President Nicholas Sarkozy of France has declared war against a garment Muslim women wear, the burqa.
For emphasis, President Sarkozy made the announcement to both houses of the National Assembly. He also chose the first day in 136 years that a French President attended a parliamentary session.
To add real punch, he summoned the legislators to Versailles Palace. From there, French emperors reigned until les misérables decreed otherwise.
President Sarkozy need not worry about meeting the fate of the last emperor. He’s popular. Tough and irritating decisions fit.
An eerie feeling
The loose fitting burqa covers the wearer from head to toe. Variations exist. Some leave the face visible; others provide holes for the eyes. In tense situations, the latter create an eerie feeling.
Moreover, in these days of terrorist attacks, other issues arise. Explosive belts and rocket-propelled grenade launchers can easily find comfort under the garment.
Conspiratorial thoughts, however, weren’t President Sarkozy’s concern. France can’t accept the presence of “women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity.”
That isn’t France’s “idea of women dignity.” The burqa isn’t a sign of religion. It’s a sign of subservience.
The following day, the National Assembly announced a commission of 30 to look at the prevalence of the garment. The country already bars female public servants from wearing headscarves at work and girls in public schools.
Support from burqa haters followed. For example, Mr James Delingpole wrote in TimesOnline that France was “setting a moral example and standing up for freedom.” A young Muslim girl, he wrote, needs protection to choose between livings “in a kind of religious apartheid” or “integrate more closely with the host culture.”
That’s pointing a finger at Muslim men who force women to wear the burqa.
Some Muslims agree with President Sarkozy. Mr Mohammed Moussaoui, head of France’s Representative Muslim Council opposes burqa wearing.
However, the burqa defenders, legion worldwide, insist the Koran and subsequent writings by holy men are on their side.
“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...” (Koran: 24.31) That’s a recommendation, not a requirement.
Like in any other religion, interpretations of the original texts exist and traditions evolve. Islam and its traditions define the roles of males and females, especially in public. Believers accept some and reject others. Hence, sects exist.
What rubs Westerners the wrong way is that the roles are more complimentary than equal. Moreover, extreme enthusiasts have gone to limits some Muslim scholars question.
For example, what is Islamic in honour killing, punishing a rape victim, denying women education or confining them at home, as if all Muslim women are potentially unfaithful? Add all measures that deny Muslim women benefits of modernity.
Iran, and educated women are a plenty, is a recent example of this deprivation. One of the things Ayatollah Khomeini did was abolish laws that gave women benefits of modernity. Yet women hadn’t ceased to be Muslims. They in fact supported Khomeini’s revolution.
Westerners forget the battles their women fought to win the rights they now enjoy. This came about by throwing away impractical Christian, Judaic et cetera traditions. These faiths haven’t died. Yet male chauvinists, disguised even as religious, abound.
Muslim women will follow their counterparts in the West and elsewhere and break the male-imposed yoke. Tactical models are available. Iranian and Saudi authorities maintain the moral police to stymie this trend.
The fundamental question remains: Is force or delusion necessary to instil and sustain a faith and its traditions? Basically, that’s what President Sarkozy et al are saying and their position has merit.
Incidentally, Muslim women voluntarily wear the burqa.
Mr Mbitiru is a freelance journalist ([email protected])