Thursday, 25 February 2010

Unveiling the french veil problem

The question of the veil ( in all its forms ( niquab or burqua) and its interdiction in public spaces is the question that devides the population of France like the question on abortion is in U.S.A.. The question of the right of aborttion in USA is discussed without an historicity on the problems, something usual for the USA. My little brother pointed out to my attention that the moral compass of values of "pro-lifes", the christian churches, has only been recently considered abortion a crime.

Just like the lack of historical perspectives on the abortion question, there is an anachronistic element in the introduction against the veil. It is in the name of laicity that the interdiction is legitimized. Laicity was important in France in the 19th century as an ideology, because the church had still legal powers (e.g. over marriage) in the name of their god. The church being a bit of an ademocratic institutions, the battle against the church as hegemonic secular institutions ras rightfull. As much as atheism rights are not that defended, laicity is here used as an ideology to combat an evilized religion, not defend democraty.

So we can observed the history of the separation of the state and the church. But as much as French can defend whatever moral values they find behind their subjective opinion of laicity, they should admit that a deeply ethnocentered idea push too far can easily be seen as a violation of human rights. It's ironic that laicity has an element of trying to free people from ethnocentrism, but is used for such restricted ideas.

A solid argument, my mother's excalibur argument on the question, for the interdiction is that it is a symbole of patriarchal oppression. And in some ways it is. Families, husbands and cohorts who force women to be covered should be prosecuted for psychological harrassement. It is though also a form of symbolic violence when women are brainwashed to believe that they are inferiors or servants.

The other party has a counter-argument, individuals right. There are more women who chooses individually to wear a veil than forced to do so in our countries. More over, from my experience, and it is a shared perception, most of the musulman women I've met in the developping world where proud of wearing a veil. From the biology teacher in Thailand to the multilingual guide egyptian, intelligent women told me that they honoured their faith and didn't ask the west to come to their rescue.

This argument doesn't hold when we observed that embedded practice of oppression against women, that the veil represents, exist. So France said let's forget the right to practice a faith, let's protect women.

And what of the consequences France ? First of all, what about the limitless collateral damages of not allowing any religious signs at school? The law was passed against the veil, but not to look islamophobic, they decided it should extent to all religious signs. As an example, let's picture a sikh in France. These peacefull people believe it is forbidden to cut or shave their hair. They do then have to wear a turban hat to hide all their hair, explaining why they can be stupidly mistaken for a afghan hat. Sikhs have already abandonned their ritual knife, understanding the fear of it, but is the french government asking them to cut all their hair, or let the hair hang and be misunderstandbly stigmatised?

Another consequence that French do not want to observe is that they do present themselves as being on a crusade against Islam, but only their imagined version of Islam. They are fuelling primordialism and political racism in islamic countries by victimizing Islam. How can the west lead by example if it imposes sets of behaviors and dressings. How not to be insulted by being targeted by a governments because of a few dangerous people that shares the same faith in name only and not in practice. It is a good way to create anti-racism racism.

My final point is that all in all, it is a political decision that is only trying to look like the average voter is protected of his fears. The average voter is racist, so lets create a problem and proposes to solve it. But as much as the problem could exist maybe before, they don't tackle anything. Forcing people to behave in a certain way has no educationnal value. The veil can be a representation of oppression, but getting read of the representation only is not getting rid of the real problem. Other forms of oppression will exist as long as the social structures that feed that oppression exist.

And what about women magazines promoting a stricter body-discipline than men in the name of beauty? Women reading this message are victim of symbolic violence, but no measures has been made against it. We do tell ourselves that forbidding women magazines will not solve anorexia in top-models or the social construction of womenhood being only a beautifull object. Telling women what are the different forms of oppression and prosecuting the people forcing a symbol on them should be the solution. Restriction is no synomym of education. Also, giving them the informations so they can come to a rational conclusion was the central ideal of real laicity, not justified racism.


Nicole said...

Nice blog and interesting posts. I did not read them all yet but will do.

george kosmo said...

thank you

Petterson said...

Totally agreed. There is absolutely no way that a society will get rid of all religious symbols in the public sphere - otherwise christmas would have to be cancelled, sundays would need to be working days, and so on.

Good article.