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Why I Support a Ban on Burqas

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People say, "The burqa is a dress, at most a costume. We're not going to make laws about clothing and costumes." Error. 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. And, from the Stoics to [19th century thinker] Elisée Reclus, from Schoelcher to Lamartine to Tocqueville, all who rejected slavery provided us with every possible argument against the minor added outrage that consists of transforming victims into the authors of their own misery.

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. There is not a shoyoukh, not one religious scholar, who is unaware that the Koran does not consider showing the face "nudity" any more than it does showing the hands. And I'm not even mentioning those who tell their congregations loudly and clearly, as Hassan Chalghoumi, the courageous Imam of Drancy, did today, that wearing a full-body veil is downright anti-Islamic.

People say, "Let's not confuse things! Be careful, drawing attention to the burqa may encourage an Islamophobia -- itself a form of racism in disguise -- that's just dying to explode. We closed the door on this racism, preventing it from infiltrating the debate on national identity. Are we going to let it sneak back in through the window in this discussion of the burqa?" Still another sophism, tireless but absurd, for one has nothing to do with the other. Islamophobia -- and it can never be repeated enough -- is obviously not racism. Personally, I am not Islamophobic. I am far too concerned with the spiritual and the dialogue among spiritualities to feel any hostility towards one religion or another. But the right to freely criticize them, the right to make fun of their dogmas or beliefs, the right to be a non-believer, the right to blasphemy and apostasy -- all these were acquired at too great a cost for us to allow a sect, terrorists of thought, to nullify them or undermine them. 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.

And then, people finally say, "But what are we talking about here, anyway? How many cases? How many burqas? Why all this uproar for a few thousand, maybe just a few hundred, burqas to be found in the entirety of French territory, why dig up this arsenal of regulations, why pass a law?" That's the most popular argument at present and, for some, the most convincing. But in reality, it's as specious as all the others. For one of two things is true. Either it's just a game, an accoutrement, a costume (cf. above), if you will, in which case tolerance would be the suitable response. Or else we're talking about an offense to women, a blow to their dignity, a blatant challenge to the fundamental republican rule -- earned at what cost as well -- of equality between the sexes. In that case, it is a question of principle. And when principles are involved, the number is of no consequence. Supposing we called into question the laws of 1881 (outlining the fundamentals of freedom of the press and of expression in France) on the pretext that attacks on the freedom of the press have become rare? And, considering the declining incidence of racist or antisemitic attacks, what would we think of someone who suggested the abolition or even the watering down of current pertinent legislation? If the burqa is really, as I am saying, an affront to women and to their secular struggle for equality, it is, moreover, an insult to the women who, at the very hour I write these words, are demonstrating barefaced in Iran against a regime of assassins who claim the burqa among their symbols. This symbol would divide humanity between those of glorious body, graced with no less glorious a face, and those whose bodies and faces are an outrage in the flesh, a scandal, a filthy thing not to be seen but hidden or neutralized. And that is why, if there is even one woman in France, just one, who enters a hospital or the city hall imprisoned in a burqa, she must be set free.

For all these reasons of principle, I am in favor of a law that clearly and plainly declares that wearing a burqa in the public area is anti-republican.