Before I begin this post, let me start off by saying that I do not have all the answers. If I did, gas prices would be lower, alternative energy would no longer be alternative, and discrimination of all kind would be a thing of the past. Although I’m not quite sure how to end bigotry and intolerance, I know it when I see it. The ban in France of the niqab, the full face covering worn by some Muslim women, is a full assault on religious freedom and female agency.
In their quest to promote secularity in the state, I believe the French parliament spat in the faces of their Muslim constituents. Currently there is a ban on conspicuous religious symbols in French public (i.e. government-operated) primary and secondary schools. The law is an amendment to the French Code of Education that expands principles founded in existing French law, especially the constitutional requirement of laïcité: the separation of state and religious activities. Since 1905, France has had a law requiring the separation of church and state, which thus prohibits the state from recognizing or funding any religion.
But where do we draw the line between promoting a secular state and taking away someone’s liberty? Those who defy the ban face a $216 fine and attendance at a “citizenship course.” I agree that a person who forces a woman to cover up through coercion should be fined. However, I don’t think the government has a place in telling women what they can and can’t wear, especially if it is not lewd and lascivious. For far too long the West has tried to intervene to “save” women from their “backward” cultures. This blatantly chauvinistic line of thinking has resulted in European men dictating how women of color should live their lives and practice their customs.
What’s next enforcing that all women wear pants suits to combat sexism? This is outrageous. I understand that as an American male I probably don’t understand all the dynamics of the situation. What I do understand is the importance of individual freedom everywhere. Exclusion is never justified. Whether a female wears a scarf for political or religious reasons, it shouldn’t result in her not receiving an education or being thrown in jail. Liberating women is not telling them what they can and can’t do, it is allowing them the ability to make decisions on their own volition.