Once in a while, the French do something right besides cooking and maintaining their beautiful countryside. The French President announced recently that he is sure he will be able soon to have a law prohibiting the wearing of the burqa anywhere on French territory. The burqa is any long garment covering the whole body including the face. It is worn by a small minority of Muslim women worldwide and occasionally by male terrorists (as in Pakistan, last week).
The French President went about it intelligently. First, very importantly, he consulted at length diverse Muslim religious authorities in France. A consensus soon emerged that covering was not prescribed by Islam. The Koran itself seems to recommend “modesty,” in general terms. Having thus insured that the measure did not violate freedom of religion – guaranteed by the French constitution – the President inquired whether a prohibition would create problems of adjustment for Muslim immigrants. It was discovered, to almost everyone’s surprise, that most burqa wearers are French-born. The President decided to strike hard and decisively. He ignored the opinion (only an opinion) of the French constitutional council and took the first steps toward total prohibition, with education, followed by big fines. The fines imposed on men who force their womenfolk to wear the burqa are deliberately higher.
This measure has broad support, from the President’s own center-right party to many Communist municipal governments. (The French Communist Party if finished on the national level. It’s still important at the municipal level, especially in working-class areas where most Muslims probably live.) As far as one can tell, a slim majority of French Muslims seems to support the measure. The French Socialist Party, the equivalent of our Democrat Party in my judgment, is wishy-washy on the issue: On the one hand, on the other hand, on the third hand, etc.
The law would affect only about 2,000 women in all of France, according to the daily Le Figaro (which I read every day). There used to be only 200. There is widespread belief that the contagion is spreading like a disease.
President Sarkozy’s administration has squarely stated that the reasons for this law have to do with the treatment of women. Almost everybody in France, Muslims included, believes that the same women who wear full veil are the same women most likely to be beaten, raped by their male relatives, married by force, kept ignorant, and abandoned. French liberals don’t want to admit this openly. As usual, they play intellectual games, asking for something like hard proof of such associations. In my opinion, a reversible act of government taken after broad and proper consultation and entailing no jail penalties requires no formal proof.
Sarkozy is braver than I would have been in this case. I would simply have stated that the burqa must be prohibited because of the security risks it poses in connection with violent jihadist terrorism, which it does.
One expression of self-doubt and one thought about the philosophical implications of my support:
I have taught many female Muslim students. A large number displayed cleavage with the same enthusiasm as their Christian sisters (and rivals). One Muslim MBA student who sticks to my mind though wore full Islamic attire except that her face was exposed. She was of Egyptian origin. She was one of the hardest working, energetic, and clear-headed students I have ever had. She made a lasting impression on me, not an easy achievement since I had taught thousands in my career. She told me that she was going to Pakistan with her husband for spring break. That was surely one of the oddest, least attractive spring break destination ever. I never heard from her and never saw her on campus after that.
I know that my approval of the strong repressive actions of the French government relative to the burqa is in contradiction with my usual libertarian (small “l”) positions. The same contradictions exist with respect to my belief in strong, generously funded national defense. I care less and less about ideological coherence. My observation of the relevant websites and my few discussions with Libertarian (big “L”) pundits have half convinced me that ideology is a cover for ignorance of facts and unreason. A small number of moral principles learned in kindergarten are pretty much enough to guide me.
How about you?