Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Defense of the Burka

Sarkozy has denounced the burka in a speech to the French parliament. The Times rightly described it as an "attack on ... women". (Okay, that may be a bit unfair. The original quote reads: "attack on a small but growing number of fundamentalist women". But still.) The Times also rightly contrasts the gesture with Obama's acknowledgement of the right to observe/wear the hijab in his speech in Cairo. I'm with Obama on this one.

After the rhetoric of women's liberation, imagine a head of state uttering the following words:

In our country we cannot accept that women be bound in a harness ... The bra is not a fashion statement. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the Republic.

Interestestingly, I agree with Sarkozy when he says that "the burka is not a religious sign." But that is not because "it is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement"; it is because it is not, first and foremost, a sign at all. As I've tried to argue before, hijab is a style of dress, sometimes a whole comportment, just as beach babe and heroin chique are styles and comportments. Why won't Mr. Sarkozy let the women of France conceal their "identities" before him?

Let women dress how they like. Let women be welcome on any territory, whatever they choose to wear.


libhom said...

Your posted is based on the factually incorrect assumption that most women veiling in France are doing so voluntarily.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Not quite. I am working on the assumption that women in France, and everywhere, veiled or not, dress in part to please men and in part to meet their own standards of taste. Sometimes also to obey their god.

It's complicated. Fashion is not easy; certainly never as simple as doing what you're told.

I make no assumptions about "most women"; Sarkozy makes assumptions about them all. If just one woman prefers to cover herself (screen her identity) in public then who is Sarkozy to forbid it?

I wonder if your comment is based on the assumption that a rail-thin woman on a beach in a bikini is there, in that form, in that style, voluntarily.