Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Sarkozy Thinks Burkhas Undermine Women’s Dignity, But Not Prostitution

Sarkozy hates the Burkha! According to this BBC report, Monsieur Sarkozy feels that the Burkha reduces women to servitude and undermines their dignity. Sarkozy wants to establish a parliamentary commission that will examine whether the wearing of Burkhas in public ought to be banned. Readers may recall that France has already banned the wearing of any religious attire in schools, an act which resulted in French Sikh students being unable to wear turbans

I can see a lot of merit in the ban on Burkhas. To start with, I believe that Burkhas do undermine women’s dignity. Burkhas are worn almost always by women who were brought up to believe that women are inferior to men. The late Suraiya nee Kamala Das is an exception of course. Forcing women to give up the Burkha may force them to be liberal. No, I’m not joking. In Turkey, Pasha Ataturk forced men to wear western clothes and shave and Turkey is now one of the most liberal countries with a Muslim majority.

The only problem with this French proposal is that it goes against all that France stands for (at least on paper). The nation which gave the world Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, the statue of Liberty (they planted it in the US due to lack of space near the Eiffel) and the slogan Liberté, égalité, fraternité has not banned prostitution since it believes such a ban may violate individual freedom. Doesn’t Sarkozy think that prostitution reduces women to servitude and undermines their dignity? Evidently he doesn’t.

But Burkhas may be banned pretty soon!


Ayyappadas Puthenmarath said...

One small doubt that arises from the whole issue is whether Mr Sarkozy's blanket ban on all religious wear in France include the wardrobe of nuns and other priests of various christian denominations. If there is a particular restriction on one religion's dress code and another religion is allowed to wear whatever they want, then it is an obvious case of bias.

Winnowed said...

To give Sarkozy his due, his opposition is not towards religious attire in general, but is specifically directed against the Burkha. The Burkha is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through. Muslim women wear it because they believe their faces and bodies should not be seen by any male other than their husbands. There is no move to ban the Hijab! Please take a look at this for differences between the Burkha and the Hijab: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/05/europe_muslim_veils/html/1.stm
The proposed ban on the Burkha must be differentiated from the existing ban on all religious attire in French schools. This ban covers Sikh turbans, Christian crosses and the Hijab. This is meant to make schools truly secular.

Ayyappadas Puthenmarath said...

I believe the decision to remove burqa from islamic attire should come from Muslims itself. Mr Sarkozy's decision can only strain the already worsened relations between the islamic world and the 'others'. I could find a lot of positive developments from the part of moderate muslims to do away with Burqa and all its moderate and extreme versions. Especially a Peshawar high court decision(http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-1201896821.html).

But another alarming thing is ,in my home state kerala, burqa was never worn by muslim women 15 years ago. Suddenly the purdah culture was in vogue among muslims. This I believe was due to growing concern of western cultural imperialism among muslim clerics. Mr Sarkozy's decision may only intensify the call for orthodox islamic wear. When an outsider tends to impose a dress code on your religion or your country (by disallowing you to wear your ethnic dresses), they may tend to oppose it with more vigour (by wearing it more regularly).

Finally cruel practices like sati was abolished by the efforts of people within the religion. Had they been imposed from outside, eople would have never accepted it.

Winnowed said...

I support the French ban on religious symbols in schools. Educational institutions ought to be truly secular. However, I don't think individuals should be barred from wearing clothes of their choice in public. You are right in saying that Mr Sarkozy's decision will strain the already tense relations between the Islamic world and the 'others'.

It is not only in Kerala that the use of Purdah has increased. Islamic fundamentalism (which includes attire such as the Burkha) has been steadily increasing all over the world.

You say that “cruel practices like sati was abolished by the efforts of people within the religion. Had they been imposed from outside, people would have never accepted it.”

Didn’t William Bentinck (Governor General of India from 1828 to 1835) have a role to play in the abolition of Sati?