Apr 132011
Authors: Courtney Stuard

On April 11, 2011, a French law banning two kinds of headscarves worn by Muslims women –– the niqab and burqa –– took effect. That day, two veiled Muslim women protesting the law were arrested for unauthorized protest outside of France’s Notre Dame Cathedral.

The law clearly violates individual rights as ensured by France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, enacted in 1789. Although the French government reserves the right to restrict religious practices that jeopardize public order, it is obvious that wearing the burqa or niqab pose no threat to safety or order. The ban violates the natural human rights of Muslim women in France.

The first problem with the prohibition of wearing the burqa or niqab in public places is the justification the French government gives for enacting it. Lawmakers claim the ban actually protects religious freedom. The French state believes the policy is liberating for women who it believes are forced to wear facial covering.

Many people assume that Muslim women who wear any type of covering had no choice but to wear the garment. This is false. A majority of Muslim women choose to wear the garments, and are arguably liberated by wearing it. In Western culture, women are commonly denoted to a sexual object of pleasure in advertisements movies and television by wearing revealing clothing. However, when a Muslim woman covers herself, she protects her femininity and absconds from being viewed as a sexual object.

The key is choice. If a woman chooses to wear covering because she believes that is what is best for her, she should be allowed to so without government interference.
Second, in addition to being denied the right to wear facial covering, the two women who were detained on Monday were denied the freedom to protest the ban.

Although French citizens are infamous for holding rallies and riots over a wide variety of issues, the victims of the recent prohibition were not even allowed to voice opposition without fear of being detained. Now French citizens, who practice Islam, have been denied a voice. The French government has shown that French Muslims have no efficacy in government or society.

Third, by the enacting the ban, the French government continues to make it increasingly difficult for Muslims to be both French and Muslim.

In 2004, the French government enacted a ban on all “conspicuous” religious symbols in schools. Because of that law, wearing the hijab in public schools was prohibited, and it was thought by many Muslims to have been enacted for the specific purpose of banning the garment. Now, once again, the French government, by banning the wearing of the burqa and niqab in public places, has infringed on French Muslim women’s right to freely practice their religion.

Fundamentalists of the Jewish, Catholic and Christian faiths have not been told by government they cannot wear a yarmulke, a headdress or other traditional religious clothing. The prohibition of the burqa and niqab targets a particular minority religious group within France. In fact, according to CNN, fewer than 2,000 people within France and its possessions wear the burqa or niqab.

Furthermore, the ban demonstrates legal paternalism, which is also common in the U.S. Legal paternalism is an idea held by government that society functions as a family, and the paternal figure of that family is the state, or lawmakers. Under that ideology, government assumes it knows what is best for its citizens.

The danger of that logic is that government can justify enforcing moral codes, and enacting policy that impedes on individual autonomy and freedom. So, although laws like the French prohibition on the burqa and niqab have not yet been passed in the U.S., I fear that the U.S. is heading down a slippery slope that will lead to restricting all individuals’ autonomy, as well as minority religious groups’ freedom to exercise religion.

Courtney Stuard is a senior journalism major. Her column appears on Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:03 pm

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