French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a rare speech to lawmakers of both Houses on June 22, 2009, kicked up a controversy by declaring the head-to-toe burka “not a sign of religion” but of “subservience,” which would not be welcome in France.
Ignoring criticism, which divided the French, the Sarkozy administration pursued its intended burqa ban by forming a parliamentary committee consisting of 32 lawmakers to investigate whether wearing a burqa trampled Muslim women’s liberty and how the ban could be enacted.
The committee, after a protracted investigation involving Muslim community leaders and intellectuals (including Tariq Ramadan), is about to deliver its verdict; recent statements by leading French politicians suggest that a recommendation banning the burqa in public spaces in France is on its way.
Islam subjugated both non-Muslims (dhimmis) and the Muslim women. The West, including the French, spearheaded the liberation of dhimmis of the Islamic world in the so-called age of colonialism by direct intervention or through diplomatic pressure (e.g.
Ironically, Muslim women experienced bits of liberation, under the indirect influence of liberal thoughts brought to the Muslim world by the colonists and under their protection. But in the post-colonial world, it is being taken away from them.
It should by now be obvious that Muslim societies will not liberate their women, despite the passive influence flowing in from the liberal West. A direct intervention from without remains to be tried.
Whether it works or not, the pending French ban on the burqa would constitute the first substantial effort in liberating Muslim women.
But this time the French would not be doing it not as a discredited colonial power, but to uphold the Human Rights of its citizens as demanded by both the United Nations and its own Constitution.
The move was led by France in 2004, when it banned the wearing of headscarves by Muslim girls in schools (also Christian Crosses, Jewish skullcaps and Sikh Turbans) to keep secular institutions free from religious symbols.
The Islamic veil, called the hijab, the niqab or the burqa, and seen by critics as a sign of religious fundamentalism and a tool of suppression of Muslim women, has been banned by various institutions in the European countries of France, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium.
Sarkozy’s comment ignited condemnations from Muslims, as well as non-Muslim leaders and intellectuals, all over the world. Muslims claimed the comment ‘stigmatized’ Islam. Even President Barack Obama, weeks earlier on June 4, 2009, indirectly condemned the limited ban on Muslim headscarves in his Cairo Speech: “
…it is important for western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit, for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.”
President Sarkozy reaffirmed his commitment to banning the burqa on November 12, saying: “France is a country where there is no place for the burqa, where there is no place for the subservience of women.”
The French immigration minister, Eric Besson, said on December16, 2009, that he would like the head-to-toe Muslim veils to be legal grounds for denying citizenship and long-term residence in France.
“I want the wearing of the full veil to be systematically considered as proof of insufficient integration into French society,” he said, “creating an obstacle to gaining (French) nationality.”
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