Image via WikipediaPresident Sarkozy has announced that the burqa - the head to toe covering worn by some muslim women - is not welcome on French territory....it is not a question of religion, he says, but a question of the dignity of women.
A deputy from Lyons, noticing that more and more burqa clad figures were to be seen on the streets of his multiracial constituency, has suggested a parliamentary enquiry into the matter, concerned as he was that women were being coerced into wearing the garment. When asked whether legislation might be a possibility he replied
I can't say I've seen any burqas out here in the sticks, though Mme. Chose comes pretty close to it in her wet weather gear for feeding the rabbits....between the brim of the hat and the turned up collar of the raincoat you see only the eyes behind their thick spectacles, while her lower extremities are covered by the sack she winds round her waist. I don't think M. Chose coerces her, either....he prefers to live rather than cross his formidable helpmeet.
I don't see it either in the ethnic area markets I go to for coriander and other exotic items not recognised by the French palate. The only sign of fusion cuisine out here is when you leave a plastic bowl on the hot plate while you answer the telephone. However, the immigrant population here is mostly Turkish, and, thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish nation, women don't wear garments that impede their daily life. Headscarfs and trousers, yes, burqas no. I haven't caught up with what happened to the attempts of the somewhat Islamist Turkish government to allow women to wear headscarfs if working for the state, which had beeen a practice firmly banned before, but I'm all in favour of encouraging women to regard themselves as people rather than objects of cultural tradition and giving an example in public employment sectors.
I suppose wearing the burqa is more a sign of peer pressure than anything else. As so often, women who are oppressed oppress other women in their turn, all in the name of doing their best for them. Thus the continuation of female circumcision, and, disgracefully, the blind eye the responsible authorites turn to this practice with the pretence of not upsetting ethnic cultural sensibilities. I should like to see the 'responsible authorities' have their sensibilities upset by an onslaught on their genitalia. In what we regard as our advanced society, the pressure on women to be thin comes from other women, as does the pressure to produce children, have a creative job, etc...the reality is a guilt ridden, harried creature working on low pay who doesn't know whether she is coming or going.
People do strange things behind the front of religion. The Church of England probably still has provision for 'churching' women after childbirth, to purify them, but, just like wearing hats, it has gone by the board, as, with the acceptance of female priests, has the notion of women being silent in church. St. Paul thought that if they didn't understand anything, they should shut up and ask their husbands when they got home, which probably explains the origin of most of the early heresies.
I have been reading 'The Map of Love' by Ahdaf Soueif, which is a hymn to the delinquency of colonialism and the discovery of being a female in turn of the century Egyptian society. Once again, as in all these 'joys of islam' works, we hear of the delights of the veil, of seclusion, of the limited sphere of action open to a woman. You would have to be off your trolley to agree, but it is a measure of the lack of confidence our society has in its own values that such a novel was a Booker Prize finalist.
This, I think, rather than the burqa itself, is the problem. We lack the confidence to say that it is a disgrace that women should be wearing their winding sheets before they are dead and we lack the confidence to do anything about it. We have a history of intervention...just think of the slum missions in the U.K. in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, bringing some measure of civilisation to people abandoned to filth, poverty and drink....and it is not one to be ashamed of. I worry about legislation..it is always such a cack handed way to go about things...but as our modern society has sapped the will and the energy of its people to take any initiative for fear of the consequences of not being PC, I suppose it might be the only solution.