(I hereby declare that I do not mean offense to whomsoever concerned and that my respect for people is solely based on the individual.)
The hijab, niqab or burqa, though mere pieces of clothing, represent more than that, to many of us (I believe)-women enslavement, their almost ‘non-person’ status and, of course, the rapidly fulminating violence associated with the religion. More than half the times, guilt has stopped me from admitting this convenient transition from a sartorial style to bloodshed, even to myself! However, this feeling of crippling fear is not completely unwarranted, considering the ‘deeds’ of some of them upholding their religion are multiplying at rates higher than that of the H1N1 bug! With all due respect, it’s a delicate path to tread even with the closest of friends who are followers of the Islamic faith. The French are not wrong in being intimidated by the not-so-subtle display of this religion, which, by the virtue of being relatively young, is in the highly dangerous ‘proliferative’ phase. All said and done, this still did not have to spell the banishment of something as personal as clothing. Here’s why I think so:
It infringes on one of the most basic human rights- the freedom of expression. I understand that the state has the right to choose the ‘lesser evil’ and seize this right in light of a threat to personal life or the society. A similar law was passed in Turkey as they had documented evidence of amounting violence in the country. The French republic did not have any such alarming statistic to pull the trigger on the burqa just as yet.
The French government has cited the reason for such a ban to be more of a means of unshackling muslim women from years of suppression. Let me make it clear, I find the idea of a veil to shut the woman off from all the Na mehrams to be abominable, to say the least. Nevertheless, the government need not have to investigate the woman’s level of willingness to wear one, unless she petitions or we have a ‘lesser evil’ situation cited above. However, I would like to add at this point, that the fine for coercion to wear a burqa is still workable as it might serve as a deterrent to the perpetrators.
I now come to the most important issue of security. We walk on a tightrope here, as today’s level of security enforcement entails a deluge of procedures that require patience and compliance from both parties, which would be a lot more inconvenient in case of veiled women. Instead of the ban, this issue could have been dealt on the clear-cut condition- comply or get prosecuted. I acknowledge the difficulties in implementing this policy (There is wide-spread non-compliance in India), but it would have been worth a try.
One might argue that, in a democracy, the government’s decision reflects the opinions of the majority of its people in one way or the other and, thus the ban is welcome by most of them. However, I believe that we have no right to impose upon others, irrespective of their number, something that the majority seems to think, is right.
I believe that this ban is a paranoid response by the French government to the impending perils of muslim fundamentalism. It need not have pushed the panic button for the outwardly malignant yet, just an innocent garment.