Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Saving Face

Last summer, France passed a law banning all full-face coverings...that law is now in effect. Guess my American flag mask wouldn't be too popular...
However, believe it or not, masked revolutionaries is not where the controversy lies. While the law gives no direct mention to the niqab or a burka, masked Anarchists aren't exactly roaming the streets of Paris. Muslim women, in all their cloaked glory, are.
Now that the law is in effect, the question is, how do you enforce it?
I can't see French police galloping through the streets stripping women of their niqabs in the name of freedom...maybe in the late 1700's - now, ehhh.
Even Emmanuel Roux, the General of the Union of Police Commissioners isn't quite sure how to react. When asked about the laws enforcement, he said that he would definitely try and talk a Muslim woman into taking off her head scarf but if she still refused, he admitted he would "call the prosecutor and ask him what to do."
Well, that sounds resolute.

The law has been covered (pun intended) with controversy since its inception. It's quite clear that it stems from a move to limit extremist Muslim practices in France. However, does an extremist practice warrant an extreme law? Many have made the case that while the Muslim veil does in fact represent female oppression, it has become a way of life for many women, something they have grown accustomed to and therefore unfair to forcibly remove. Others make the point that becoming used to oppression is no reason to allow it to continue.

My thoughts: let's take a page from the biggest book of fuck ups: US.
Our incessant need to impose our way of life on the world far outshines the French law. Our cultural diplomacy makes theirs look like an olive branch wrapped in a head scarf.
That being said, does demanding change, even if it is "good for them," actually good?
Does telling women they simply CAN'T do something not encroach upon their rights ever more? Does it not make them feel ostracized in their religion as well as their adopted home? Would it not serve a greater purpose to educate and enlighten rather than throw the book in their veiled faces?
I personally abhor niqabs, burkas and any other instrument used to hide a woman from the world. It is an extremist practice found nowhere in the pages of the Quran, an instrument of control and oppression. At this point tho, it has become a part of their culture, something ingrained in their identity, for better or for worse. Yes, some women toss off their veils with glee, but others feel at home behind them, just as I'm sure some female boomers still wince at the thought of working independently, not having dinner ready by 6, not caring for children, etc. Oppression is not something that is lost immediately. Oppression can only be immediately thrown off by use of oppression, a difficult conundrum.
Education and cultural engagement comes over time. It is better to focus energy on uncovering the pros of anti-niqab practices for these veiled women, instilling in them the concept of beauty unveiled, unfettered by tradition or cultural confines.
For in the end, no matter how much we want these people to assimilate, it takes time. Again, look at US - the Italians, Chinese, Irish, Russians, Polaks, Swedes, and now Hispanics hold onto their culture, whether it be "politically correct" or not. They hold on to tradition while assimilating. Hardship is a requisite of immigrating to a new country, but forced, complete assimilation need not be included in those hardships.
This is surely a different time and place, but that theory can still apply. If you allow these people into your country, you expect certain things: learn the language, respect the customs, the laws, the people and tradition. And while we can promote equality, promote justice to all regardless of whether they have a penis or a vagina, we can not force those beliefs all the way into the closets of our citizens. France does and should continue to crack down hard on atrocities such as honor killings, beatings, domestic violence and public humiliation surrounding Muslim culture. Protect women from the heinous traditions they left behind, but do not be the aggressor. The veil must be brought down by assimilation, it must come off slowly, delicately, by the hand of the woman, not by the hand of the state. By allowing her to remove it, you empower her far more than by ripping it from her yourself. You give her something she never had: choice. That is true freedom.

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