We both are in our early twenties, and while one of us is Muslim, we didn’t feel directly affected by the passing of the anti-burqa (although anti-niqab is the more appropriate word) law.
Still, we both wanted to express ourselves regarding this subject. We’ve always found the law a little fuzzy, and while it’s difficult to have a definitive stance on the subject, at least this gives us pause to think about it.
Neither have we shown our agreement with the law, nor have we protested against it, by taking to the streets in defiance; instead, we’ve decided to challenge the traditional interpretation of what it means to wear the niqab.
To wear a simple burqa would have been too easy, too simple. So we asked ourselves: how would the authorities react to women who were wearing burqas and hot pants?
We didn’t intend to attack or insult the feelings of orthodox Muslims — to each their own. Rather, we wanted to challenge the elected officials of the Republic who supported the passing of a law that’s believed to be largely unconstitutional. And finally, isn’t it better to have a laugh while making a statement?
Sadly, during our stroll through the ministerial enclave of Paris, we didn’t meet a single superstar of the national political scene, but we definitely laughed . . . a lot.
Ordinary citizens appreciated the look: the police were half-embarrassed, half-enthusiastic; the firefighters honked in approval . . . everything would have been great if only the government had gone along with the mood in the street!
In these troubled times, the law has been somewhat sidelined. Eric Woerth and his acolytes have stolen the spotlight, but let’s get back to our topic, which has by now been vilified by the same people who, in the early summer, made it the hottest topic in print and cyberspace.
Darth Vader and Freedom of Expression
Let’s be honest. For a woman to cover her face, to look like Darth Vader in the name of Islam and its teachings . . . we don’t really understand it.
Still, we’ve heard it said that the Republic is a place for freedom of expression, where everyone has the right to express and practice his religion as he sees fit, as long as he doesn’t force anyone to adhere to his convictions.
So by what right will the woman wearing a niqab while walking in the subway today not be permitted to move in public space by spring 2011? This law is absurd (and will be very difficult to enforce)!
The police themselves are clearly opposed to this law, which will only inflame tensions in neighborhoods that could do without more pressure.
The Hypocrisy of Politics
The aspect of this debate that has us the most annoyed, beyond the injustice that this law perpetuates, is the hypocrisy of French politicians, who wave the holy feminist flag, using the pretext of protecting the poor veiled Muslim woman forced into oppression by her wild, savage husband.
That’s really great . . . thanks. . . . But do we really need a special law prohibiting the burqa to remind us that nobody can be forced to do something against their will? Is dictating the way we dress really the role of the state (as if they had no other fish to fry)?
The hotchpotch of contradictions uttered by Ségolène Royal during her 2007 campaign seems to us the perfect illustration of the confusion surrounding this debate (watch the video):
And why don’t we hear anything about the reactions of women in niqab who cover themselves by choice?
Reading Max Weber’s theory on the state’s monopoly of physical violence upon its citizens really made us think hard. Although this relationship of domination of the institutions over the personal space of the body is inherent in the modern state as we know it today, it typically occurs with more discretion and in accordance with the rules.
But the stigmatization of a small community (low in numbers) is taking place with the passing of this law. We see it more as the demented need of the Republic to regain control over the bodies of its citizens rather than the legitimate use of its power.
The Security Alibi
Finally, the only possible “acceptable” justification for this law is the security issue. It’s very easy to hide oneself under a burqa to commit a crime. The “Burqa Stick-Up” of August comes to mind here. But would these people have ever thought of wearing a veil rather than just donning a hood or a mask if this debate over the anti-burqa law hadn’t been in full swing at the time?
The original article “Minishort et niqab : balade de ‘niqabitch’ dans Paris” was published in Rue89 on 30 September 2010. The text above is adapted from Bina Shah‘s translation posted on the NiqaBitch Web site.