WARNING:- A VERY LONG POST
Many sources and individuals have been referred to in this post. Therefore I can take credit for the post only in part.
The thoughts and the stand taken herein are however solely mine. And I am responsible for any views expressed in the post.
If the post is too long for you to read then please just leave your opinion on the proposed ban in the comment section.Though a swift glance at the various links and quoted text would help make matters more clear.I know it was so for me.
photo courtesy superblinkymac flickr user
“What is freedom? Freedom is the right to choose: the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice.” -Archibald MacLeish
“Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them — and then, the opportunity to choose.” -C.Wright Mills
What is freedom?
Choices. Above and any other.This one word is what freedom is all about. The word that is the foundation of freedom. Not just the freedom to choose A OR B. But the freedom to choose both or neither. OR the freedom to come up with a choice C.
In the world of today, one that is getting increasingly democratic (or atleast one would hope so). In this world EVERYONE has the freedom to do whet they want. Do what they please as long as it does not break rules (rules laid down in a democratic society) OR impinge upon the freedom of others.
Here however, a new rule is being proposed. One that seeks to ban the burqa from public space. Indeed from any space at all save perhaps, the VERY private one(but then one wonders if a burqa was to be worn inside the home at all)
“In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. The burqa is not a religious sign, it’s a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement — I want to say it solemnly. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”
Sarkozy said a few words and it has led to a heated debate all over the world.
Are we ready for an all out ban on the burqa? Are burqas really a sign of subservience? Does Islam approve of the burqa?Does it sanction it? Are those who wear the burqa virtual prisoners in their home? Are they oppressed? Subjugated?
And whether they are oppressed or are not, JUST HOW will one ensure and know which woman has worn it out of choice and which one has worn it against her will?
But lets leave the questions aside for a moment.
Lets look at what secularism means in France and the steps taken to make its foundation even more solid.
In French, laïcité (pronounced [la.i.siˈte]) is a French concept of a secular society connoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs.
Supporters argue that Laïcité by itself does not necessarily imply any hostility of the government with respect to religion.
Critics of laïcité argue that it is a disguised form of anti clericalism and individual right to religious expression, and that, instead of promoting freedom of thought and freedom of religion, it prevents the believer from observing his or her religion.
France’s strict secularism, entrenched by law since 1905, keeps religion firmly out of the state sphere. There are no religious studies (let alone nativity plays) in state schools, nor may public workers sport the headscarf. The government denies that such policies constrain religious freedom or are especially aimed at Islam. France welcomes private Muslim schools. Mosque-building is widespread. The 2004 headscarf ban outlawed “conspicuous” religious symbols of all faiths. Yet there are growing worries about the spread of hard-line Islamism in the heavily Muslim banlieues. [LINK]
Also let us not forget that paragon of ‘virtue’ the protector of not just our ‘sabhyata’ but apparently (and this is news to me) of sabhyata the world over.
Describing Sarkozy as `tagdaa manoos’ (strong man), Saamna said the French president showed no consideration to the regressive Muslim clergy in his country. “He told the Muslim leaders in no uncertain terms that they will have to fully and completely adhere to the laws of France. India’s woes will end if we get someone like Sarkozy as our head.”[LINK]
Ughhhhhh! Why am I not surprised?
One is sorely tempted to question Sarkozy and his (in)famous credentials as a politician and a man. But that would lead to an ad hominem argument, something that one should avoid.
But it cannot be denied even by the most fierce supporter of Sarkozy that this stance is nothing but a ploy to score some political brownie points.
“Sarkozy’s whole thing has been to capture votes from the National Front, the far-right French party,” Scott says. “Anti-immigrant politics is a huge part of that. Sarkozy has taken this position all along that he is the champion of Frenchness. It plays well politically for him to find issues where he can declare himself the protector of French national identity.” [link]
So let me simply say this.
In a nation that has already banned religious symbols be they of any kind in government offices and in educational institutions..in that country taking this ban a step further by banning the burqa(or any other religious symbol) in the public space is going too far.
The public space be it a park or on the roads, in one’s own car, or the metro or simply walking on the sidewalk is one’s PUBLIC space and I cannot for the life of me see how the government has ANY right to interfere or DICTATE.
And have no doubts that this is high handedness and not secularism for it seeks to make choices for human beings who (contrary to Mr Sarkozy’s opinion and to that of others) DO have a mind of their own.
The proposal for the ban has been supported by various feminist groups. But that in itself does NOT give any greater legitimacy to the idea.
If anything it should make the feminist groups shudder in horror for, the choice is once again being taken away from women.
It is tempting to assert our privilege and play upon the understanding of those that wear the burqa as uniquely oppressed, however if we allow this sentiment to prevail we are devaluing the very bodies we claim to be concerned about. Agency can only be affirmed though the promotion of choice and a respect for the ways in which we differ. A monolithic construct of femininity is something we should uniformly fight against as it is the basis of all woman centered oppression. [LINK]
And so in the end, a ban putatively passed to further women’s rights could instead impinge on their freedom, and take from them something they value. Even worse, it could lead to those in the most fundamentalist of households being trapped inside their homes altogether. It would be cruel to limit these women’s options in the name of liberation, even if their clothes are a rebuke to the secularism that the French rightly hold sacred.
There are many topics that one thinks about but is unable to decide as to precisely which side one is on. And for me this was one of them.
As I told a friend,” I think I am going to sit this one out”…and I would have too, but writing this post has helped. And by the end of it I now know where I stand.
There are many who support the ban and there are many who oppose it. And with very rational reasons too. The Rector of the Paris Mosque for example supports the proposal to an extent.
This latest call for a potential ban of the burka has prompted the head of the French Council for the Muslim Religion to warn MPs they risk stigmatising Muslims again.
But the special inquiry does have the backing of Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Mosque and a former head of the Muslim council, who insists that Islam in France should be an “open and convivial Islam that allows people to live side by side”.
But why do we always forget? Forget that freedom is not either ‘this’ or ‘that’. It is this, that, and many others. All of which we have the right to CHOOSE.
Freedom is all about choices.
A burqa might or might not be worn out of choice. It might or might not be a sign of subjugation. I personally do not like the ‘idea’ of this garment called the burqa. I don’t like the fact that women are reduced to being invisible beings who seem not human but almost like automatons. They seem dehumanized somehow.
Also the original rationale behind the burqa offends me immensely.
That women are nothing but sex objects and thus they have to be covered at all times so as not to tempt men is deeply insulting. Insulting for not just the women but the men too if they have any self respect .
I personally find the hijab better as far as emphasizing the humaneness of the wearer goes.
Hijab is an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition.
In Islam, however, it has a broader meaning. It is the principle of modesty and includes behaviour as well as dress for both males and females.
The most visible form of hijab is the head covering that many Muslim women wear. Hijab however goes beyond the head scarf. In one popular school of Islamic thought, hijab refers to the complete covering of everything except the hands, face and feet in long, loose and non see-through garments. A woman who wears hijab is called Muhaajaba.
Muslim women are required to observe the hijab in front of any man they could theoretically marry. This means that hijab is not obligatory in front of the father, brothers, grandfathers, uncles or young children.
Hijab does not need to be worn in front of other Muslim women, but there is debate about what can be revealed to non-Muslim women.
The Qur’an makes a few references to Muslim clothing, but prefers to point out more general principles of modest dress.
Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.24:30
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, [a list of relatives], [household servants], or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.24:31
The reason I have quoted some verses from the Quran is because this is also a religious issue for the believers of that faith. So to say that it is merely a political issue and not a religious one is to fool oneself. For millions the very idea of the ban is an affront to their personal faith and all that they hold dear.
Meanwhile Christopher Hitchens has his own view on things.
Is this forcible French secularism run amok, or a prohibition that Americans, who often believe we have struck a better balance between church and state, might entertain? I would say the latter…
The whole point of the garment is that it weighs you down, restricts your movements and abolishes your peripheral vision. It’s like being condemned to view the world through the slit of a mailbox..o. It is quite plainly designed by men for the subjugation of women. One cannot be absolutely sure that no woman has ever donned it voluntarily, but one can certainly say that, in countries where women can choose not to wear it, then not wearing it is the choice they generally make.
This disposes right away of the phony argument that religious attire is worn as a matter of “right.” It is almost exactly the other way around: The imposition of burkas or even head scarfs on women – just like the compulsory growing of beards for men – is the symbol of a denial of rights and the inflicting of a tyrannical code that obliterates personal liberty.
I agree with Hitchens to an extent. But then again what of choice? What of the women who DO want to have that choice? He makes a generalization , one that says that generally women will choose NOT to wear the burqa.
How? How did he arrive at this conclusion all on his own? Is he peeking into their minds?
Is he a mind reader? For a man whose views give me food for thought usually, this is something that I strongly disagree with. But then a polemicist is not expected to say anything otherwise.
This is a dicey issue. One where secularism clashes with the freedom of choice. With individual liberty.
The strongest argument (and a rational one in my opinion) comes from Norm Geras.
The public space in a secular democracy is not an atheist public space. Secularism means that no religion is favoured or specially catered for; but it leaves people free to wear the religious insignia they choose to or not to wear any. To insist on a notion of secularism that would forbid the wearing of these items is the equivalent of insisting that secularism prohibits religious belief and its expression, which it patently does not…
(I)f there are some or many women whose own choice it is to wear the burka, a legal ban on their doing so does not uphold their equal citizenship; it does the opposite, making them unique amongst citizens in not being allowed to express their religious or non-religious identity as they choose….
Does the law need to intervene in this matter at all? Why may it not be dealt with by the influence of education, social criticism and the like? Many in Western societies find it an obstruction to interacting with people if their faces are hidden. There is nothing to stop those who feel this way from expressing their preference as and when appropriate.
While one understands that laïcité is an essential component of French identity infact its very bedrock. Yet there surely has to be a limit , a boundary if you will that has to be drawn around it.
French laïcité cannot be understood without taking into account the struggle against clericalism.
Laïcité does NOT exclude religious expression from the public sphere.
Moreover Laïcité has to be redefined in light of the new wave of cultural pluralism that not just France but most countries of the world are a witness to.
No religion or rather religious symbols in educational institutions ?Yes, I can understand that. None in government offices? Yes, I can understand that too.
But a ban on a CHOICE of dress? That too outside these two places?
So what is the difference between the Taliban dictating what should be worn and the French government dictating what shouldn’t be?
This proposed ban seems anything BUT productive. If anything it seems to be counterproductive.
I have said it before and I will say it again.
The most correct point will NOT work when it’s rammed down one’s throat .
In this respect I admire the concept of secularism enshrined in the Indian Constitution above any other. (even if our leaders have made a mockery out of it)
One that talks of धर्मनिरपेक्षता or indifference towards religion.
The philosophy that the Indian constitution upholds on to is a kind of secular humanism made relevant through a historical development of the ideology within the context of religious pluralism in India.
And in that cultural and religious pluralism lies the key to the whole debate. Secularism in today’s world has to make room for multi-culturalism and religious pluralism.
Indian concept of secularism does not talk of an almost radical secularism or a complete break between the state and religion.(though come to think of it that does sound like a good idea IF and ONLY IF practiced in moderation)
But one that says that no bans are necessary for, it is each individual’s right to follow his/her religion or none at all.
Meanwhile there has been atleast one sensible statement made by the Swedish Justice Minister.
PS:- For friends and others please feel absolutely free to disagree.
Trolls please be civil while writing your comment.
Oh what the hell! what am I saying?
That’s what you trolls are NOT known for right?
Well. hehe!hehe! But then that’s what I have comment moderation for 😀