You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

France's Niqab Ban and Me

So, I am joyously heading to France tomorrow to simultaneously reward myself for finishing my thesis and celebrate the last time I won't feel guilty about paying for something extravagent for a while because I am still a student until the end of this month.

Hijab, from
Interestingly, France is very anti religious head coverings. Mostly Muslim ones, but in order not to be discriminatory, they have to be anti all of them. They banned the hijab in public schools in 2004. (Again, ostensibly they banned all large religious symbols, but it boiled down to banning the hijab.) This used to bother me --a lot-- but now it really touches close to home because I wear them on a regular basis. It irks me, but it is only in public schools... I haven't decided yet whether I shall wear a hijab in France or not.

Now, as of the 11th of April, 2011, the French are banning the niqab. Not in public schools. Everywhere. Now, I don't wear niqabs and have no interest in doing so. I mean, come on, turtlenecks make me claustrophobic-- I have no illusions about how trapped a niqab would make me feel. On the other hand-- the attachment I've developed towards covering my head in such a short time makes me very empathetic to women who might have developed a similar attachment for covering their face. Especially for people who grew up wearing the hijab or niqab. If you're with me on the hijab, but not on the niqab, let me offer an example.

Niqab, from
I grew up in a meat-eating household. Nearly every meal we ate for my entire childhood had meat in it. I was always a little averse to meat, but was never "fanatical" enough to go vegetarian while living with my parents. Prompted by health reasons, I eventually stopped eating meat. To me, it's a small but important sacrifice to make for a variety of reasons. I've learned to make some wonderful meals that are vegetarian. Even my solidly ominvorous family likes some of my meals.

I have a friend, though, who grew up vegetarian. She's never eaten meat at all as far as I know and all her life her family cooked wonderful vegetarian things. Also prompted by health reasons, she became vegan. For her, it was a small sacrifice. For me, it would be an almost incomprehensible one. I just can't imagine my life without milk or cheese. Maybe it's a silly comparison, but that's how I look at the whole hijab/niqab thing. Wearing hijab for me is a big difference (from, say, no head covering), but I love it. I could see how forsomeone who had grown up wearing hijab, the niqab would be appealing and just another small step in their relationship with God.

So, here's a questions. For those of you who wear a head covering or have considered it, how do you feel about France's ban? (Definitely google it if you haven't heard of it before!)


Anonymous said...

Hi baby!

Thoughts from a crazy feminist: a lot of the arguments made for bans on the niqab and the burqa and whatnot are that these veiling practices are dangerous or inherently oppressive and forcing women to wear them is bad bad bad. Of course, in my opinion, forcing women to do something is bad; this includes forcing them NOT to wear things.

There's also the weird, seemingly racist wearing-this-makes-you-inherently-unFrench thing. I know it's supposed to, in some ways, encourage unity and a singular French identity, but (and I'm sure a lot of Americans probably agree with me on this) I think it does a lot more to separate/alienate people and their cultural practices. By saying that one can't be French and practice Islam that way, they reinforce the West vs. Islam dichotomy and encourage the cultural divisiveness that they are theoretically trying to undermine...

Also - it fundamentally ignores the fact that for many women, it's a way of feeling closer to God and submitting to God as they see fit, and robbing someone of that in the name just, well, bad. In my opinion, anyway, which I recognize is a very American one.

I mean, you know most of this, but for discussion's sake...

Love, Megan

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