Among French thinkers, a growing consensus against the veilJOHN TURLEY-EWART
Many in France believe the state has a duty to oppose religious dress that runs contrary to the Republic’s principles of Liberté, egalité, fraternité.
That’s an argument we’re used to hearing in Canada and other liberal societies: What a person wears is a personal choice, and the state has no right to interfere in that choice. But here in France — which has a much larger Muslim population than Canada, and so has been forced to confront the issue more squarely — many people now take a different view.
A 2004 French law banned the wearing of religious apparel in schools. Women are generally free to wear the hijab and niqab otherwise, but they are widely seen as symbols of inequality, barriers to integration. Many in France believe the state has a duty to oppose religious dress that runs contrary to the Republic’s principles of Liberté, egalité, fraternité.
Marta Lopez’s family immigrated to Paris from Spain years ago and built a new life in the French capital. She is an activist for a Paris-based feminist organization called Neither Whores Nor Submissives ( Ni Putes Ni Soumises) — a group that was inspired by the murder of a 19-year-old Muslim woman in a Paris suburb because she dressed in a way that Muslim men found offensive. Ms. Lopez is part of the face of the new feminism in France, one that embraces the idea that immigrant women are hurt by policies that pander to see-no-evil notions of multiculturalism.
When asked about the hijab and niqab, Ms. Lopez argues that banning them is not the issue. “The problem is why are the women wearing a veil? The fact that they have to wear the veil to be respected by the [Muslim] community is the problem.”
Her view is widespread. At the Ligue International e Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme (known commonly as LICRA), a prominent French anti-racism organization, an activist tells me that opposing the hijab in schools is not racist: Immigrants have an obligation to integrate into French society.
How to integrate immigrants is a question to which Daniel Sibony has given much thought. An acclaimed French author and academic, Professor Sibony has little good to say about multiculturalism. He told me in his book-laden Paris flat that the doctrine is dishonest, promoting a view of the world that pretends all cultures are equally valid. There is nothing wrong with a host society making clear what its limits are; indeed to do less, says the Moroccanborn author, shows a lack of respect for immigrants.
Many in Canada are waking up to similar conclusions. The Quebec Council on the Status of Women now sounds very much like Ms. Lopez in its opposition to teachers and public servants wearing the hijab and niqab. In Ontario, John Tory’s Conservatives have watched their hopes of winning power wane thanks to his advocacy of public funding for religious schools. The spectre of Muslim extremists training young jihadis at public expense has loomed large in media criticism of his plan.For many new feminists, and others, the veil runs against the values of equality and freedom that form the basis of the modern democratic state. It is also a symbol of division, one that little was said about when multiculturalism was the fashion du jour, but which is hard to ignore now that integrating immigrants is believed to be the best way to achieve social cohesion.
John Turley-Ewart, "Among French thinkers, a growing consensus against the veil." National Post, (Canada) October 11, 2007.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
John Turley-Ewart is the National Post’s deputy comment Editor.
Copyright © 2007 National Post
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.