Barriers Against Westernised Living?   Leave a comment

This week, the French Parliament’s lower house, known as the National Assembly, has overwhelmingly supported the proposal to introduce a ban on wearing the Muslim face veil (or niqab) in public.  Some of these politicians have claimed that the wearing of the veil is a threat to the harmonious integration of Muslims into French society – but isn’t the lack of tolerance and understanding (which a ban like this one implies) more of a threat?

There is still an opportunity for this outright ban to be stopped as it will need to be ratified by the French Senate before it can pass into law.  I hope that they recognize the large number of National Assembly members who abstained from the vote: out of a 557 seat house, there were 335 votes for the bill, but only one vote opposing the ban.  Therefore, a worrying 221 members chose to abstain rather than have their say on an important matter which will affect many people’s everyday lives.

It is important to try to understand why France was always the most likely Western country to make the first step in this anti-religious direction.  The Constitution of France says that the country is a laïque (or secular) Republic and it already has strict laws about religious education and the wearing or displaying of religious symbols (coming into effect in September 2004) in their state schools.  Since 1905, France has had a complete separation of church and state and it goes as far as preventing the government from recognising or funding any religion.  There is a law banning teaching staff in state schools from endorsing or promoting any religious points of view (including atheism).  There is also a law which prohibits government-funded schools from forcing students to take part in any kind of religious education: e.g. these schools will not have any communal prayers, daily acts of worship or religious assemblies meant to celebrate either one or more religions.  British state schools have to be inclusive and tolerant of people from all religions (and those with none) and teachers are not allowed to preach the merits of one religion over any other, but religion is seen as something to be studied and examined not shied away from completely.

The main argument of opposition for the face veil is that women are being made to wear the garment as a way for their husbands to control them; but is only true in a minority of cases.  It comes down to whether the veil is being worn through choice or oppression – but unfortunately it is often difficult to tell which is which and so we cannot just impose a blanket rule as each case would need to be assessed individually; which is obviously impractical.

Lastly, I would like to point out that forcing someone not to wear the veil seems just as bad as forcing someone to wear it.  Is France heading down a path leading towards the marginalisation of religion?  Anti-Semitic laws were the first step in Germany on the journey towards the Holocaust – we should take note of this lesson from history.  If France wants to have a society where their inhabitants have free will and choice, then introducing a law which prescribes the clothing people are allowed to wear is not the route their politicians should be heading down.


Posted 16/07/2010 by thinkmindy in Morality, Politics, Religion

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