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Thinly veiled discrimination?

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. 

Anyone else?

14 Responses to “Thinly veiled discrimination?”

  1. i_mississauga says:

    I really feel for the women who are used to wear veil for whatewer reason. This is their way of life. Imagine for example yourself going out with completely shaven head- instead of you usual hairdo – I think that is how it feels for them. On the other hand our reality now is that terrorist can strike anywhere. I am not implying that those who wear the veil are the terrorists, just that it makes it easy for someone who means evel to pretend that they are one of them. With this in mind, I think the law is right. There is no requirements by religion to wear veil, so if it impedes public safety, it should be banned. By the way, there was an interview on TV with the vendor who sells veils. He said before the law they hardly got any business, but as soon as the law was accepted, all the veils were suddenly selling like hot cakes.

  2. Jodee says:

    Wow this was really interesting. I guess I would not have a problem wearing the veil if when questioned at say the bank or the airport they were to remove it and then able to put it back on. There is the question of like you said being able to identify people that is hard to do if your entire face is covered.

    But I do understand being able to practice their religion freely…. From things I have read though it does not seem that Muslim women have much freedom.. If a women is being executed for having an affair that is extreme. What I question is people being more concerned about women being able to wear the veil shouldn’t people worry about women being shot just for having an affair?

  3. jenadmin says:

    Hollie has posted about this over at her blog. There is some really interesting, and informative first-person insight there, as well as thoughtful comments worth reading:

    http://commoncentsmom.com/2011/04/13/the-issue-of-the-niqab/

  4. Loukia says:

    Hmm. Well, I have many opinions about this. I just feel like… each country should be allowed to somewhat impose these types of rules/laws. For instance, if we were to go to a Muslim country, I believe in some countries anyway, we’d have to cover up – to respect their way of living, etc. That’s not even up for debate, you know? I don’t know….

  5. Jacki says:

    Had no idea. Thanks for bringing this to light for me. This is all kinds of wrong…

  6. The new law seems very draconian and smacks of the discomfort France seems to have with their country becoming more multicultural. I’d love for every woman in the world to be FREE to show her face if she wishes, but forced to is another matter.

  7. jenadmin says:

    @Tara – yes, somehow the vibe I get from it is that a law is being made by someone who is either ignorant of the layers of issues that might be involved, or someone who is not particularly sensitive to them. It doesn’t feel like a law created in the spirit of inclusion, of solution, of positive change.

  8. Tara says:

    I find it interesting that the government can just assume that the women don’t want to wear this veil. I wonder how the women who choose to wear it are going to feel when they can’t wear it. It does seem to me like the government is behaving in a discriminatory way by targeting a specific group. It kind of reminds me of when Edmonton put in that noise bylaw for motorcycles last summer, but it was okay for cars to have their music pounding/vibrating other vehicles/houses. It definitely doesn’t seem right.

  9. jenadmin says:

    @Bart – thank you for being the one to bring my attention to this issue, and to the article in the link. And for your first comment on here! ; )

    @Meg – I love the last two lines of your comment! Thank you.

    @Hollie – Thank you for adding your perspective and firsthand knowledge to this page. And you are too right about the truth of how accepting we are here in Canada. That’s the dream, that’s the desire, but some of the comments I read in the Globe and Mail article made me cringe. Our acceptance of others is not as automatic as we’d like to believe.

  10. I am a muslim woman.

    Muslim women are not required under Muslim law to where the veil. It is cultural..but some prefer it, and I do get why and support thier freedom to choose it.

    In some countries yes it is horrific the abuses women take, in the name of religion but there are those in every faith that will twist words to get what they want.

    Religious freedom is in the French constitution. Women and men have the right to worship God as they choose, that is where the real issue here is, not in the fact that a woman chooses to hide her beauty.

    By the way as a woman who wears a scarf here in Canada you should of heard some of the things I have heard by us open Canadians. We aren’t that open and accepting just yet.

  11. Meg says:

    Sounds like fencing masks will soon be popular among Muslim women in France…

    All joking aside, Balaclavas are okay, but a simple scarf is scary? There is no structural difference in the construction of a niqab and a balaclava. It’s ridiculous. WTF. If anything, this law is contributing to the oppression of women, not ‘liberating’ these so-called ‘oppressed women of Islam’.

    The only part of this law I think is valid is the part of this law is the portion about it being illegal to be forced to wear a face-covering. If this law was about anti-oppression, that would be the ONLY part worth keeping.

    According to some Muslim scholars, the face-veil or niqab is not obligatory, but by choice. That is what makes this a non-religious issue, but what about for those women who feel it is a commandment of Islam to cover their faces? Then it becomes a discriminatory law, and who are we non-Muslims to tell Muslims what their beliefs are? As long as the woman is wearing it for her own reasons (whether she feels it is obligatory or if she chooses to show her devotion to Allah), then it really shouldn’t matter.

    I personally feel that when the government starts telling me how to dress myself is when the government should shut the frig up and get the hell out. Mind you, I’m Canadian, open-minded, and think we should all just appreciate our differences and live in peace. I don’t really care who wears what as long as we all vote and pay our taxes.

  12. Bart says:

    As I read both the Globe and Mail article and then yours, I remembered sitting in a room listening to General Hillier discuss problems that face people, particularly women, in some Middle Eastern countries. I remembered a photo he showed us of a woman in a veil on her knees, at the centre of what appeared to be a football pitch. The photo, which he had obtained during his work in Afganistan was taken by a person in the crowd. The women had been accused of being unfaithful to her husband, and was subsequently executed at gunpoint in the centre of the football pitch at the halftime mark of the game. No one came to her aid.

    The women that wear these veils in many instances fear for their very existence. In truth, that’s probably why they relocated to France. By forcing them to go against what their beliefs are, and more importantly, putting them at risk of unimaginable abuse from the men in this culture who demand that these veils be mantained, is without question, immoral. Implementing this law will only result in harm befalling women who are already being forced to hide from society. Good thing the men who will hurt them can still wear a balaclava however.

  13. jenadmin says:

    @Sharon – exactly.

  14. Sharon says:

    Like you, I’m not educated on the subject but you bring up valid points. I’m off to start reading.