A few days ago, I made a passing comment in the chat thread, "am I the only one who doesn't really have a problem with the French burqa ban?" I was expecting to get a bunch of "yeah, you are," and a couple people agreeing with me, but what I got was basically universal revilement. I got accused of being a racist, a xenophobe, a Fox News talking head... Not what I'm generally used to.
So, I've been mulling it over in the back of my head for the past couple days, thinking "with this many people against me on this, am I actually in the wrong?" And after some deep thought and introspection: no, I'm not actually wrong on this.
To begin with, technically the law isn't a burqa ban; technically, it's a ban on wearing any sort of face-covering (with exceptions for things like motorcycle helmets and sterile masks) in public, though there's no real doubt at who it is intended to target. Now, if I had said that I didn't have a problem with a French law banning female circumcision, I have no doubt that there would have been nothing out of anyone aside from nigh-universal agreement. So, what is the difference between the two practices?
Well, if they're done "voluntarily," why should we have any problem with either, right? I mean, the woman is choosing to do it, regardless of what familial or cultural pressures there are. They both come from the same place: a belief that the female body (and only the female
body) is an evil, corrupting vessel, that must be covered/mustn't feel joy. They're both religious/cultural practices with a long history, practiced primarily by darker-skinned people. And they both have some pretty serious negative side effects for women, though the physical side effects caused by female circumcision are quite a bit worse than those caused by wearing a burqa.
So, I guess all we're talking about here is a matter of degree, and when you feel religious freedom trumps equality, how far misogyny should be allowed to go in the name of Moses/Jesus/Muhammad. Which I guess is really why I don't get the vehemence behind the condemnation of this particular law; it's not like it's some huge
step from banning female circumcision; if anything, it seems like it's the next logical degree of a process of legal empowerment of women by banning "voluntary" practices which are, essentially, exercises in oppression. The French have taken a position whereby equality trumps religious freedom to a greater degree than it does in the U.S., but again, I don't think it's that
much of a greater degree.
Would I support that law in the U.S.? No, probably not; I think it would run afoul of the first amendment. But the French don't have the first amendment to get in the way, and I really don't think that that means this is the end of religious freedom in France. Though, I'm sure many of you will disagree.