Banning for Freedom?

Ms Mona El Tahawy, this is an open letter addressed to you, I hope you will be able to read it.

After reading your article “Ban the Burqa“, I was seriously worried.  Listening to M. Sarkozy declaring that “La burqa n’est pas la bienvenue sur le territoire de la République” was less of a shock. This declaration was consistent with his positions regarding the Muslim community in France, a group that is overrepresented in the unemployed and the urban poor populations in his country. Sarkozy triggered the unrest of 2005 all over France, by calling the protesters at the housing projects- mostly Muslim youth – “racaille” or rabble. Then, under his command the French police dealt with the unrest with excessive violence. And Sarkozy’s declaration is even more consistent with his mentality as a former minster of interior, all things can be fixed with coercion.

First let me start by admitting that I have no clue what “Burqa is not welcome in the territory of the Republic” means. Does it mean that women will not be able to enter France wearing one? Does it mean that women will be banned to wear it in governmental facilities, and would be banned to wear it to work (I have no idea how many working women are wearing Burqas)? Does it mean that women will be banned from wearing it in the street and the public sphere? Or does it mean that Burqa will become an illegal dress, will women be arrested for wearing it in private spheres? I have no idea. For me this is plain Fascism.

The first step in respecting women, is treating them as full humans, with free will. Banning for Freedom is like Bush’s fighting for Peace. Banning women from wearing Niqab and Burqa is actually embodying the same logic as forcing them to wear one; We – for that matter mainly men- the politicians or the males of the family are entitled to tell women what to wear, and what to think of their bodies.

I find it is very strange for a liberal like yourself to decide to tell others what is proper Islam and what is not; Veil is OK, Burqa is not. And not only that, but imposing this religious point of view. You told your veil story many times, but I’m almost sure that you wouldn’t like it, by the time, if you were banned from covering your hair. Just like you wouldn’t like it if you were forced to keep your hair covered when you decided to take the veil off.  I’m very far from being the religion defender, I see all organized religions as anti-women, and it didn’t come to my attention any different cases. But in the end religion is a personal issue, and nobody has the right to decide for the other what is proper Islam and what is not.

As a feminist, and as a human, I strongly oppose the Burqa. I believe that it is a manifestation of the oppression of women, but I think the same of the veil, although  I have no enthusiasm for enforcing or banning women from any kind of dress including these two. And besides, I think that many of our daily rituals have the same symbolic meanings as the Burqa, I may see  the idea of calling women by their husband’s family names as a degrading symbolic action, but I would find it hilarious if the law criminalize it.

Sarkozy – and his party for that matter- is not really the militant feminist figure. His pro-business political standings had huge negative effects on millions of French working women. From the restrictions on maternity leaves and pay, to the “labour flexible” laws that he adopted.
If it was really about women, it would make more sense to address the same pay for same job laws. Till this moment the French law does not impose any penalties on patrons who do not apply the same pay for women law. French women represent the third lowest percentage of representatives in the parliament in Western Europe. Also, France has one of the highest rates of violence against women in Europe.

If the French government wants to ameliorate the status of women in society, maybe they should address a different issue than the Burqa. Maybe they should provide family shelters for women who need to flight their abusive husbands. Or maybe ameliorate the quality of school distracts in these neighborhoods where these burqaaed women grew up. Or they would enforce the same pay for same job laws – French women represent the majority of the working force (57% by 2006).  Maybe by protecting part time workers instead of giving patrons more power (French women represent 75% of part time workers, and Muslim women I’m sure are over represented in this category).

Sarkozy’s appeal is as if he is saying to these Burqaed women, we know that you will be still oppressed after taking it off, but we prefer not to see the “symbol” of your oppression. Be oppressed without symbols that would make us feel uncomfortable. Be oppressed silently with elegance, please.
The Burqa is the symptom not the disease. Give women their rights, and Burqa will take care of itself.

If you forced these women to take off their Burqa – yes, many of them are adopting the idea that Burqa is the right thing to do- you will not reach what I assume is you goal. Free women. What you will be left with are the same oppressed women but in veil, or in mini-skirts.

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7 Comments on “Banning for Freedom?”

  1. Lastoadri Says:

    I love this post Bonobology! you eloquently said what I wished someone would tell it to Mona..

  2. Ma3t Says:


  3. Ma3t Says:

    Did you check the comments on her blog

  4. بونوبولوجيا Says:

    @ لست أدري : شكرا :)
    @ ماعت : لا ما قرتهمش، بابص دلوقت، أنا فعلا مهتمة افهم وجهة نظرها.

  5. flashplayer Says:

    Hmm. Is it true? :-)

  6. Hicham Says:

    Interesting point of view, BonoBology however I’ve also to check Mona’s article. Of course I heard about both Sarkozy and Mona’s opinon however I didn’t digg deeply through the subject yet.

  7. leila Says:

    A good writing, well based. However, the only issue here is bothering me: why don’t men wear burqas? Why doesn’t a man have a need to cover his face or hair? Now the question seems to be about women, should or shouldn’t a woman have right to wear burqa, and for what reason. in France, the muslim man wears mostly always western clothes, allthought the woman beside him does wear a veil or burqa. You say that a some muslim women choose the burqa or veil. Why doesn’t a man choose to cover him? This makes me curious as a non-muslim woman and feminist.

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