French President Nicolas Sarkozy submitted a bill today banning the wearing of "full veils" (those that cover the face and body such as a niqab or burqa) in France. The proposed bill goes a step further from France's 2004 ban of religious headdresses within classrooms.
If the legislation passes, women will not be allowed to wear burqas or niqabs on the streets or in stores.
Fewer than 2,000 women in France wear a version of the full veil, and many of them are French women who have converted to Islam. The full veil is seen here as a sign of a more fundamentalist Islam, known as Salafism, which the government is trying to undercut. On the left, the veil is seen as repressive and a violation of women's rights, even though many women who wear the veil insist that they are doing it as a free choice and see a ban as a restriction of their liberty.
Other officials have suggested a softer law, one that mandates women wearing burqas to uncover their faces only during identity checks and in buildings belong to the state, such as schools. But Sarkozy pushed ahead with his particular bill. According to the UK Telegraph,
Nicolas Sarkozy is to press ahead with the bill claiming that the veil is an "assault on women's dignity."
"We're legislating for the future. Wearing a full veil is a sign of a community closing in on itself and of a rejection of our values," Luc Chatel, a spokesman for Mr Sarkozy, said on leaving a cabinet meeting led by the President.
The Telegraph also reports wide government support for the bill. But even if it doesn't pass, Sarkozy's order steps into a debate about whether -- in a blindness to create a secular state -- the guidelines for government can be passed to its citizens. If a government can create rules that stop a person from practicing her religion, even if the practicing of that religion does not affect any other citizen in the country.
Feministe wrote about a possible ban last June, pointing out both the folly and danger of such an action:
Women make choices about the way we dress for all kinds of reasons -- sometimes to follow a religious tradition, sometimes to be perceived as attractive, sometimes to be invisible, sometimes to just cover our bare asses. Most of our motivations aren't feminist or anti-feminist. When it comes to religious requirements especially, we know that outlawing certain garments in public doesn't make women shed the offending item of clothing; it just makes women refrain from public interactions.
In other words, by "liberating" women, Sarkozy is essentially imprisoning them in their homes, unable to join the general public.
Last month, France's Council of State, the country's highest administrative authority, warned Sarkozy that such a full ban on the veil may be unconstitutional.
Do you believe it should be up to a government to determine what is an "assault on women's dignity?"
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