Today the French senate approved a ban on veils that cover the face, including burqas worn by Muslim women. It doesn’t go into effect into next spring, and violating the law means paying a fine or taking a citizenship course. This is the first time that a European country has banned such a thing, and this ban is especially notable because France is a secular nation. Thank the 1905 law that officially separated church and state in France.
France and Muslim headwear have a history that sparked in 1989 when three girls in Creil were expelled for wearing headscarves. This began the saga that eventually turned into the 2004 law banning conspicuous religious signs in schools but really concentrated on headwear worn by Muslim girls. While the studies concentrated on headwear in general, a lot of attention was given to headwear covering the entire face, believing that the women who wore it didn’t wear it by choice. The results have sparked debate: who was oppressing the Muslim girls? What about the girls who chose to convert to Islam and cover themselves (and I read about quite a few in my research–yes, this was my French senior thesis)? Why was everyone worrying about what people wear on their heads in the first place?
Now we must ask: is France really a secular state if they’re taking away one way of practicing a religion? Whatever your opinion of the burqa, it’s an interesting question. Another interesting question: What exactly does one do in a citizenship course? Get it drummed into your heads that the burqa isn’t French? Is this what France is really after?