• I do find the dichotomy fascinating – that the ban is happening as the mosque is being built. I can also liken it to things that happen everyday in our country… and probably many other places int eh world. There are no easy answers, are there? Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking article!
    David

  • David,

    Thanks so much for your comments.

    I learned a lot researching the topic and talking to others about their feelings on the subject. Laws, cultures, religions, traditions, politics, personal beliefs, fears, the economy, ordinary people–when all these factors are entangled, it is very complicated.

    Susan

  • Anonymous

    Since seeing an interview several years ago with women who are so comfortable with the anonymity and privacy of wearing a burqa, I can't help wonder if those who will now be forced to put it aside will feel they've been stripped naked and publicly humiliated. While the imminent change might provide a welcome excuse to some who never liked wearing it, others must feel threatened with exposure.

    Most immigrants somewhat transform the new place around them, but over the course of a generation or two they and their heirs are more often transformed by their new home. A century ago Americans were terribly fearful of immigrants but they and their children and grandchildren have been transformed by it, and enriched American culture. To take a simple example, think how the American Christmas observance melds British, Dutch, German, French and Italian traditions; and how readily Anglo-Americans join in celebrating Cinco de Mayo or Mardis Gras or Chinese New Year or Mardi Gras. Today, immigrants to America tend to learn English and adopt American ways much faster than did their predecessors a century ago. This is partly due to the permeation of radio and television, and also to the power of the homogenization of national culture we sometimes find ourselves complaining about. Thank you for a very interesting essay.

  • To anonymous,

    I wish that I would hear from Muslim women who wear veils. You mention the role of radio and television–I wonder what role social media will play in that interaction between immigrants and the new culture in which they live. Thanks very much for your thoughtful observations.

    Susan

  • Anonymous

    I am ABSOLUTELY against the "burqa" in my country, France. When in France, do as the French do. Hiding oneself in such a costume could be dangerous, as a man could cover himself that way, too, and cause troubles to other people. The "Niqab" shouldn't be used either–except for the eyes ,everything else is covered also. If I were living in an Arab country, should I wear my Sunday hat and go around with my rosary in my hands? I lived in Burkina Faso where people are mostly Muslims, and never saw women wearing such outfits. I lived with Catholic nuns overthere, who dressed as anyone else, only with a chain and a cross around their neck. In this country, Indians don't wear feathers on their heads, except for special feast days. I definitely am for wearing the "hijab" if women who are Islamic Arabs want to feel more comfortable.

  • Dear Anonymous,
    You are not alone in feeling that the culture in which one resides should be the most influential in determining one's dress (as well as behavior). Certainly, you have followed those guidelines when living abroad. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

    Susan

  • Dear Brian,

    I certainly don't mind you going on at length….I fascinated by your experience and I am certain that our readers will be very interested as well.

    You mention the "jilbab" and suggest that it is similar to the niqab….I am not at all an authority on Islambic clothing, but I don't think that the Jilbab involves a veil. Among other sources, I used http:/islam.about.com/od/dress/tp/clothing-glossary.htm?p=1 as a reference.

    Can any reader advise us?

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.

    Susan

  • Anonymous

    Dear Susan:

    I've mentioned to you, I think, that my hometown of Luton has a very large Muslim population and that the Bury Park district where I was born and raised is almost entirely Muslim. There was a case a few years ago brought by a local schoolgirl before the European Court of Human Rights which established her right to wear the jilbab (the same as what you're calling the niqab, I think). The best explanation of this case that I've been able to find on the web is at
    Article 14 of the European Human Rights Convention reads:
    Article 14: Prohibition of discrimination
    The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

    It was with reference to this Article that the case was brought before the European Court and I would imagine that a similar case will be made by some person or organization in France. (If I remember correctly, the case was presented to the Court by Cherie Blair, wife of Tony!).

    There was some controversy in England when a Member of Parliament (Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary in Tony Blair's last administration) indicated that he was uncomfortable seeing constituents at his constituency office if they were wearing dress which covered the face, and would ask them to uncover the face. How this was resolved I don't know.

    For many years, throughout the nineties, Luton had the largest mosque in Europe outside European Turkey. It was built on the site of the Co-op store where as a child I used to shop with my mother. If you still have the NY Times article I sent you at the time of the general election last May in the UK you'll see there a photograph with the minaret appearing above the other buildings.

    Luton is now notorious as a hotbed of radical Islam, though that contention is hotly disputed in the town. It is said (and I'm pretty sure that in general terms it's correct) that relations between the communities are very good and that militants are a tiny minority. Nevertheless the town has the distinction, if that's the right word, of having had more residents die fighting for the Taliban than for NATO forces.

    The town made headlines (including the NY Times and the Washington Post) again last December when a militant Muslim from Luton blew himself up in Stockholm. My favorite headline was "How Luton Became the Epicentre of the Global Clash of Civilisations." You can follow this article at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/how-luton-became-the-epicentre-of-the-global-clash-of-civilisations-2159578.html.

    As far as I know there has not yet been any general call for banning the "burqa" in the UK, and it seems not to be a major issue. The far-right anti-Muslim groups who fought last year's general election received derisory votes (not that this has always been the case, particularly at local level), and that has certainly not been the case in, say, France, Netherlands, Denmark and even Sweden.

    I hope you don't mind me going on at some length, but my guess is that you'd be interested. It's a big subject.

    Talk to you soon ~ hugs, Brian.

  • Raisah

    I'm completely against this ban. The Burqa for some Muslim women is their identity. What happened to freedom of expression??? It's becoming stupid how can a government control what a woman wears?! It's outrageous!! It's against human rights! What happened to free will?!?!? I am a Muslim woman myself and I know how difficult it is nowadays to practice Islam in the western world.
    Words seem to fail me when I try to explain my views on this. I just feel so angry and frustrated at the fact that this can happen HERE in the western world. I'm sure this is a form of oppression! I feel for the Muslim sisters in France who wear the Niqab. So what if only so many women wear it they're wearing it because they want to because its how they want to dress, it's how they express their beliefs how can they take that away from someone?! This will affect every muslim out there and every person who stands for human rights.

    I stress these are just my views and how I look at this subject.

    From a rambling concerned sister

    Raisah x

  • Dear Raisah,
    Thank you so very much for your thoughts. I think that, without meaningful dialogue with people who practice Islam, it is hard for those of us in the West to understand how important wearing the Islamic veil is for Muslim women. You can see that there are many different views expressed here on the subject.

    In your video, you provide a very moving testimony for your wearing of the hijab. Readers who want to see Raisah's video can go tohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F05_BVmGnYg

    Please check back and let us know when part II is out!

    Thank you for posting your views.

    Susan

  • Raisah

    Here's part 2 (i)

    part 2 (ii)

    part 3

    Part 2 and 3 is about voicing other peoples opinions I hope this helps people understand how important hijab/niqab is for a muslim woman who wears it. Despite people voting 'yes' on the ban does not change the fact that niqab/hijab is part of a woman's identity and it's who they are and what they're about.

    Raisah x

  • Anonymous

    As an agnostic and, I hope, a tolerant individual, I am sympathetic to those Muslim women who have been raised to believe it a tenet of their religion and culture that they keep their face and body private from public view, but are now told they will be acting unlawfully in France if they continue to do so.

    However, as a UK citizen, and an inhabitant of London as well as our home in the Luberon, I see at first hand the increasing concern and sometimes outright hostility towards Islam in the UK.

    The UK is a country which, like France, has welcomed and assimilated newcomers for centuries. Unfortunately,there is a growing groundswell of resistance to Islam, perhaps fuelled by recent history, but certainly exacerbated by the behaviour of some extremists who exercise their right to freedom of speech in the UK by threatening and reviling the country in which they have chosen to live, while at the same time happily and cynically playing the benefit system. Like it or not, the burqa is the outward and, to some, unacceptable face of a religion many people fear.

    The pendulum of tolerance has to be seen to swing equally in both directions. If apparently preferential treatment is given to one religion over another, there is bound to be hostility. It's not so long ago that a BA employee was removed from her position for refusing to take off the small silver cross she wore around her neck. In another case, a woman hospital worker was cautioned for causing offence by saying she would pray for a patient. Just like the burqa, these were external manifestations of religious belief, but those women were disciplined for demonstrating openly that they held religious views. Why, then, should the burqa be treated differently?

    If an individual categorised as a 'Westerner' visits the Middle East, for example, it's expected that the non-alcohol rule is observed and that Western behaviours and dress are modified out of respect for local observances. Those who ignore or flout these conditions are likely to encounter rough justice. So, it seems that in the Western world, women of Islam have the right to wear a burqa, but I, as a Western woman in an Islamic country, can't enjoy a glass of wine or greet a male friend with a kiss on the cheek. Why is that not discriminatory?

    If you choose to live in a particular country, it is your right and privilege to continue to live your life according to the rules of your religion in your own home and at your chosen place of worship. It is not your right to try to impose those rules on the wider community in your chosen country, and expect the members of that community to change to suit you. I have many Jewish friends, some of whom keep a Kosher house. When I visit them, I eat a Kosher meal. When they visit my home, I cook them fish and serve it on a paper plate. In other words, we adapt to our surroundings and everybody's happy.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you. The customs and laws of a country should be respected by the"guests" of that country. The law had a due process that was followed and a representative majority of French citizens apparently support the passing of the law. I think your example that visiting a middle eastern country that has its own restrictions for Westerners that should be respected by visitors is relevant. Here is perhaps a humourous way of looking at the situation but in reverse. What if I defined nudism as a tenet of my religion, should I be allowed to promenade in the buff in public? Should this forbidding this act be seen as undermining freedom of religion? Not likely to pass muster in any country!

  • Thank you to the above two anonymous writers for taking the time to post such thoughtful comments on this complicated and arguably personal subject. It seems that, however central the Islamic veil is to some Muslim women, when one chooses to live in or visit a country (in this case, France)that abides by laws based on a philosophy that does not support conspicuous public display of ANY religion (laïcité), those who wear burqas and niqabs must,like everyone else, abide by those laws. There are no grounds on which the Islamic veil may be an exception.

    Recognizing the importance of the veil to some Muslim women will encourage sensitivity in enforcing the upcoming law.

    I welcome other perspectives, observations, and questions.

    Thank you very much.

    Susan

  • Dear Raisah,

    I welcome your response to the recent comments. How can wearing the Islamic veil in the deeply secular nation of France, with specific laws that prohibit wearing it, be justified? Help us understand your perspective.

    Thank you.

    Susan

  • Anonymous

    I support the ban, only because the French government's rationale makes perfect sense. In a country that does not view being French to be an issue of "color," but in culture, it welcomes everyone who seeks to live the French way of life. They do not spout platitudes of inclusion that aren't borne out by history. Because other nationalities are bound to the same restrictions, it is no discriminatory. People should seek to live in countries that have the same beliefs, or adjust to countries that welcome them, but want no part in the debate. Excellent article.

  • Susan

    Dear Anonymous,

    Thanks for your kind feedback about the article. Very interesting point regarding "color," a characteristic that is the primary source of discrimination in many countries. In France, I think you are saying, color is not an issue–it does not determine who is welcome or even define being French–"culture" and "wanting to live the French way of life" are what makes the French French. Everyone is "bound by the same restrictions." Very different from our country. Neither approach is better, just different.

    Thanks again.

    Susan

  • Anonymous

    This is an excellent article, diligently researched and thought provoking. My immediate reaction as an American, who deeply values freedom, living amidst American citizens who have become increasingly apathetic and recklessly give up individual freedoms seemingly without thought, was shock. My thought was, of course, the personal freedom of expression should be respected. Then, I read on.
    There is no simple answer and perhaps no absolutely correct answer. When in a country that is not my own, I am respectful of the culture and in fact, willing to observe and participate as fully as allowed with the dress, customs, foods, music, home stays because it is then that I learn the most about the people. It is in this type of interaction that I am familiarized with the similarities of humankind, which I believe builds bridges. It is my theory that if one is not actively engaging with the people of a locality, there is a tendency to observe all the ways in which we are different from one another, which is constructive only in building walls.
    Having visited France on a number of occasions has enhanced my desire to strive to live the "French way of life", or my perception of it, wherever I am. But does the "French way of live" mean working less, playing more, lingering over delicious meals with friends and family, wine with more than just dinner, coffee served with a small square of decadent dark chocolate enjoyed indulgently in an out door cafe while enjoying the colorful, fashionable, creative, playful yet impossibly thin French people, a diverse blend of melding cultures /ed moving through the course of their day? Isn't it most probable the "French way of life" is interpreted differently person to person.?
    As most know who have had the opportunity to live in another country, the living is far different from the visiting. Especially if the visiting is limited to role of the tourist. Take another look, perspective, if you will. Imagine you are a stranger is a strange land perhaps by desire, maybe as an act of desperation, or the means to a better life and education for you children. You then find that your customs, your religion, your culture, your traditions, all that you have known must be altered to fit this new society. In addition to learning a new language because, not only, are you not understood, you don't understand, you must learn to curtail your dress, to within the confines of your home or your place of worship. You have been a woman hidden from public view, always. Now, in this strange land, you are not allowed to be covered, to be shielded from view, to be anonymous. And it is meant to be "less revealing" of your "identity" in this strange new land. Unnerving, unsettling, this "understanding".
    the thoughts of a poor, wayfarin' stranger travelin' through this world of. . . .

  • Un grand merci to Audrey, one of our readers, for catching the typo in the website mentioned above. To access the French government's website detailing the ban of face-covering Islamic veils, go to

    Of course, the ban has now gone into effect. We will update our readers when possible. Follow us on Twitter for up-to-date information.

    Susan

  • Thank you, Wayfarin' Stranger for your comments highlighting the difficulties of living in another country. Like most controversies, there are two sides–and even more–to this story.

    Susan

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    This is an excellent article, diligently researched and very thought provoking. My immediate reaction as an American, who deeply values freedom, living amidst American citizens who have become increasingly lethargic and recklessly give up individual freedoms seemingly without thought, was shock. Of course, the personal freedom of expression should be respected. Then, I read on. There is no simple answer and perhaps no absolutely correct answer. When in a country, not my own, I am respectful of the culture and in fact, willing to observe and participate as fully as allowed with the dress, customs, foods, music, home stays because it is then that I learn the most about the people. It is in this type of interaction that I am familiarized with the similarities of humankind, which I believe builds bridges. It is my theory that if one is not actively engaging with the people of a locality, there is a tendency to observe all the ways in which we are different from one another, which is constructive only in building walls. Having visited France on a number of occasions has enhanced my desire to strive to live the "French way of life", or my perception of it, wherever I am. But does the "French way of live" mean working less, playing more, lingering over delicious meals with friends and family, wine with more than just dinner, coffee served with a small square of decadent dark chocolate enjoyed indulgently in an out door cafe while enjoying the colorful, fashionable, creative, playful yet impossibly thin French people moving through the course of their day? Isn't it most probable the "French way of life" is interpreted differently person to person.? As most know who have had the opportunity to live in another country, the living is far different from the visiting. Especially if the visiting is limited to role of the tourist. Take another look, perspective, if you will. You are a stranger is a strange land. Your customs, your religion, your culture, your traditions, are all you have known. Now, in addition to learning a new language because, not only, are you not understood, you don't understand. You must learn to curtail your customs, your dress, your habits to within the confines of your home or your place of worship. You have been a woman hidden from public view always. Now, in this strange land, you are not allowed to be covered, to be shielded from view, to be anonymous. And it is meant to be "less revealing" of your "identity" in this strange new land. Unnerving, unsettling, this "understanding".
    the thoughts of a poor, wayfarin' stranger travelin' through this world of

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