Banning Veils Unveil Religious and Cultural Xenophobia
On September 14, 2010 an act was passed in the Senate of France that created heavy criticism across the globe. It was the ‘Act prohibiting the concealment of face in public places’. The act had been passed previously a couple of months earlier in the National Assembly of France as well. This act prohibited by rule depriving Muslim women from wearing Burga and Niqab, the dresses entwined with their religious practices and culture. The ban though justified on grounds security risks by the French government, fanned the debates in two directions. One was the point of view on the lack of religious inclusiveness in a country like France with multi cultural backgrounds while the other took the issue from the feministic point of view.
Post 9/11 the world’s view, the west in particular, on Muslims had changed completely. The reiteration of the American War on Terror propaganda and the words like ‘Jihad’ that found its way to the headlines often had somehow brought about the unhealthy association of Muslims with terrorism. There were moments when the west fearfully doubted every Muslim- even someone who they knew for years- in their neighbourhood for terrorist. The Muslim hatred spread epidemically across America and Europe.
As of April 2011, wearing veils in public places- such as streets, commercial spaces, parks, puplic transportations- became a punishable offense by law. This law hold to men and non-Muslims alike. Women were allowed to wear Burga or Niqab while commuting in private transportations and during worship in their religious places. The offenders of the law were punishable with a fine of up to €150. Needless to say this sparked heavy criticism. Muslim women found the law degrading.
A discussion over the ban of veils came after the then president Nicolas Sarkozy commented negative on the veils. He advocated unwelcoming came on the intention of protecting women from forcing to wear veils to uphold the secular values that France stands for. The Islamic voices stated that Quran didn’t insist on wearing veils but this comes as a part of cultural heritage.
Even from the feministic point of view forcing a woman to cover her may be objectionable but obviously not if one chooses to wear it at her own free will. A 24 year old woman, as the sole identification given by the media, brought a case to the high court insisting that it is her right to choose what she wears. The court had ruled out her case. Recently the European court of Human Rights has upheld the controversial France’s ban on burga, rejecting the arguments of breach in religious freedom. France is justified in introducing the ban in the interests of Social cohesion, the court has added.
Does bringing uniformity in dress code alone adequate to ensure social cohesion? Is there no other issue in the French society that creates friction, challenging social cohesion? What about economic inequality then, for instance?
This is not the first time France comes out with ban of this kind. In 2005, 57 year old Shingara Mann Singh was asked to remove his turban, a religious identity of every Sikh, to take a photograph for his passport. He reportedly registered his disappointment as, “I’ve been a French citizen for more than 20 years. I fail how my country can be proud of its slogan of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, if it can’t uphold its citizen’s religious freedom.”
A woman should not be banned from wearing something, even by law, if she wears it at her will. This is as much a crime as to dictate what she should be wearing.