“Mr. Sarkozy wants a bill that goes farther than initial proposals, including a ban on wearing the full veil — the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered, and the burqa, which is almost unknown in France — from streets, markets and shops”
The proposed French (& Belgian) law banning burkas is troubling. The ‘public safety’ claim is disingenuous, and the women’s rights claim is specious – yes, some women are forced to dress in the burka and as such it is a tool of oppression, but banning it simply follows from the same first premise – to wit, someone else gets to decide what women wear.
In an article for Slate.com Christopher Hitchens addresses the law approvingly: “Society is being asked to abandon an immemorial tradition of equality and openness in order to gratify one faith, one faith that has a very questionable record in respect of females.” No, people wear all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, and the government is now wondering if they shouldn’t intervene because they disagree with the principle they presume is behind it. Are they correct to disagree with the oppression of women? Of course. But unless they’ve acquired ESP, it’s impossible for them to know why every woman wears what she wears.
He says, “I would indignantly refuse to have any dealings with a nurse or doctor or teacher who hid his or her face, let alone a tax inspector or customs official.” Really? What about a surgeon? But the law isn’t specific to people in such positions, just as the rule he refers to for his building doesn’t apply to the rest of his city – the owners of private property can make whatever bizarre rules they like (jackets and ties must be worn, no outside food or drink, no women allowed…), just as hospitals and schools can have a particular professional dress code. That doesn’t mean that any rule should be extended into the public space.
He suggests that he has a right to see everyone’s face, as everyone has a right to see his. Um, no. Everyone has a right to reveal their face – but that decision is theirs, not the cost of the privilege of going out in public.
You might object to the rationale behind what I’m wearing, whether it’s a yarmulke, plastic mini-skirt, or a confederate flag tee shirt, but you don’t get to tell me that I’m not allowed to wear it. Hitchens invents some feeble reasons implying that veils and burkas are a threat to public safety – thugs wearing them as disguises (any voluminous clothing or hoodies would serve), limits on peripheral vision (um, so maybe ban driving while wearing anything that restricts vision?), and suggesting they hide evidence of abuse, which most clothing would anyway.
Hitchens claims the main point of his support is that “we have no assurance that Muslim women put on the burqa or don the veil as a matter of their own choice.” The problem is not with the clothes, but with the scary, oppressive fundamentalists threatening these women. Which, I agree, is horrifying and requires urgent and ceaseless attention – any violence against women should be investigated, punished, and prevented. But what is happening here is that women are being dictated to because of male behaviors, much like rape-prevention; there’s a lot telling women where they can’t go and what they shouldn’t wear, how much they can and can’t drink, how far they can go before giving tacit permission, etc – and virtually nothing telling men to not be rapists, or punishing them for it.
It falls into the same category as fat-acceptance and being pro-choice. Some people are fat and healthy, some people are fat and unhealthy. Same with the skinny folks. They are not obligated to base their food and exercise choices on what you like to look at.
If I become pregnant, carrying that to term is my choice, not anyone else’s – because it is my body that has to deal with the physical nature of it, and my mind, heart, and soul that has to deal with the emotional and lifestyle repercussions. You don’t get to make that decision for me. You might not agree with my choice, you might think I am a slut or irresponsible, and maybe I am, but it’s my life. You don’t get to impose your beliefs on my body.
This is about individuality and self-determination. Any one who tries to put limits on that is extending a personal opinion – a judgment – into the realm of objective truth. You not liking my looks or behavior is unfortunate, not a restriction of your rights. If I was drunk driving or doing drugs and endangering lives, by all means, lock me up, for the good of the community. But if you think that disagreeing with me sartorially, nutritionally, or morally gives you the right to enact laws to control my behavior, you are the one who is restricting my rights. I am not here for your benefit.
What it boils down to is that you don’t get to tell me, or any other woman, what to do. Unless my behavior or beliefs are negatively affecting the lives of others, I have the last word. Not you.