No One Needs to Ban Burqas

The Sarkozy opposition to burqas sends a mix of smart and dumb signals to citizens of France and the world.

Sarkozy has the full right to say, 'This is France and these are our ways and customs; if our ways are offensive to you and you consider us barbaric and immoral, then perhaps you should leave.' Indeed, he and and many other European leaders should more clearly mark out what the cultural boundaries and expectations are for those who seek to immigrate. I've argued elsewhere that this is not oppression of newcomers; this is a Golden Rule for how reasonable societies operate. (As a second-generation Pakistani-American I've long felt that if immigrants descend upon a supposedly morally corrupt culture mainly due to economic opportunities, they are guilty of a certain prostitution -- in which case their immortal soul has more urgent things to fret about than anyone else's supposed moral decay.)

And yet... We all are aware of the power of reverse psychology. Burqas are by all indications uncommon in France, even among Muslims -- but when you ban something, you can make it more popular, by tapping into people's "inner subversive." I've heard enough Muslim women insist that their "modest" clothing doesn't constitute oppression by men as much as it constitutes protection from men's libidos. A formal ban would convince many of them that the real oppressor is the supposedly freedom-loving West that refuses them the freedom to wear materials associated with their heritage.

Let's have no-holds-barred discussions about what it means to wear a burqa. Let's hear moderate Muslim women tell burqa-clad women about how they think the burqa is a silly relic and a misunderstanding of Islamic intent, which can encourage the burqa-bound far more than government ordinances. France and the rest of Europe don't need more bans, they need to place a spotlight on potentially incompatible traditions in a manner consistent with the best and freest traditions of the West.