Monday, April 12 marked the first day France’s ban on the “burqa” and “niqab” (head coverings worn by some Muslim women which cover the face) went into effect. According to The New York Times, an estimated 2,000 women in France wear full-face coverings out of a total Muslim population of five million.
How do I feel about Islamic face coverings? Well, I am not Muslim, nor am I a woman, so I don’t think it really matters how I feel about full face coverings. I believe everyone has the right to express their religious and cultural identities however they feel is appropriate. However, many people seem to disagree with my mentality of neutrality on issues which don’t affect them. As a result, women in many non-Muslim countries are often met with outright hostility simply for the way they dress.
I have identified four main arguments which have been articulated regarding support for bans on Islamic face-coverings. French politicians dislike their citizenry to be veiled behind black chadors, but apparently citizen veiling themselves behind Islamophobic ignorance is completely acceptable.
“Veils are oppressive.” Really? To whom? This is the most verbalized argument against women wearing veils. Liberals and feminists worldwide have convinced themselves that no woman would willingly CHOOSE to wear a veil; therefore, they must be forced into wearing it. This is an elitist and paternal view of women who choose to wear face coverings.
Has anybody actually asked the women themselves how they feel about it? Many polls and interviews show most Muslim women who wear face coverings were the first in their families to do so and donning the veil was a personal choice as a means to express religious or cultural identities.
Unfortunately, many people associate veiled Muslim women with radical, conservative Muslim sects and this is usually not the case. Many people associate the veil with oppressive governments such as Saudi Arabia and Iran where women are required by law to wear “hijab” (Islamic head coverings) whenever in public. This has led many people to believe any woman wearing a face covering or veil is forced to do so, which is a huge assumption.
Additionally, if French legislators really support the rights of women, they should support and respect the rights of French women to choose how then want to dress and express their identity.
“Veils are a threat to public safety.” This is a ridiculous argument considering how small a population it affects. This reflects the Western societal idea we have that people who hide their face are distrustful. Does the French government really think women in full face-coverings are going to suddenly go on crime sprees and be unable to be identified by witnesses because their faces were covered?
I feel quite the contrary; doesn’t having your face completely covered garner MORE attention and make you MORE identifiable? “Sir, did you see the woman who robbed you?” “Yes Officer, she was wearing a full burqa.” That description would probably narrow the field a bit in a typical French town.
“The Veil Ban shows opposition to Radical Islam.” As stated earlier, full face-coverings are not solely a feature of Islamic extremist groups; they are present in many different communities and sects of Islam, most of which are NOT “extremists.” It seems to me banning the veil just attempts to make Muslims less visible in daily life; a reflection of increasingly racist and Islamophobic sentiments in France and many other Western European countries.
“Veiled women go against French secularism.” This is the claim made by many right-wing French politicians, including President Nikolas Sarkozy. They don’t really oppose religion as a whole. They oppose Islam. They should at least be forthcoming and admit what they are targeting. The truth is, many French citizens are becoming uncomfortable with increasing Muslim populations and are searching to solidify a “French identity” which excludes foreigners. This is proven by the growth of the “National Front” political party in France; a far-right, arguable fascist political party. Not to mention their name is kind of scary. French politicians are appealing to these groups, which is a dangerous path.