New French Fashion in Civil Rights

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Interpretation of Islamic tradition is not a problem of the French government.
01/03/2010
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Newspaper "The Day",12.02.2010

The Swisses were the first who banned minarets. Now the French parliament intends to ban wearing of yashmak by Muslim women — dress that covers face, which they wear in orthodox Arabian countries, and nowadays, adapted by some conformists-non-Arabs — in public places. Hijab is a shawl which wear some Muslim women is already banned in French comprehensive schools in which "deliberate" display of any religious symbolism is forbidden. Nevertheless, yashmak in France is worn much less often — by approximately 1900 women, and nobody of them came from countries in which yashmak is dressed traditionally.

The reason why the French members of parliament, from communists to conservatives, support this interdiction, consists in the general consensus that the wearing of yashmak "contradicts the values of the Republic". As it was stated by the president of France Nicolas Sarkozy, yashmak "is not welcomed in France".

The immigrants covering their faces for this reason were refused in the French citizenship. Feminists, including some representatives of Muslim diaspora, supported the interdiction as they consider this custom degrading. The member of parliament from the Communist party Andre Jerin warned that terrorism and extremism "disappeared behind a coverlet".

Actually only socialists refused to vote for the parliamentary resolution. They also do not like yashmak, however they do not consider that the best way for struggle against it is the legislation.

I consider that socialists are right. Except that fact that before the French government there are more serious problems, than dressing customs of a small number of women, there is still a question of individual freedom.

Really, some women have to cover themselves from head to toe because of the pressure of the family or the environment. It is the truth concerning orthodox Jews who should shave their heads and wear wigs when they marry. Not at once it becomes obvious why some Jewish or some extreme forms of Christian orthodoxy can be better combined with the values of the Republic, not to mention feminism, than Muslim Salafism. Nevertheless, nobody should be forced to cover himself from head to toe.

But should they be forced not to do it? One French woman who chose to wear yashmak completely by her own will, expressed her protest, "It is supposed that France is a free country. But nowadays women have right to take off clothes, but there is right no to put it on". Other protesting declared, "If they force us to remove it they will take away a part us. I will rather chose to die than to allow them to make it".

Some Muslims, including ecclesiastics, adhere to the point of view that covering of womеn's faces actually is not a Muslim tradition. The Egyptian Imam, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi wishes to forbid wearing of yashmaks in Egyptian schools. However it is not the case why the French women should not be allowed to enter post offices, banks, schools or any other public places with their yashmaks on. Interpretation of Islamic tradition is not a problem of the French government.

Someone can adhere to the point of view that the national governments should apply laws, instead of values. However while "national values" are not so predisposed to impose the majority of democracies to the citizens as the French Republic, the law also cannot be completely separated from the shared values. That fact that Europeans can marry only one spouse, is both legislative, and cultural norm. And views on sexual and racial discrimination which vary eventually, are also reflected in laws.

... As a whole individual practice, until it does not bring harm to another people, should be resolved, even if it is not pleasant to many people. It can be undesirable, that people who carry out state functions — for example judges, teachers or policemen, — covered their faces. However it is possible to establish a dress-code for a certain kind of work, without forbidding type of clothes for all. Besides, after all we do not have judges and teachers who wear bikini for work.

There is one more practical reason, why prohibition of yashmak is a bad idea. If we seriously intend to integrate immigrants into the Western society it is necessary to promote that they moved in a society as much as possible. Prohibition of yashmak will force this tiny minority of women to remain at home and more depend on men in communications with an external world.

So what about еруіу зкфсешсуі who are considered to be non-liberal if we do not forbid them? Sometimes it is better to do nothing. The life with values which is not shared by someone, is that price which needs to be paid for life in a pluralistic society.

Contribution to that all citizens got good education, can help to reduce the potential bases for the conflict. Also it can be promoted by sense of humour. It should not be necessarily hostile, as in the case with caricatures in the Danish newspaper.

... Certainly, it is possible to present (as it does the French deputy from the Communist party) a woman who wears yashmak, hiding extremist or terrorist threat. But it also can concern a man wearing jeans or a woman in a business suit. That we sometimes forget, is that the average person in yashmak is just a woman.

Yan BURUMA — the professor in the field of democracy, human rights and journalism at Bard College. The author of the book "Murder in Amsterdam: Teo Van Gogh's death and tolerance limits". His last published book is called "Fan of China".

(Given in reduction)

The full version of the article on the web-site of "The Day" newspaper

More publications in newspaper "The Day":

Ukraine Studies Muslim World

Different View on Events in Crimea

Related publications in Ukrainian Media:

Litigation "Hijab against MIA" ("Observer")

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