Race Card: French Law to Target Muslim Women


The French government is considering proposing legislation that would ban Muslim women from wearing burqas or full-face veils, the Washington Post reports.

After the parliamentary commission presents formal recommendations for legislation Jan. 26, France will likely begin the process of banning burqas and veils in public facilities or even streets such as the famed Champs Elysees. One French lawmaker has already formally proposed that women be banned from wearing veils anywhere in public.

Although women's groups and more than 200 members of Parliament support the proposed bans, young Muslim women in France say they wear the veil to adhere to the teachings of fundamentalist Islam, not because of male oppression. French Defense Minister Herve Morin has already predicted that such a sweeping ban would be unconstitutional.

I don't know enough about fundamentalist Islam to say exactly what wearing a burqa represents. (Despite having a Nigerian Muslim father, I grew up Christian.) France's Muslim Religion Council, for one, has found that Islam does not mandate women to cover their faces. Even if Muslim women in France have no compelling religious reasons to wear burqas, what disturbs me about the proposed ban is that those behind it seem highly xenophobic. A burqa may symbolize the oppression of women, but what's more important is that the burqa symbolizes a threat to French culture, they suggest.

Andre Gerin, a Parliament member who is pushing for a ban, told the Post that full-face veils are the visible tip of an Islamist underground that threatens the French way of life. The paper also reports that many French feel that the growing number of Mosques in the nation pose a threat to the country's Christian roots. "Their ideas are not in conformity with our society," Gerin said of fundamentalist Muslims. Perhaps the ideas of such Muslims don't mesh with those of the French, but should these women be targeted for this reason alone?

Although Gerin feels that "the full-face veil has no place in France," will banning it stop fundamentalist Islam from spreading there? The same Arab and African men who rioted in the Parisian suburbs a few summers back are likely to turn to fundamentalist teachings since their ethnic backgrounds make them largely unemployable in France, where employment discrimination reportedly runs high and, inversely, so does anti-French sentiment among immigrants.

Also worth considering is whether banning burqas will serve to isolate fundamentalist women rather than assimilate them into French society. If the French government prohibits full-face veils in public, isn't it probable that the small minority of women who wear them (the Post puts the number at several thousand out of a total French population of 64 million) will simply choose not to venture outdoors, making them completely depend on men to meet basic needs? Maybe the Muslim girls Gerin complains skip gym in school for religious reasons will be pulled out of junior high by their parents, kind of like the evangelical Christians in the U.S. who home school their kids. And maybe the fundamentalist Muslim women who demand female doctors won't visit the hospital at all but try to give birth at home. If women in burqas are forbidden from even walking down French streets, these scenarios are likely. But maybe French lawmakers won't care because they'll have rendered these women invisible, and France will resemble the idealized France of yore.

by Nadra Kareem Nittle
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20 Comments Have Been Posted

The statement "Perhaps the

The statement "Perhaps the ideas of such Muslims don’t mesh with those of the French" implies that a Muslim and Frenchman or Frenchwoman are mutually exclusive -- that it is impossible to be both Muslim and French. Yet it is a principle of liberal democracies, including France, that no religious affiliation is given preference over another, and so it follows that there is nothing that makes French Muslims more French than French Christians. French lawmakers who see Islam as a threat to French culture are failing to see that French culture is not Christian culture. It is a diverse culture made up not only by Christians, but just as equally by all of the religious and ethnic groups that have established themselves in France.

As far as the feminist issue is concerned, who is to say that feminism has to mean the same thing to every woman? How is a woman who chooses to cover her body as an expression of its sacredness and of her faith any less of a feminist than a woman who chooses to show her body? And, perhaps more importantly, how is the first woman influenced by her culture any more than the second? We are so quick to label people from different cultures as brainwashed and misguided. But we, of course, are making the most sensible, natural, and enlightened choices. And we aren't at all influenced by our culture to make them. Of course not.

I find it extremely presumptuous and patronizing of French lawmakers and women's groups to take it upon themselves to not only interpret the meaning of the burqa, but to then dismiss the women who choose to wear them as brainwashed by their male-dominated culture. It is irresponsible, ethnocentric, hypocritical, and inexcusably ignorant.

Great Points

Great points all around. Yes, of course, being French and Muslim aren't mutually exclusive. And I cosign everything you said about women choosing to cover or not cover their bodies.

There is sadly more to come...

As a French Algerian woman living in the US, this story is so sad. A lot of attacks around Arab women have been happening lately in France most recently this weekend a famous playwright/actress (who advocates women's rights in Arab countries) had two men sprayed petrol in her face and throw a lit cigarette! The worst is that when she went to a local restaurant for help, the refused for the exact reasons of what is being discussed here. Please read more of this story here @ http://www.thedailyfemme.com/femme/?p=345

A "Christian France?" I

A "Christian France?" I wonder what the lawmakers would say of their famed Enlightenment satirist Voltaire, who was noted for his viscious attacks on the Catholic church.

The wearing of the burqua is the decision to be made by the woman and the woman alone.

Think of it this way: nowhere in the Bible or the Talmud does it state that Christian or Jewish women must wear necklaces with crosses or stars of David, and yet both are common sights, at least in America.

In today's day and age, I'm baffled that this is even an issue.

It's funny, I remember

It's funny, I remember several of the Europeans I once knew say, "We (the Brits, French, etc.) are so much more enlightened than you (Americans)." Yet, I hear about this and other laws that just leave me here with my mouth hanging open because this so discrimitory. Where does the French government's sense, and are all these feminist and activist groups sense!? Where do they get off telling grown/mature citizen what is or is not good for them. For me, It appears rather patronizing: It is like they are trying to say that these women are so subordinate and oppressed that they cannot make the decision to wear this, that, or the other, for themselves...so, we're (the government) going to make the decision for them and ignore their justified outrage.


".....to adhere to the teachings of fundamentalist Islam, not because of male oppression......"

If you buy that, it's because you've succumbed to the oppression. Fear is strong motivation.


These false consciousness arguments are getting old. Perhaps Muslim women's voices should be taken into consideration when assessing their lived experiences and deciding on issues which ultimately affect them? Just a thought.

Yes, Choices.

FIRST, it is not a matter to "be bought of". Second, if you understood the underlining foundations of the teachings of FUNDAMENTALIST Islam rather than basing your news/knowledge of the Islamic religion on people like Bill O'Reilly, you may actually learn a thing or two. Open your eyes.

In America we are used to

In America we are used to being able to say whatever we want and wear whatever we want because our right to free speech is protected by the first amendment. In other countries free speech is not protected if it is hateful or incites violence. Burqas are a form of institutional/cultural violence and would therefore not be protected by free speech laws which do not protect hate speech. Expecting France to craft their laws around the American idea of free speech would be U.S.-centric.

Apparent ignorance

I am sorry but I am going to have to quote you: "Burqas are a form of institutional/cultural violence"
How terribly hurtful and ignorant of you. Burqas are an item of clothing, not a violent act. Yes, some cultures, unfortunately use something as simple as an item of clothing to force harsh laws/punishments on others. But why must people assume that this is ALWAYS the case? Why do people have so much difficult accepting that some may choose a conservative lifestyle as one found under the Burqa. As you said yourself, we are used to our own ways in America...you are obviously no exception. So a woman does not want to parade her body in the public, what is so wrong about that? I understand, in America, we have fought long and hard for many years for women's rights and an end to suppression and we have been able to come a long way. But what your modern-day idea of suppression, as an American citizen, is obviously bias and skewed. A point you made yourself, you cannot assume that your way of thinking is the only and best way. You simply do not seem to have the capability to look at it another way.


I just returned from France a few months ago - I was there participating in an artist's residency in a tiny country town. The people were great, I had an amazing time, but you definitely see what I call the White Liberal Syndrome. Symptoms include:

-being dismissive of the cultures of Others
-seeing yourself as the standard (not maliciously, of COURSE)
-insisting that progress depends other Others conforming to La Frenchness
-not giving a damn about religion until you come into contact with a devout Muslim
-patronizing and presumptuous attitudes when covering is brought up, such as our Anonymous friends above me who insist that <i>clearly</i>, if the brown woman is covered up, she is forced to, because she's brown and that's what brown men do to their women and we are better so really we're saving those poor oppressed women who have never made a choice in their lives - saving them from those savage brown men and their foreign religion.

I can only hope that the French "feminist" organizations that support this legal ban are being chided harshly with subsequent education by more enlightened feminist groups in the world.

Well said. What you refer to

Well said. What you refer to as White Liberal Syndrome is indeed upsetting. To be fair, there is a fair amount of it in the U.S., as well. "We are tolerant of all cultures...as long as they have the same values and customs as our own."


These French organizations (along with their American and British counterparts) acted as feminist cheerleaders for their nation's colonial project. Feminism has historically been co-opted by imperialism (not without white female support), with the idea of "liberating" women as a guise for Euro-American imperialism. France has been trying to stamp out the veil since they conquered Algeria in 1830.

I think this is symptom of a larger problem in mainstream (white) feminism... where more is in common with the interests/worldview of white males than non-white Othered women.

There are certain public

There are certain public places where people are expected to show their faces. Wear what you want on the rest of your body but at least show your face. I don't see why some people should get a free pass on this because of their religion.

The Burka IS surpression

Just to be clear - the burka is a tool of surpression against women in Islamic countries. The practice is not outlined in the Koran, but originated in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a way of repressing women by supposedly protecting them. The burka is engineered to completely cover the woman, rendering her faceless and shapeless because men cannot be trusted to control themselves, and any woman showing parts of herself opens herself to shame and rape. In some Islamic countries, women wearing black burka are called blackheads, and aren't even looked upon as women, as human beings, but as possessions, or chattel. Why such a garment would be worn in France, taking a repression of women abroad, is beyond me. I fully support the French rejecting this, and I am shocked at the feminists rushing to the defense of Islamic women to support their continued wearing of something that was developed as a tool of oppression. Amazing.

It obviously isn't

Sharon is on the money. I

Sharon is on the money. I too am shaking my head in amazement at the naivety of most of the comments.

Firstly, people need to understand that burqas are incredibly hot, uncomfortable, and profoundly restrictive. These women wear them because they think they will go to hell if they don't: this is CLEARLY brainwashing, just like any religion!

Secondly, ISLAM IS NOT A RACE. These women ultimately do NOT have to wear these burqas, unlike their skin colour for example. Anyone can choose to become Islamic, no-one can choose their race. The people brainwashed by religion need sympathy, but "respect their beliefs" (ie pandering to their delusions) does not actually help anything or anyone.

Thirdly, as feminists, you should be outraged that the burqa symbolises the belief that women are responsible for men's behaviour toward women. That's what it means. That's why you have many cases in Islamic society where women are blamed, and often violently punished - or killed - for being raped. Like the stoning to death of 13 year old Aisha Duhulow in Sudan, and the 100 lashed meted out to a 16 year old Bangladeshi girl last week. And these cases are not isolated incidents, this is ongoing daily. Honour killings are also still a massive problem in many parts of the world, for exactly the same reason: sex and sexuality is repressed and women are blamed for men's lust.

Please read this excellent essay by Kenan Malik: http://www.kenanmalik.com/essays/bradford_prospect.html

And this book by Ophelia Benson called "Does God Hate Women?" is an eye-opening feminist critique of religion including Islam: http://www.doesgodhatewomen.com/

You should be embarrassed at

You should be embarrassed at how incredibly offensive your comments are. What on earth the the lashing of a girl in Bangladesh have to do with the burqa? The majority of Bangladeshi women do NOT wear the burqa. You are in effect saying that every Islamic culture is exactly the same, which is very ignorant and troubling indeed. And how dare you tell a woman what the burqa should mean to her? If a woman wears one because she believes it is an expression of her spirituality, you have no place to tell her that she is wrong. I have spent a lot of time around women who CHOOSE to cover their bodies because they believe their bodies are sacred and special and should not be shown to everyone. I don't know how many Muslims you know that cover their bodies, but the only ones that I know do so not because women are to be "blamed" for the actions of men, but because they want to respect their bodies in the way that is most comfortable for them. I am not saying that women are not blamed for the actions of men, because in many instances they are, but you cannot saying that this is always the reason that women wear the burqa, because it is simply not true. Just because the way in which women from some cultures choose to respect their bodies is not the same as our own does not give you the right to judge them. I often feel oppressed and uncomfortable in my own society, where I am always expected to look "sexy" and show as much skin as possible.

Real life experience?

You know, you should not make such harsh judgments on a topic you obviously have little first-hand knowledge of.
"Secondly, ISLAM IS NOT A RACE. These women ultimately do NOT have to wear these burqas, unlike their skin colour for example. Anyone can choose to become Islamic, no-one can choose their race. The people brainwashed by religion need sympathy, but "respect their beliefs" (ie pandering to their delusions) does not actually help anything or anyone."
First, YES, women ultimately can choose what they wish to do but why do you always assume that they are not doing what they wish to do but are just being pushed into? My own cousin chooses to cover herself in this matter and no one in her family ever asked her to. At the time that she made this heart felt decision, there was only one other member of our family, a cousin, who had chosen to do this before. She certainly was not "oppressed" or "deluded" (as you said). She made a decision to live a conservative lifestyle and she is happy with it. Certainly, she LIKE ALL OTHER MUSLIMS and NON-MUSLIMS, has the choice to change her lifestyle at any point she wishes. We, as humans, are born with free will and we exercise it every day. Unfortunately, there are some CULTURES which oppress women into doing this or other actions which they do not necessarily want to abide by but that is in every culture and taking away the rights of women who do get to choose will not change those cultures around.
Second, you are terribly offensive by calling beliefs, delusions. I am going to go ahead and assume you mean to use that word to describe all organized religion but certainly you must agree that its difficult to make a concise judgment as such unless having actually tried to understand these religions. From an outside perspective, when you already have your generalized opinions, sure, you are going to judge. But, unless you put your bias aside and really try to delve in and understand these people, never will you be able to make an EDUCATED judgment. All you have to say, till then, is mere conjecture and, frankly, ignorance/stupidity.
Third, living beings are not considered "Islamic" or "non-Islamic" or "anti-Islamic". "Islamic" is a characteristic used to describe object and ideas. Something you would know after actually spending time to research something properly. And if you don't think it is worth your time or if it s a waste of time, then, of course, commenting on these articles or blogs would also be considered a waste of your time. So, at least get your terminology straight.

You lie!

The muslim apologists on here saying that there is NO COMPULSION in the hijab and the burqa are LYING. I have first hand knowledge of this from spending time in Saudi Arabia and the women there CANNOT choose to wear it or not. You must or you will be lashed or even killed or disfigured with battery acid (i'd rather be killed than be disfigured, personally!). Now how is that for CHOICE!! There is no choice. Very few Muslim countries will give women the choice to wear a burka or not. In Iran, if you show even a bit of hair coming out from under your hijab, you can be harassed and probably lashed. If you denounce Islam or even question it, you can be killed. There is no such thing as being an atheist in Islam. You keep it to yourself or risk being decapitated. If you decide to switch religions, you become an apostate and are also subject to the death penalty. There are no Christian churches in Saudi Arabia and the promotion of other religions is forbidden. Muslims come to immigrate to the West and expect to not assimilate at all. But when we immigrate to their countries, we are FORCED TO assimilate? As a woman who spent time in Muslim countries, I was forced to wear a burka. You come to the West, you should wear what we wear and blend in. If you don't like it, you can always go back to your countries. I mean, if it is so bad here in the West, then leave. Plain and simple. NO one is forcing you to be here. Sounds harsh but when Americans and Europeans want to immigrate to the Middle East, we have to abide by their cultural rules and regulations. Interesting how they want to immigrate to countries such as ours that have all these so called "satanic" values, where women show off their bodies and homosexuals walk and kiss down the street, yet they want US to accommodate them? They come here and criticize us for OUR values, call our women whores for not wanting to cover up and will go as far as gang rape and/or sexually harass us (I can find new reports of this happening in Sweden and other EU countries) for dressing like whores. These ungrateful muslim immigrants want us to change for them, but when we are on their turf, we aren't allowed the same privileges. I say " fuck em all". You don't like it, LEAVE. and yes, I am a feminist. Not all feminists are so PC. By the way, have any of you ever wondered why is it that MUSLIM MEN aren't told in the Koran to wear veils? Hmmm, I wonder why. The Koran is nothing but a sexist, homophobic book that advocates violence against women, gays and those of different faiths. Those muslims who deny this are lying or pick and choose which passages to acknowledge, just like some of the die-hard Christians I know. All religions are man-made to impose restrictions on women. One muslim apologist above denies the correlation between rape and the Burka. She is in denial as well. Muslim men feel that they can get sympathy for their crimes if they can prove that the woman they raped was dressed provocatively. Women who decide to go against Sharia Law are not taken seriously because they are considered apostates, so whose side would you take if you were a devout Muslim? The side of the rapist, because he did nothing wrong! He was merely tempted by a fellow muslim woman who just happened to show too much hair and had eyeliner on. The reason most Muslim women wear that fabric bag you call a Burqa is because they are afraid of the repercussions. If you had told me that there is no compulsion in the Burka in these countries, then I would probably believe some of the statements above from the Muslim apologists who say that the women wear it because of modesty issues. But that is not the case. Wake up people before these muslims impose Sharia law on ALL OF US WOMEN in the West!!! And FYI, I am not a Christian or a Republican.

Sharon, you are on the

This was funny and as much I

This was funny and as much I am not into limiting anyone's choice to dress as they choose, the burqa is hard to defend. It's also more about the French choosing to protect what they consider to be their great culture. They have a history of laws that seek to do this by banning some outside influences including English words, etc. We can argue that its wrong but choosing to live in France means accepting that.

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