Nicholas Sarkozy was right: the burqa is misogynist
If I was married to Carla Bruni I wouldn’t be a big fan of the burqa either, so it is perhaps no surprise that French President Nicholas Sarkozy is not in favour of women covering themselves from head to toe.
But Sarkozy’s forceful condemnation of the Islamic shroud as a symbol of female “subservience”, not religious faith, was absolutely right.
There is no greater way, other than locking the front door, to ensure a woman’s total invisibility in society - and thereby formalise her lack of worth - than to cover every inch of her, including her eyes, in heavy fabric.
Sarkozy has taken his distaste for the burqa to a highly political extreme, saying “it will not be welcome in the territory of the French republic,” and setting up a parliamentary inquiry into a possible ban on wearing it.
“In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity … the problem of the burqa is not a religious problem, he said. “This is an issue of a woman’s freedom and dignity.”
There are conservative commentators who will side with Sarkozy on the ridiculous grounds burqas make a good place for terrorists to hide a bomb (in the same way back packs do, chaps).
But they should not be allowed to highjack what is a very important debate, that quite likely, would never be allowed to happen in many secular countries.
The Times argued this morning Sarkozy’s would have been shouted down in Britain before he finished his speech, and cited the example of the punishing response to Jack Straw’s 2006 statement the burqa and niquab were “visible statements of separation and of difference.”
I would never argue for a ban on burqas, as in this country people should be free to express their faith however they choose. If it means whipping themselves on the hour every hour, dancing in the forest in the light of the moon, or demonstrating total subservience to men by donning what is effectively an invisibility cloak, so be it.
There are people who choose of their own free will to wear the burqa as a sign of their devotion.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be allowed to call burqas for exactly what they are – a crude and unsophisticated way for men to oppress women.
They are custom designed for immobility, suppression, lack of expression, tunnel vision, and homogeny.
And those who argue that the burqa actually frees women to move through the world unmolested, are full of it.
My father is a man, my brothers are men, my husband is a man, many of my friends are men, my boss is a man and a large majority of my colleagues are men.
I go through life in a pretty average Australian wardrobe that sometimes includes a dress cut above the knee, and most of the time includes a pair of jeans, and none of these men have every tried to stop me or make me feel I’m being inappropriate.
Making a woman prove her devotion to her faith by hiding herself from the men around her says a lot more about the men around her than her devotion.
Fortunately in Australia the radical voices of people such as Sheik “uncovered meat” al-Hilali, are considered outside the mainstream.
And the discrimination against Muslim women who do choose to cover up is relatively minor compared to countries such as France, where the influx of five million people of Islamic faith has caused some major issues.
But when I have a daughter, nothing is going to stop me telling her the burqa is far more than a religious symbol – it is the physical manifestation of the unacceptable oppression of women.
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