After Mike’s post on the burqa, I’ve decided to write a dissenting post.

I do not see President Sarkozy’s proposition on banning burqas to be a thoughtful, careful decision to liberate women. I see this as a tactical move to limit Islam’s “threat” to French culture, and suppress Muslim influence. The ban, to me, is not pro-woman– it is anti-Islam.

burqa-eiffel

France has historically had difficulty integrating its Muslim immigrant population. The environment has often proven inhospitable for many Muslim immigrants– a situation which resulted in the 2005 French riots, among others. Studies have shown that because of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism, those of African descent in the “Muslim ghettos” of France have little opportunity to assimilate and advance economically.  As reported by the BBC, resumés with Arab or North African names were systematically thrown out by French companies, resulting in an absurd 26.5% unemployment rate in North African university graduates.

Women have been used as symbols of one culture’s victory over another for centuries. During the imperialism of the early 20th century, many discriminatory acts were justified, under the guise of “saving brown women from brown men.” There are many diverse reasons why a woman wears a burqa– some of those are certainly sexist, and misogynistic. Some of those are not. And yes, some of them are due to cultural pressure– or peer pressure.

As this NYT Op-Ed states,

…They have rushed in where angels fear to tread. An adolescent girl who starts to smoke submits to psychological peer pressure. So too those who sport baggy trousers or skin tight jeans, wear tattoos or go in for piercing, face-lifting, breast enhancement and a myriad of other practices just as offensive to some as the burqa is to others.

This isn’t an unfair comparison. Eating disorders in the West occur at higher rates than in Middle Eastern countries, due to images of women in skin-tight clothing. Women in the US are literally dying to be thin. I say this not to prove that somehow burqa is the answer to this problem– but that each society has dangerous standards it holds women to, and that in some instances, there are far greater societal ills than body coverings.

Perhaps the most important point I see is the following:

The political clamor to ban the burqa is not an evidence-based policy. It is a misguided effort to enhance the status of women grounded in speculation about what a woman hidden in a burqa must feel. Yet whatever she feels will certainly not be changed by a law telling her what not to wear.

Will a burqa ban make a strongly religious woman less religious? Will a burqa ban fix potential domestic abuse in the home? Will it somehow change fundamentalist men who use Islam to oppress their sisters or wives? Of course not. ‘The West’ is obsessed with Muslim veiling– whether it be hijab or the burqa– because itsymbolizes something we which we cannot understand. Though when it comes to real issues that these women experience, I don’t think we follow through.

What concerns me about this is not just the restriction of a woman’s choice to don the burqa. Laws like this allow people in the West to pat themselves on the back, so to speak, in regards to “saving women”– without really asking the women themselves– and without questioning or understand what prejudices have lead to this ban. Prejudices that surface in violent and tragic ways– such as for Marwa al-Sherbini. Al-Sherbini, a pregnant Muslim woman in Germany, went to court to protect herself from a xenophobic neighbor, who called her “slut,” “terrorist,” and “Islamist.” She was fatally stabbed 18 times in front of her son in a German courtroom. Her husband is hospitalized, because when the police came to the scene, they automatically assumed the brown man was the attacker– and shot him.

What will a burqa ban do to protect women like Marwa al-Sherbini?