France debates Muslim dress ban
I originally wrote a piece last year about the cultural differences between the U.S. and France concerning religion and society, mentioning the ban on Muslim headscarves in public schools as an important flash point between the two cultures. You can read it in my file here, starting on page 9. You can also access it here.
Now some French Members of Parliament are proposing a potential ban on the Muslim black veil that covers everything but the eyes, called the niqab. French media are mistakenly calling it the “burqa” (also spelled “burka”), which is in fact a body-length cloth that covers the eyes (with a screen to see), something you may see in Afghanistan. I mention this difference in my article, as does The Economist.
As BBC reports, the proposal is sparking heated debate across the country:
The BBC’s Hugh Schofield, in Paris, says the reasoning behind the report is to make it as impractical as possible for women in face veils to go about their daily business.
There is also a fear that an outright ban would not only be difficult to implement but would be distasteful and could make France a target for terrorism, our correspondent says. France has an estimated five million Muslims – the largest such population in Western Europe.
What this comes down to is a clash between the French values of secularism and liberty. It is a debate that goes to the core of what it means to be French, and viewed within the context of the other debate on “national identity“, France may be perceived as going through a bit of an identity crisis – what is it to be French?
There is certainly an increasingly ethnically diverse population, but with that comes tension with the old order and in some cases, integration problems and racism. Many countries are confronted with immigration and racism problems, however, and the challenge is to see how France adjusts to the ongoing changes to its social structure.