This past Monday, CHUP posted a contribution by Nabiha Meher Sheikh who argued why she was for the recent burqa ban in France. Below, Sahar Khan, a doctoral student in political science at University of California-Irvine, argues why she is against the ban:
On April 11, 2011, France became the first European country to ban the burqa. If a woman in France is found wearing a burqa or covering her face, she will be fined 150 euros or will have to take special citizenship classes (“How To Be French For Dummies”?). There are certain challenges to enforcing the ban though: it is not clear if women found in violation will be jailed or not. Furthermore, people found to be forcing women to wear a burqa will be fined 30,000 euros and perhaps twice as much if the girl is a minor. All in all only about 2000 women will be affected— a pretty small population. So why are we all talking about it?
Personally, the ban made me dwell on was the concept of citizenship itself. According to Christian Joppke in his book Citizenship and Immigration, mass migration has caused tensions between universal human rights and the concept of citizenship since the end of World War II. According Article 15 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Yet, states have a right to decline someone nationality if they wish, which sounds reasonable enough when considering that citizenship can be exclusivist and actually quite undemocratic because one is born into citizenship (unless you’re an Arab Bedouin but I digress).
In line with that logic, a state has an obligation to protect its citizens from external and internal threats. In France’s case then, does the state have the right to ban a certain group from dressing as it pleases in the name of protecting its national identity and security? Isn’t this ban a violation of the liberal norms of free speech and expression? The answers to both of these are complex but it should be made clear that there is a fine line between protection and authoritarianism, and France has just stepped to the latter.
France is a unique country and its secularism is dominated by laïcité, a concept from the Enlightenment that aims to force religion out of politics. By banning the burqa, however, France has brought it into politics. I think the ban will actually make France more insecure for two reasons. First, it seems that France is not just intolerant of its religious minority population but is in fact intolerant of all religion. This is problematic because religion is a dominant force in modern politics, just as secularism is. Trying to make one of these disappear is somewhat impossible. Second, this will create bigger challenges for France with respect to immigration. Most immigrants feel isolated, alienated, and hence disloyal. A ban like this will only deepen these feelings, which will have negative consequences in the long run.
The burqa has issues of its own. First, it is not a requirement in Islam. The only requirement is for women to dress modestly, which can be interpreted in numerous ways. Second, the burqa hides one’s identity, which is obviously a security issue. Third, it is an apparent health risk and many women wearing the veil have been diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiencies, (seriously). Fourth, it is certainly used as a tool to suppress women. However, on the state level, Saudi Arabia is the ONLY country that REQUIRES its women to wear it. By banning the veil, France has become the national counterpart to the kingdom, and I am not sure that was a position France wanted to be in.
This ban disappointed me in the same way the minaret ban in Switzerland did. No doubt, numerous Muslim countries are intolerant and openly prejudice against their ethnic and/or religious minorities, prohibiting Hindu temples and Bohri and Ahmadi mosques from being built. Instead of exhibiting tolerance, Switzerland acted just like these countries by banning the minaret in the name of secularism. And now France has done the same. Banning is also not historically the best solution.
I am not brainwashed nor uninformed nor uneducated. I am, however, a critical observer and feel that laws like these do not solve anything but create even more problems.
The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.