Debate is broiling in France, and the next week should be interesting indeed.
Last night I read an article in the Globe and Mail entitled “It’s curtains for veils as France rolls out anti-niqab law”. A law is coming into effect in France that would make it illegal for Muslim women to cover their faces “in public space”. One can assume that, with “public space” including the streets they walk, public transportation they may rely on and government premises that they may require, this will have a dramatic effect on the freedom of these women. It is said that the law is not meant to discriminate against Muslim women, but when I read the list of exceptions that will be allowed by law, including motorcycle helmets, fencing masks and balaclavas, I wonder who is left to be affected by the new law except for this demographic. They can be detained up to four hours and fined for wearing face veils or be asked to take a citizenship course. Imagine if every time you left your home you could be fined and detained up to four hours. Imagine the effect of this on your ability to work, educate yourself or raise your family.
From the Globe and Mail article, I quote:
“Critics say the law violates freedom of religion, infringes on individual rights and stigmatizes Muslim women, but it appears to be massively popular in a country that is wrestling with high unemployment and has always struggled with multiculturalism.”
One could read the article, and especially the comments written below, and assume the issue is as simple as having a standard law of having to reveal one’s face to be part of our society – for safety, for risk tolerance, etc. There are strong arguments that in this day and age, we need the security of being able to identify people should the worst happen. People think of banks, of airports, of attacks. And I won’t refute these arguments, in fact, I will admit to a level of ignorance of the Muslim religion and all that is involved in this conversation. If the so-called experts cannot bring everyone together on these issues, I certainly don’t stand a chance. But there is one area of this issue that does stand out to me, and in spite of myself, I need to write it down and say – who exactly are we targeting here?
I would love to hear a discussion on whether or not this law actually protects anybody. Commenters speak of how we will be helping lift oppression from the lives of these women, and I believe that anything that does so is a good thing. However, when a Muslim woman can face dire punishment for removing this covering and now faces punishment for leaving it in place, what exactly do we expect her to do? I know I feel a need to educate myself on this issue, because to me lifting oppression does not begin by punishing the oppressed for the weight oppressing them. If we feel that a certain group should have a freedom as a basic human right, then isn’t the solution acceptance of differences, education, inspiration and discussion?
When women didn’t have the right to vote, how would it have felt to be told that we would be punished by law for not voting? Voting was a freedom we fervently wanted and deserved. Yet we did not deserve to be punished or condemned for our lack of this basic right. Only education, inspiration and discussion changed things.
If we think that anti-gay violence is discriminatory, is the solution to punish those who have suffered at the hands of it? Or do we punish those who have acted in violence? Is the solution again a combination of education, inspiration and discussion?
I posted a link to the article on Twitter and asked for feedback. Tara (@QtHunnyB on Twitter) answered succinctly: “Yes! It almost feels like the government is oppressing them now instead of helping to lift oppressive practices. If people want to make change they need to find people in that community who can educate on oppression.” She also posed a question that was running through my mind as well: “are they truly oppressed if they don’t feel that they are? Should we impose that law or educate on oppression?”
Change can be good, moving forward as a society can be good for any country, but care needs to be taken that certain groups are not marginalized further in our attempts to “lift oppression”. Someone tell me why the onus of lifting oppression is on the ones we assume are oppressed. And yes, I realize that there are steep punishments that will be meted out for anyone forcing a woman to wear a veil, but something tells me this won’t be an easy transition. How would this be measured out? Would a woman need to report a man who is forcing her to wear a veil? And face the repercussions if the case is not proven in court? Who will try these cases fairly? Protect women who attempt to report men? Follow up to ensure there has been no punishment meted out by another in the same community?
Why does it feel as though women will still end up paying the price? Why do I think there will be women being put in a most difficult position – weighing fears of judgement and punishment no matter what they do?
My thoughts on this issue are all over the place, but I can assure you I will be reading more, taking the pulse on this and trying to understand more about it.
I am seeking the following: education, inspiration and discussion.