Tuesday, May 24, 2011

France's Ban on Face Covering

On April 11th, 2011, it became illegal in France to wear face-covering garments, including veils worn by Muslim women. French president Nicholas Sarkozy stated that full veils are "not welcome" in France, and that the law banning them is to protect women from being forced to cover their faces and to uphold France's secular values. The ban is supported by 80% of French citizens. Less than 2,000 Muslim women were thought to wear the niqab, or face-covering veil.

Three women wearing the niqab
Women wearing the niqab
While I sympathize with France's desire to protect women and create a secular society, I cannot support this law. I suppose it boils down to whether you value genuine freedom or not. Genuine freedom would include the freedom for a person to make bad decisions, so long as there are no other victims. France's version of freedom seems to mean the freedom to choose between different paths in life that have already been stamped by society as "dignified". It seems to imply that dignity is something that can be defined by consensus, and whatever is undignified anyway can be made dignified through the judicial system.

I don't often find myself siding with Muslims, and I do see the Burka and niqab as symbols of oppression and backwardness. Yet France's attempts to guarantee dignity and to protect women from force have no legitimacy. How can dignity be something that is applied from the outside, rather than something coming from within? And how can France protect people from being forced to wear certain clothes by forcing them to wear certain clothes?

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