Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Veil Ban: French Parliament Stuffed With Racists

French fashion: Is this woman liberated

Today the French Parliament passed a bill banning the wearing of face-covering veils in public. Now, if women are caught in public wearing a veil, they will be forced to pay a $190 fine and enroll in a "citizenship course." The justification for this repressive measure is that it is about protecting the dignity of women.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said earlier this year that the full veil "hurts the dignity of women and is not acceptable in French society".
This, of course, is an enormous crock of you-know-what. First of all there are only perhaps 2,000 women in all of France, out of a population of 62 million people, who wear a full-face veil. But also, this is nothing more than cultural supremacism. Does it not hurt the dignity of women to have to wear high heel shoes and other torture devices? How about short skirts and tight clothes or multi-coloured oil-based creams and powders to emphasize their lips, eyes and cheeks and thus their sexuality? Is breast augmentation supportive of the dignity of women as human beings? Collagen injections? The face veil on women is, of course, an expression of the fact that women are oppressed. But so are these other feminine "necessities". The issue is a cultural and a racial one. It is about attacking an identifiable minority.

Life in France is "carried out with a bare face", Michele Alliot-Marie, the justice minister, said last week as she opened the debate in the National Assembly.
Face-covering veils "call into question the idea of integration, which is founded on the acceptance of the values of our society", Alliot-Marie said.
Alliot-Marie and Sarkozy would know, like ever French person, that the inability to integrate into French society is precisely why the immigrant ghettoes that surround major French cities periodically explode in riots and protests. The children and grand-children of immigrants are still not accepted as French and are denied equal participation in French society by French laws, French social policy and French attitudes. If Alliot-Marie and Sarkozy were truly interested in bringing immigrants "into the fold" they wouldn't be forcing women who wear the veil into their homes to avoid being punished. How is it liberating for a woman, supposedly oppressed by her husband, to face the coercion of the French state to do something that is unacceptable to her husband, her community and possibly even to herself.
This has nothing to do with women's dignity and everything to do with pandering to the far right and to sowing divisions at a time of heightened anger over French austerity plans. At the end of June there was a nationwide general strike and over 200 demonstrations, mobilizing some 2 million people, across France against plans to raise the retirement age. Deflecting people's anger onto immigrants has served the French ruling class well in the past - and the Nazis. In the 1980s it led to the dramatic rise of Jean Marie Le Pen's fascist National Front. The FN has been diminished in recent years but it could easily spring back to life with this kind of backlash.
That's why it is so dangerous that the French left has been utterly terrible on the question of the veil and the hijab. The opposition Socialist Party walked out of the vote in parliament, not because it opposes a ban per se, but because it thought that it should only be confined to government buildings. Apparently it is better to merely exclude these women from gaining access to social services. What if they were being abused and wanted to access help? Apparently they would have to disrobe first. But even the French far-left has not been consistent in supporting the right of women to choose what garments they will wear. The New Anti-capitalist Party selected a hijab wearing woman to stand on one of their electoral lists in the most recent election. Not only did this spark a huge outcry in the media, the NPA itself was split over the question, with the fight continuing. The French left must get clear on the question of the veil - it is a question of racism. And, just like in Afghanistan, we must give no quarter to the bombers who would "liberate" women  by invading their country, we must oppose attempts to "liberate" women by forcing them to give up their social customs against their will.

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