France to fine for face covering
Owned and published by UMHB, The Bells is a biweekly publication. This content was previously published in print on the Opinions page. Opinions expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff or the university.
France’s senate recently passed a law making it illegal for Muslim women to wear burqa style Islamic veils in public. The veils, which cover the face except for the eyes, are part of the traditional dress for some Muslims.
This new restriction is not simply taking away a piece of clothing. A burqa is a deep-seated symbol of spiritual identity as well. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, dating back to 1789 allows for religious freedom as long as that freedom does not prove to be harmful to French society.
A woman wearing a veil is no more harmful to society than a teenage boy wearing his pants around his upper thighs. There is no difference in her garb marking her as a Muslim and his marking him as a thug. Both are expressions of who people are and how they wish to be viewed and defined.
The same goes for a businessman. He walks around in tailored pants, a button-up shirt, tie and jacket, giving the impression of professionalism and importance. A Muslim woman walks around with a thin fabric covering her face, giving the impression of devotion, sacredness and modesty.
The French bill’s language isn’t specific and clear on what is being banned because of legal issues, but the implied meaning is definitely being heard by Muslims and others around the world. According to CBS News, “the words ‘women,’ ‘Muslim’ and ‘veil’ are not even mentioned in any of its seven articles.” If they were included, the bill would be seen as discriminatory.
If the writers of this proposition had to tiptoe around so many words as not to break their own discrimination laws, the intentions of this bill should be thoroughly observed before the Constitutional Council approves it.
If the French really wanted to preserve their national identity and values, they would be passing bills outlawing clothing that gives a specific identity to people from all segments of society, not just this one relatively small group.
They hope that by forcing women to get rid of their head coverings, they will be more accepted and respected in their communities. But for Muslim women, this stripping of the outward sign of their characteristic values does the opposite and may cause them to seclude themselves from society.
More than that, the French government is trying to uphold the secular foundations of the country. This should mean banning all religious identifiers, so why the focus on Islam? Secular infers no religion, not every religion except for one.
These women would no longer be able to find their respect and identity behind the cover of their veils and what they represent but must either rethink their integration of beliefs in society or retain their outward appearance only in their homes and never in public.
Women who wear veils or men who force women in their families to wear veils in public will be fined and can be put in prison for up to a year. So by passing this law, the French government is either imprisoning Muslim women figuratively by forcing status quo on them or literally placing them behind bars for expressing their faith in a country where religion is supposed to be a guaranteed freedom.