A little over a week ago, French President Nicholas Sarkozy announced in a speech to the French Parliament that burqas, the head-to-toe covering that some Muslim women wear, “will not be welcome on our territory.”
His statement is, of course, profoundly wrong-headed. The next hop in my train of thought is naturally, “What’s next?! Banning the kippah, which supposedly systematically oppresses Jewish men?” Of course, the French Parliament has beaten me to the punch, as Sarkozy’s statement comes several years after legislators banned the hijab, crosses, and kippahs from public schools. The message seems to be that religious faith is a wholly private matter that should not be allowed to creep at all into public view. In a sense, this isn’t wholly off the mark. But the problem here is that the French take a weak view of religion. I submit that any set of axiomatic beliefs upon which a worldview is built ought to be considered a religion, and that all “religions” — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism Atheism, Paganism, Kant-ianity, Jedi, Secular Humanism, etc. — ought to be treated as equals. No particular faith ought to be given undue privilege over the others, and this means that the state endorsing Christianity is as wrong as the state implicitly endorsing Atheism.
Muslims in France seem to be held in contempt equally on both the left and the right. Undoubtedly, it is to Sarkozy’s benefit to come out strongly in favor of traditional (white) French identity as Islamic immigration from North Africa continues to increase. But to ban the burqa is ultimately an empty attempt to use law to force cultural change among a minority. I’m skeptical of the law’s ability to shape the moral contour of a people. Laws have rarely been able to change the minds of a nation; they are most effective as an outpouring of what the people in a nation believe should govern them. A New York Times opinion piece gets it right: “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.”
Check out what The Daily Show has to say on the matter: