Women are fighting in the streets of Paris. Alas, they are not fighting against Islamic gender apartheid—they are not protesting arranged marriage or honor killings. Instead, they are fighting for the right to veil their faces. On April 11th, two veiled women were arrested for participating in an illegal demonstration about this issue. Sixty-one people were arrested for the same reason this past weekend. It is the 21st century, and people are protesting the French government’s ban against the niqab and burqa (full-face veil) which just went into effect.
Vive La France!
It is important to note that France has not banned the headscarf (hijab) and that the French ban is not specific to Islam. The French law is ethnicity- and religion-neutral and refers only to a generic “face-covering.” In 2004, France became the first European country to legally restrict all religious clothing in public schools: veils, visible Christian crosses, Jewish skullcaps, and hijab were forbidden in public schools.
What does this ban mean for the West?
The burqa is not a friendly garment. Surely, wearing a headscarf and dressing modestly would constitute a far friendlier face of Islam in the West. And, a more egalitarian face as well. Muslim men, both religious and secular, wear modern, Western clothing. Why do Muslim women alone have to bear the burden of representing 7th century Islam? Why is Paris, of all places, looking more and more like Mecca, Teheran, or Kabul? Hasn’t just such “multi-culturalism” been pronounced a failure by many European leaders?
There was a time in my life when France symbolized the quintessential drop-dead gorgeous most bohemian, most artistic, surely the most liberated, and the best of all possible expatriate lives. I wanted to live in Paris and “be bad.” I wanted to smoke (which I have never done), stay up all night, attend the salons, the art exhibitions, the opera, the theatre. I admit it: I wanted to be a…French-style revolutionary.
Years later, I came to understand that the French Revolution was a very bloody affair and that a true reign of terror soon followed it. I also learned that the rights of “man” did not necessarily include the rights of “woman.” Worse was to follow. I learned that the American expatriates Gertude Stein and Alice B. Toklas lived safely in the French countryside during WWII mainly because they had a Nazi protector.
Nice going, girls.
And then I learned that Simone de Beauvoir-the-great-feminist had functioned, quite literally, as Jean-Paul Sartre’s pimp and that neither of these self-styled French resistance fighters had actually risked very much or saved Jewish lives.