Friday, July 18, 2008


I read the above article this morning and was instantly flustered, frustrated and angered. This is a sophisticated and complex issue and I do not pretend to have the answers. I do however, have opinions on the subject.

I think that nationality cannot be denied to someone because of a piece of cloth. For a laic state, the burqa can be nothing more than a piece of cloth - as religion does not play a role in the French state. Where religion does not play a role - it should have no INFLUENCE.

The main problem with the burqa I think is that you can see it - from far, far away. What does the French state truly not want to see - women in a state of submission to their husbands or the ever changing demographical makeup of the French society? What "French, republican" values does the burqa truly go against? If it has to ro with religion I think that this is unfair and religion plays no part in this laic state - therefore should have no bearing on nationality. The decision makers only knew of this women's religious stance because they could SEE the burqa - they are not allowed, legally, to ask. So if they legally cannot "know" - how can this play a role in the ruling?

I see that the issue is more complicated than that - if someone's rights are being violated or subjugated - shouldnt the state protect an individual's rights? Wouldnt it do that for a child? Yes - but this is not a child, this is a full-grown woman. Is she being then treated like a child or someone who cant or isnt autonomous?

The greatest problem I see is that in the fight for equality and women's rights - we are still telling women what to do instead of allowing them to make their own choices. Do they have those proper vehicles to make those choices? That is a different question alltogether. By denying this women French citizenship because she wears a burqa and is therefore deemed subservient to her husband - do we empower her? Do we treat her equally? No, we dont.

I remember flying back to NY from Paris one time and being sat next to a man of the muslim faith - he and I chatted most of the flight and discussed islam and different cultures. He asked me to think about one point - in western culture, the hijab and the burqa and often seen as "shocking" as a "shocking way to treat women" - but he asked me to think about how it must feel for someone who comes to the "west" for the first time and either on a kiosk on the street or in a magazine store sees, openly, pictures of naked women, of women in subservient sexual positions out in the open. Isnt this too shocking? How do we describe this treatment of women? It is not to say that either is right, or better - but we cant forget that our norms and ideas are not relevant or even "normal" somewhere else.


mcdevo said...

I think it's interesting that you state that France is a laic society. The French obviously say the same thing. But considering the following facts:
- More than half of the fêtes nationales have Catholic origins (Lundi de Pâque, Ascension, lundi de Pentecôte, Assomption, Toussaint, et Noël)
- There are no fêtes nationales that recognize any other religion
- The Catholic churches are owned / maintained by the state
- No churches/temples/mosques from other religions are maintained by the state
- The basic work week is absolutely Christian model (expectation that all shops are closed on Sundays, perhaps even legislated)
It is difficult to arrive at the conclusion that France is really a laic society, as is so often stated by the French. Whenever I bring up these facts with them, they always shrug their shoulders and say: Well, that is just tradition.
And I think that is the point ... they are christian traditions, not shared by a changing culture.

(And I didn't initially understand how to leave a comment ... sorry about the broken up e-mails that you probably also received!)

bijou said...


I had this exact argument with a professor of mine while taking a class on 'immigration, colonization, and French national identity'. I made all the points you made and she returned them by stating that today they hold no religious value, or very little for most people.

We struggled for a while with this, but I have come to the conclusion that these holidays, traditions in France are akin to how commercial Christmas has become here in the US. I grew up in a town where a lot of Jewish families celebrated Christmas and had Christmas trees - as it was more of a U.S. tradition than an actual religious celebration. Santa, presents, Christmas trees, ornaments - these have no historical/religious value - they are new but by association have become "religious", just like the Easter bunny. I guess sometimes religion morphes into "culture" as the years go by?

This is what I have come to understand of the French vis-a-vis christian traditions that are still used. For instance in France, EVERY calendar tells the name of the Saint of the day. I didnt even know of this before I went there and I come from a practicing Catholic family.

Laicite, as I understand it is - that legally France is neutral in the face of religion. I.E. religion has no place in the public sphere. This is the basis on the argument against the port du voile; that public places (schools, government buildings...) do not favor one religion or another and that you are free of religion in these places. There is no official role for religion in public spaces.

Is this reality? NO. Does this work? NO. Are there contradictions? YES.