure from Sarkozy’s point of view. Maybe this is one time Obama needs to butt out and let the French people decide this one for themselves.

How do contributors feel about Sarkozy’s views? Should he attempt to get the French legislature to pass them into law? Do his views, if passed in to law, intefer with religious freedom?

Full story at Google.

66 Thoughts to “Burkas not welcome in France: Sarkozy”

  1. Moon-howler

    MIchael, I am aware that snake handling is from the bible. Actually, so is having multiple wives. It all seems like a good reason to weigh what’s in the bible very carefully.

  2. Gainesville Resident

    There’s a whole pile of things in the bible that no longer are followed by most religious people. If you interpreted everything in the bible literally, there’d be what most people consider a lot of very unusual behavior going on.

    I agree, wearing a veil is a lot different than wearing a burka. I suspect most people in countries outside the Muslim world view the burka as a symbol of oppression. Perhaps a long time ago they didn’t start out that way, but the fact of the matter is now that appears to be what they’ve become and definitely is how they are perceived.

  3. Leila

    This is long, my apologies.

    It has been very troubling to read this thread mainly because of the misinformation and generalizations. The Muslim world extends from Indonesia across the Middle East and into parts of Europe and Africa. It is not predominantly Arab and it is not remotely monolithic in terms of custom. The burqa is in no way a common dress for Muslim women, as Rod pointed out. Even the head scarf in the vast majority of Muslim countries is not something required by law.

    The only Muslim country I know of that literally forbids women to drive is Saudi Arabia, which is a country atypical in numerous respects. Iran mandates a head scarf, but people would laugh you out of the room if you suggested Iranian women don’t drive, work in mixed workplaces, vote, serve in parliament, etc. They are oppressed in various ways, but compared to Saudi Arabia, Iran is Sweden. In the Arab countries that have the greatest number of immigrants and their descendants in France (ie. from North Africa), women without their hair covered at all are not exactly rare. I have seen plenty on the street in those countries and elsewhere in the Arab world

    Second Alamo (in his usual infinite wisdom) says “after all it is France, not Istanbul.” That’s ironic considering in the city of Istanbul you would see as many women with hair uncovered, as those with head scarves and since in Istanbul (and elsewhere in Turkey), there have actually been restrictions on wearing head scarves in certain official settings like universities and government offices. That is a legacy of secularism since the 1920s and is hotly debated by Turks who think it should be a matter of choice. To repeat, there have actually been laws in Turkey forbidding the hijab in certain places.

    Where a head scarf is always mandated in Turkey and elsewhere is a mosque. If you find that a problem, then you should also find the modesty requirements of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and other traditional churches a problem since they are equally mandated. As Rod points out, there was a time when a veil was required in a Catholic church here. There are modesty requirements for women in Orthodox synagogues and men are required to cover their heads.

    What Sarkozy is reacting against is a form of clothing that is rare for Muslim women in France. The question becomes is it something to pass a law agains? The only argument I could see is on security grounds. A burqa is even more obscuring than the niqab, or the cloth covering the face except the eyes. But the notion of his opposition on grounds of subjugation of women, or the notion as he was quoted that it deprives them of all society is ludicrous in the extreme. First, why isn’t he opposed to subjugation of women in highly Orthodox Judaism, which has restrictions on clothing and behavior as well, as do some very traditionalist Catholics? Does he want to pass laws against them as well? Are these kinds of laws concurrent with a society that respects freedom of religion? In the United States we would say no, and I’m happy we do.

    Very rarely I see a Muslim woman in total covering dress in DC (I am referring to having most of the face covered). However she isn’t breaking the law. Is the “problem” enough to pass a law against it? Would a burqa cross the line? I don’t know, but I am wary. There are people who seem to be offended by even head scarves alone. Does that mean they want to ban Orthodox women from covering their hair, or Amish women? Or is it just being overtly Muslim that gets to them? I think it is the latter. I don’t see any campaigns against the Orthodox Jewish, Amish, fundamentalist Mormon, or other customs. Those groups aren’t normally perceived as threats.

    Second, Sarkozy also said “It will not be welcome on French soil. We cannot accept, in our country, women imprisoned behind a mesh, cut off from society, deprived of all identity. That is not the French republic’s idea of women’s dignity.”

    Oh please. Cut off from what society? Deprived of what identity? Clearly even if most of us would find it abhorrently oppressive, the few women in total covering dress participate in the society of their own community and households and have a very strong identity. What they don’t have is secular French identity. In the United States, we have never mandated assimilation of that sort by law. Would we want a society here in America where a teenager could not, by religious choice, wear a head scarf or Amish bonnet to school? That IS the law in France for public schools. In the US, in Britain, we have different traditions in terms of free expression.

    Security is an issue in terms of total coverage, but total coverage is (so far) a very rare occurrence among Muslims in Western societies (in Eastern ones too for that matter). I think that as Americans we would want to think long and hard before passing any sort of law that presents a blanket restriction on religious clothing. No pun intended.

  4. Moon-howler

    Welcome back Leila. Thanks for your contribution.

    I believe the only issue ever on the floor was what what is happening in France and the collision course between freedom of religion and tolerance for burkas which do cover the entire body.

    I simply cannot defend the burka in any way or entertain making any legal accommodations here for people who wear them. To me they are a symbol of oppression. They are a security risk.

    If Sarkozy wants legislation banning burkas, I have no problem with the French doing that. It is right up there with our ban on snake handling and various restrictions on killing chickens in the inner city and smoking peyote.

    I do not have a public opinion on other types of muslim religious garb or other religious clothing from non-Muslim faiths.

  5. Moon-howler

    correction: I should have asked how many women in Islamic countries where a burka is normally worn drive?

  6. Gainesville Resident

    Orthodox Jewish women covering their hair? That is a generalization and a very bad one. Most Modern Orthodox Jewish women do NOT cover their hair except inside the synagogue. The Hasidic women do usually cover their real hair, which is shaved short but they wear wigs in public. This is due to their following a tradition that came into being for various reasons. Actually, not even all Hassidic women cut their hair short, this is even a misconception.

    As to dress – only the Hasidic Jews follow strict dress codes, and the men dress in a certain way too. In fact, men are not allowed to shave their face, for example.

    Again, this does not apply to all Orthodox Jews, not by a long shot.

    So if someone is going to start out a post by talking about misconceptions, and then starts throwing them around about Judiasm, it seems a bit inconsistent.

  7. Lelia, thank you for connecting what I have been trying to say throughout this thread. I agree that women who want to wear the burka should be able until asked to prove identity. It is their right, whether we like that right or not. And as you point out, Catholics also required head coverings not so long ago. And even further back, priests would turn their backs to the congregation, recite mass in Latin and generally keep women in a separate area. And in every religion, there is a wide range of orthodoxy exhibited by customs and dress. So these traditions are not so foreign as we might believe.

    MH, I read you loud and clear that you neither like nor approve of the burka 🙂

    I, however, think France’s stance is a form of subjugation itself. We all know they have had problems with young Muslim terrorists. This is just one more way for them to try to combat terrorism through persecuting women IMO. France’s policy is going to lead to forced emigration, just as we have had in this county.

    Women in burkas can’t win. When they are forced to wear the burka, they are subjugated by controlling, abusive people. When they want to wear one, they are also subjugated by people who want to speak for them or who wish to push more western ideals on them.

    Wearing a burka is not a human rights violation. Persecution is, and I believe that is where France is headed.

    I’m boycotting France. Since I am not in a position to travel anyway, this is a pretty easy threat to follow through on, and I doubt anyone in France would give a damn anyway. 🙂

    That said, I really appreciate this thread, MH. The comments show a lot about what we believe, know and think about Islam.

  8. Here’s an article about the driving ban in Saudi Arabia. Interesting that many males don’t want the ban, including the King. Note also that it’s not a crime for women to drive. It’s now a custom.

  9. Leila

    Gainesville, you make a valid point. I should have placed either ultra- or Hasidic in front of Orthodox, although there are non-modern Orthodox but not Hasidic either who cover their hair with a scarf actually, not wigs. Check out some religiously oriented West Bank settlement women sometime, for example.

    Some Hasidic women shave their heads under their wigs, others do not. Some wear scarves at times, some top their sheitel (wig) with a hat for extra religious oomph. I never said all Hasidic women cut their hair short, you introduced mention of that misconception yourself with an implication I had said it. You say only Hasids have “strict” dress codes. Well any dress code is still a dress code and there are plenty of exhortations to modest dress in the non-Hasidic Orthodox community. Examples provided on request. Most importantly, in historic terms the hair covering (wig or scarf) was done by most Orthodox Jews, not just a Hasidic or other subset. Modern Orthodoxy with all its vaguaries is a relatively recent phenomenon that came with modernity. And you’re right, Modern Orthodox women don’t tend to cover outside a synagogue.

    Again, I apologize for not being more specific. I will make sure I am in the future. I would note however that your statement “most Modern Orthodox Jewish women etc.” doesn’t counter anything about the Orthodox in general, only the Modern Orthodox.

    Since you are very familiar clearly with the Modern Orthodox, I am curious if you know whether, worldwide, Modern Orthodox are the largest communities of Orthodox Jews or whether Hasidim and *other* non-Modern Orthodox movements are. I would include of course Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi Jews in that question. Or do you at least know the answer for the United States? I don’t, but I do note that Hasidic families have incredibly high birthrates with 7 or more children not at all uncommon. If I had to make a guess, I would guess there are more Hasidim in the US than Modern Orthos, but I really don’t know. If I am write, then most Orthodox married women in the United States cover their hair with something or other, since that would include all Hasidim and some other kinds of Orthodox. This would suggest that Modern Orthodoxy is on the decline, and more stringent approaches on the uprise.

    Before you write me another angry post, I realize that most American Jews aren’t in either group and are that most are either Reform, Conservative, or secular non-observant. I am intimate with examples from ALL of those groups.

  10. Gainesville Resident

    OK, my only complaint was lumping all Orthodox Jews together. There are far more Orthdodox Jews who are not Hasidic than there are Hasidic Jews here in the USA. I don’t know about Israel. While it is true that some other Orthodox Jews who aren’t modern do cover their hair with a scarf, only the Hasidic go to the length (sometimes) of cutting their hair extremely short and wearing wigs.

    I have no idea about the birthrates among Hasidic Jews, in fact I’ve never actually heard that said.

    I still say in the USA – definitely Hasidic Jews are very much in the minority among Orthodox Jews. I have a close friend who is Modern Orthodox, I’ll have to pose that question to her the next time I talk with her. She lives up in Northern NJ so should be more in tune with what is going on in the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole, at least in the NYC metro area. While she was married she did not cover her hair in public, that’s for sure.

    In my family there are some cousins on my father’s side who are practicing Orthodox Jews – in fact one of them when he was living was basically the rabbi for an Orthodox congregation in Reading, PA. They are not Modern Orthodox, I am quite certain of that. His wife nor his daughter (who is still living) did not wear head coverings in public, only inside the synagogue, and her wedding roughly 25 years ago now was an Orthodox wedding. Of course, within Orthodox Judiasm there are many variations and practices differ as there are a lot of ways to interpret Jewish law and customs.

    In any event, covering ones hair with a scarf or even a wig is a lot different than a burka.

  11. Gainesville Resident

    I forgot to say, I suspect the mainstream Orthodox (not Modern) are probably the majority of Orthodox Jews here in the USA, and quite possibly worldwide. My cousins on my father’s side would definitely be mainstream Orthodox, not Modern. Although, as I said, I am sure there are variations in mainstream Orthodox Jewish practices. Not being Orthodox Jewish myself, I am not that familiar with all the different variations of Orthodox Jews. I actually would tend to think Modern Orthodox Judiasm is growing, as it is less restrictive in some practices than other forms, but I could be wrong about that. Again, I my friend may know exact numbers as to memberships of the various forms of Orthodox Judiasm – or there may be statistics somewhere out there on the internet – I just don’t know.

  12. Leila

    Moon-Howler, thanks for the welcome back. I guess we will have to disagree. Couple of points. First, I think it is important in terms of passing any law to make a distinction between security as a reason and notions of something being a symbol of oppression. In this country, the latter just wouldn’t wash. It would be ridiculous in terms of our constitutional protections on religious expression. After all, many would find those identical long dresses worn by that fundamentalist Mormon sect with the identical hair styles, symbols of oppression too. Or the rules of various other churches and institutions. Yet they are protected by law, at least in the US.

    Sarkozy invokes non-security explanations for his feelings more than security ones. The French proposal needs to be seen in its context. For me that context includes the already existing ban on head scarves in French schools. Now Nicholas can’t have it both ways, if he wants Muslim girls and women to interact as much with French society as possible, he shouldn’t enforce a law that has made some of them stay away from public schools. It should be a matter of choice as it is in the United States and Britain. The other thing that makes it clear the French head scarf law is blatantly hypocritical is that it claims to be against public expressions of religion in school, but allows students to wear crosses as long as they are small ones. So a Christian can signal his/her Christianity clearly with a cross, but a Muslim girl cannot flag her religion.

    About burqas, I come back again to whether this is enough of a problem security-wise to pass a law. The Google article says no official numbers are known. Other articles say that burqa and the niqab covering are used interchangeably when they aren’t at all the same thing. The burqa doesn’t even show the eyes. The burqa is a really specific piece of clothing.

    I agree there could be a security problem with burqas or even the sort of Muslim clothing that reveals the eyes only. But then I would ask isn’t there a security problem potentially with other forms of hiding one’s identity? Should we outlaw theatrical supplies with which you or anyone else could conceal your identity? To change the law to ban the wearing of this clothing indicates a presumption of danger from this particular group. I think that would be unconstitutional. But it is also really ridiculous. None of the 9/11 villains dressed in religious clothing. I would guess any future terrorist operating in the US or France would try to blend in than evoke interest. In any case, you can conceal a weapon or a bomb as easily under a parka or long black trench as a burqa.

    I think if a woman wants an ID she has to reveal her face, no exceptions. If she doesn’t….well, I am not sure I am ready to make laws based on a handful of people. Ski masks worn walking down a city street or into a bank are associated with a certain dangerous behavior. Can we say the same thing about a Muslim woman who covers totally?

    About chicken sacrificing and peyote smoking, the US Supreme Court has protected that in the context of particular sects. I read a whole book about the famous Santeria case in Florida. Yes really. I really love to read about pivotal constitutional law cases and feel very strongly about the Bill of Rights even when I don’t like the behaviors in question. That’s one reason I have trouble with what the velveteen rabbits on the dark side want to do with our Constitution.

    None of this means that states haven’t tried to get around the Constitution in prosecuting Afro-Caribbean religious rites. About Church of Holiness and other snake handling, it’s been made illegal by several states. Basically the ones where the snake handlers like to, well, handle. But I don’t know of any case that has reached the high court. It would certainly not be an automatic refusal given the other cases. I could see bans on sacrifice for cruelty, but not on handling if one is an adult. We allow adults to do stupid stuff on religious grounds all the time, including refusing medical treatment.

  13. Leila

    Oy, Gainesville, you have never heard that Hasidic Jews in the US have unusually large families? 🙂 They have an average of 6 or 7 children, for God’s sake (literally). This site says 7.9.

    They are so famous for this even the house additions in Brooklyn are famous. They populate entire towns like Monsey, N.Y.

    While the general Jewish birth rate is down, their’s is way up.

    Also some, like the Lubavitch, do a lot of outreach to non-observant Jews and grow in numbers that way. I have no idea why you automatically think the Hasidim are “very much in the minority” of Orthos in the US. But you must have your reasons to state something so drastic.

  14. kelly3406

    I agree that Muslims should be able to dress as they wish, so long as they accept any resulting inconveniences. For instance, headwear that restricts vision while driving must be removed. Just as the rest of us must remove jackets, scarves, etc. when going through security at an airport, so too must Muslims comply. As long as there are no special rights granted, then they should be able to wear what they want.

    Having spent time in Turkey myself, I have to disagree with Leila. My observation was that women in the smaller cities were very likely to wear head scarves.

  15. Leila

    Kelly, you might want to reread me. The only city I mentioned where you are as likely to see uncovered heads as head scarves is Istanbul. I didn’t comment on any other cities in that regard, nor did I say women in Istanbul didn’t wear them. What I said (and maybe I should have broken the sentence up, since it was awkward) was that Turkey had passed laws (effective throughout the country) that ban head scarves in certain settings. These include universities and “public offices.” There have been recent efforts to change that ban, but so far it hasn’t happened because the high court intervened.

    I didn’t comment on common apparel anywhere but Istanbul because I haven’t spent time anywhere but Istanbul.

  16. michael

    So right you are moon. That is why I caution people to not let their hatred of others become a religious passion or a social law. the world has historically been a victim of religious oppression by religious radical ALL deriving thier oppression and hatred from some part of the bible. This is what I call the doctrine of men. God’s doctrine has changed in the bible over time, and people do not understand that. Today there is only one law from God, the law concerning unbelief. All other behaviors are forgiven, and people do not have the right to oppress others according to God’s doctrine in the bible. In this fundamental and most important respect Christianity is different and far superior if you take up yor issues only with God and no other right is given to persecute others. In this one concept (persecution) Christianity is far from all other religions that still teach oppression of man according to religious laws enforced by man.

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