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.
Still, before all those chickens came home to roost, from the time I was a teenager, I lost and found myself in the poetry of Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud, and in the novels of Colette, Hugo, Proust, Camus, and De Beauvoir. For awhile, in college, I was a French language and literature major. My dissertation was on Stendhal, aka Henri Beyle. I studied and escape into the works of Flaubert, Zola, and George Sand (Aurora Dudevant, Chopin’s lover and protector, who often dressed like a man and smoked cigars!).
In the late 1950s, I was often first in line when the new French cinema opened in America. I eagerly swooned over the films of (anti-Semitic) Jean-Luc Godard, and (the anti-anti-Semite) Francois Trauffaut.
My heart was still with the French in 1968 when the students had their uprising.
In other words, I was a hopeless, muddle-headed, typical American intellectual Francophile. (I was also an Anglophile—typical colonized behavior.)
And then—things changed. Everything changed. The Intifada of 2000 and an alarming rise in anti-Semitism broke into my consciousness. 9⁄11 changed everything too.
Increasingly hostile and anti-assimilationist Muslim immigrants poured into France. They marched against Israel and for Palestine and were aided and abetted by France’s politically correct left. Even when they took over whole neighborhoods, entire streets, torched cars, attacked civilian buses—the left insisted that “Islamophobia” was behind the discontent. Muslims attacked synagogues and living Jews as well. Muslims tortured Ilan Halimi to death over a horrifying three week period. A French Jew, Charles Enderlin, sued Philippe Karsenty for libel for daring to suggest that Enderlin and France’s Channel 2 had incited the world against Israel with its false coverage of the Mohammed Al-Dura case. Karsenty eventually won. Still, France thereafter awarded Enderlin its highest decoration, the Légion d’honneur.
Things are complicated—are they not? Today, I admire President Sarkozy’s principled stand on banning the burqa. I deeply appreciated his moral stand vis-a-vis the Green Revolution in Iran. As the pro-democracy activists were marching and dying in the streets of Teheran, Sarkozy stood with them, at least verbally. While President Obama merely voiced “concern” about how the election had been conducted, Sarkozy denounced the Iranian government’s “brutal” reaction to the demonstrations, saying that the situation was “extremely alarming” and that the reaction was “totally disproportionate.”
I again ask: What is the burqa doing in Paris? Or in Marseilles, Nice, Cannes, Bordeau, Avignon? Why leave Mecca or Kandahar if you want France to resemble it in every way? As I have argued, the burqa is not religiously mandated by Islam. It is a political and jihadic statement. There is a long, long history of Muslim-majority countries allowing women to shed the face veil and burqa (Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Lebanon, and Iran to name a few). Only recently has one Muslim country after another returned to this misogynist custom, and with a vengeance.
In my view, the burqa is a violation of both human rights and women’s rights. It is a “sensory deprivation isolation” chamber on the move. According to France’s Bernard-Henri Levy:
“The burqa is not a dress, it’s a message, one that clearly communicates the subjugation, the subservience, the crushing and the defeat of women….People say, ‘Perhaps it’s subjugation, but it’s done with consent. Get it out of your mind that malicious husbands, abusive fathers, and local tyrants are forcing the burqa on women who don’t want to wear it.’….Fine. Except that voluntary servitude has never held water as an argument. The happy slave has never justified the fundamental, essential, ontological infamy of slavery….People evoke freedom of religion and conscience, freedom for each of us to choose and practice the religion of his or her choice; in the name of what can anyone forbid the faithful to honor God according to the rules indicated in their sacred texts? Another sophism, for – and it can never be repeated enough – the wearing of the burqa corresponds to no Koranic prescription. There is no verse, no text of the Sunna that obliges women to live in this prison of wire and cloth that is the full-body veil….This is not about the burqa, it’s about Voltaire. What is at stake is the Enlightenment of yesterday and today, and the heritage of both, no less sacred than that of the three monotheisms. A step backwards, just one, on this front would give the nod to all obscurantism, all fanaticism, all the true thoughts of hatred and violence.”
Tunsian-French feminist Samia Labidi describes how she herself was indoctrinated into Islamism and into the Islamic veil by a new and rabidly Islamist brother-in-law. In turn, Labidi proudly indoctrinated hundreds of other girls to veil “as a feminist gesture against the Western idea of woman as a sexual object.” However, once Labidi saw “the full horror of the Islamist strategy,” she fled Tunisia and joined her mother in France. She came to understand that “the veil is used as a symbol to spread political Islam among girls,” as are arranged marriages which subordinate women.
Labidi never dreamed that she would “face the same struggle two decades later in the heart of the West.” And yet that is precisely her situation. And why? Islamists, who were expelled from their countries of origin, came to the West and assumed influence over and control of immigrant communities. In her opinion, the veil oppresses rather than liberates women. Labidi opposes Islamism and knows more about how it operates than do most non-Muslims.
I agree with her, with Levy, and with Sarkozy in their understanding of what the burqa is about and why it is crucial that we stand against it in the West.