I Only Have Eyes For You

French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced yesterday that the burqa — the head-to-toe garment worn by some Muslim women — is “not welcome” in France, and the French National Assembly is now preparing an inquiry into whether the enshrouding of women to shield them from the view of men other than their owners is so fundamentally at odds with Western secular culture that it should be outlawed. In his words:

The problem of the burka is not a religious problem. This is an issue of a woman’s freedom and dignity. This is not a religious symbol. It is a sign of subservience; it is a sign of lowering. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Sarkozy that the burqa is indeed an affront to everything that a modern secular nation should stand for. It is a public symbol of inequality and religious oppression, of a grotesque, tribalistic, culture-of-honor system of andrarchic, repressive sexuality that has no place in the modern world. It is no different than leading women about on a dog-leash.

I must ask myself, though, whether to take such an attitude is consistent with my generally libertarian attitude regarding personal conduct. If an adult woman and man enter into an agreement whereby the man shall lead her around in public, on her hands and knees, by a leash, is it the State’s role to interfere?

In this case I am inclined to say yes, as it is clearly in the interest of European culture, for the sake of its own survival in the face of an accelerating demographic cataclysm, to make itself infertile soil for this sort of alien fundamentalism. There is no shortage of places where Muslims are not only free, but encouraged, to subjugate and abase their women in this way; there is no need for France, the very cradle of the Enlightenment, to make itself one of them.

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  1. bob koepp says

    I agree with Sarkozy that “the burka is not a religious problem.” It’s only because the misogynists who adhere to a “tribalistic, culture-of-honor system of repressive sexuality” pretend to have a religiously-based “justification” of their abominable beliefs about women that religion enters the picture at all. You can’t (legally) commit yourself to slavery, so I have no problem with saying that you can’t (legally) be a partner to an agreement of the sort Malcolm describes.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Glad you agree, Bob.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  3. Sarky’s comment strikes me as a typical leftist evasion. He implies that the only problem with having large numbers of Muslims in France is they have an odd custom that offends modern feminism. Just a little obstacle on the otherwise smooth road to assimilation. Come, come, mes amis, you know dressing your women in burial shrouds is a little hard for our culture to get used to. You’ll forgive us, I’m sure. Now let’s get on to important matters. I know a nice site in Paris for a new mosque …

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Agreed, Rick, but at least he is willing to push back at all. Given that France and the rest of Northern Europe seem hell-bent on well-intentioned cultural suicide, even this mild objection may be politically unsustainable.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  5. Why? says

    I think that it is a sign of oppression of women by religious zealots. It makes them look like spooks. I say get rid of the rag. Question is…what are they going to do with nuns?

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    Good point. Why prohibit Muslim women from wearing a burqa when Christian women are free to wear a garment which is essentially equivalent?

    Take a look at the Iranian women in burqas standing up to armed soldiers, such as those pictured on http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/06/23/iran.women/index.html. Would you characterize them as dogs being led on a leash?

    My view is that the government which governs best is usually the government which governs least. The state has no right to tell its citizens what to wear.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink
  7. bob koepp says

    I actually agree with Peter about “good” government. So my agreement with Sarkozy doesn’t extend to actually banning burqas — only to his claim that this isn’t a religious issue. But if we’re going to have laws, I won’t object to laws banning the sorts of relationships in which relatives and even total strangers can force women to adhere to silly dress codes.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    How do you know that women aren’t wearing burqas because – gasp! — maybe they want to?

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:47 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Peter, I do generally agree with you that the government is best that governs least, so, as I remarked in the post, there is a tension there.

    But yes, in fact I do look at women in burqas as similar in many ways to dogs on a leash. It is an overt symbol of possession and control. That, having been born into servitude, they may successfully have been conditioned to want such treatment makes it no less abhorrent, and no less at odds with secular Western culture.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  10. Raakin says

    “Hijab” is the term used by many Muslims women to describe their head cover that may or may not include covering their face except their eyes, and sometimes covering also one eye. The Arabic word “Hijab” can be translated into veil or yashmak. Other meanings for the word “Hijab” include, screen, cover(ing), mantle, curtain, drapes, partition, division, divider.

    Can we find the word “Hijab” in the Quran? The word “Hijab” appeared in the Quran 7 times, five of them as “Hijab” and two times as “Hijaban. None of these “Hijab” words are used in the Quran in reference to what the traditional Muslims call today (Hijab) as a dress code for the Muslim woman.

    Hijab as it appears in the Quran has nothing to do with the Muslim Women dress code. Stop this practice, it has nothing to do with Islam. The best garment…is the garment of righteousness

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  11. Charles says

    ^ Well spoken.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
  12. bob koepp says

    “How do you know that women aren’t wearing burqas because – gasp! — maybe they want to?”

    I believe nearly all of the women wearing burqas with whom I deal every day do want to… That’s fine with me, because I and (I think) the women in question don’t see the burqua as the “overt symbol” it represents to Malcolm. Of course, it does also function as a symbol, in multiple ways and in multiple contexts. But burqas are like cigars — sometimes they’re just what they are.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 7:43 pm | Permalink
  13. the one eyed man says

    The burqa-clad Iranian women on cnn.com who are staring down the militia are engaging in behavior far more courageous than anything I have ever done. Perhaps more courageous than anything any of us has done. They have proven that they are anything but dogs on a leash. To suggest that somehow we know better than they what they ought to be wearing is, I think, a stretch too far.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink
  14. Chris G says

    Sarkozy is all talk. Paris Hilton is taking her unburqa’d body to Dubai.


    Saucy minx PARIS Hilton has been given a major dressing down for, er, dressing down.
    TV producers had banned the airhead heiress from wearing a bikini while she is in Dubai shooting the third series of My New BFF.
    But within hours she was posing for photos in a skimpy twopiece.
    Brilliant. Our source says: “Paris had made a big public speech, saying how much she loved the Middle East and respected its culture. But the following day she was prancing around on the beach in her bikini and posing provocatively.
    “Bosses warned her Western tourists have been jailed for flouting the rules.”


    Posted June 23, 2009 at 11:50 pm | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    I haven’t said that the women facing the basiji in Iran aren’t courageous, Peter (after all, a slave can be courageous too). But that doesn’t mean that the burqa is not a symbol of control and oppression, one that has no place in a secular Western culture.

    Posted June 24, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  16. the one eyed man says

    I’ve heard it said that when you fight with your spouse, the true argument is not about what the surface argument is about. My view is that the brouhaha about burqas is about something other than burqas.

    While France may be “the very cradle of the Enlightenment,” it has never been very enlightened about religious diversity. The Catholic majority periodically massacred the Huguenot minority until a century or so ago. France has a long history of anti-Semitism, ranging from the Dreyfus affair to the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Nazis. There is currently a nativist political movement in France which would make Tom Tancredo envious. The “secular Western culture” of France has found plenty of ways to favor the Catholic majority over its minority sects. The French prohibition against school children wearing religious symbols favors the Catholics by default: observant Jews wear yarmulkes and observant Muslims wear their outfits as an intrinsic part of observing their faith, but there is no similar directive for a Catholic to wear a cross. So it is hard to take Sarkozy’s protestations of protecting Muslim women or French identity at face value – it seems to me that he is playing to the bleachers by trying to exploit the embedded French prejudice against l’etranger to his political advantage.

    We don’t think twice when nuns wear outfits similar to a burqa, Orthodox Jewish women are covered up, Sikhs cover their uncut hair with a turban, the Amish look like they live in the eighteenth century, or Hasidic men mimic the Amish in dress and appearance. The state doesn’t interfere when women are not allowed to be in the priesthood or the ten person quorum required for Jewish religious ceremonies. I was in Salt Lake City on Monday, and observed how the women there all dress like June Cleaver. People may dress modestly because it is part of their religious practice – as with the Mormons – or they may wear a religious uniform ranging from Buddhist monks’ saffron robes to yarmulkes, which are worn so all men look alike in the eyes of God. There is nothing intrinsically different between the burqa and the outfits which those of other religions wear, either in appearance or intent. These various costumes symbolize humility, uniformity, being identifiably part of a sect, and placing other values above those of appearance and vanity. While the costumes, and the context in which they are worn, may vary slightly from religion to religion, they are far more alike than they are different. They express the eternal over the temporal, the group over the individual, and the spiritual over that which is earthly. While the values they express are not those which I choose to espouse, in a free society they are respected, regardless of sect or religion.

    So a burqa is no more “a symbol of control and oppression” than the clothing worn by scores of other religions, and the motivation to wear it is fundamentally the same. Sarkozy’s professed concern for the “dignity” of Muslim women falls flat with the sight of burka-clad Iranian women acting in the most dignified way possible: by taking their fates into their own hands and challenging men with guns. Modern day Thomas Paines. They certainly don’t seem to have a problem wearing a burquaL: why should Sarkozy? For a leader who presides over a population which is complacent, indulgent, perpetually on strike, and with a long and deep history of religious persecution to castigate and denigrate those who choose to wear a burqa is the height of hypocrisy. By choosing to discriminate against a tiny sliver of French society – as the article notes, only 5-10% of the French population is Muslim, and a small percentage of them actually wears a burqa – Sarkozy shows how dim the supposed Enlightenment of France really is.

    Posted June 24, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    Peter, you clearly have more free time during your workday than I do at the moment; I’ll have to respond briefly here.

    You are right that the true argument is not what the surface argument is about: the real issue is the accelerating Islamization of Europe, against which the indigenous culture has every right to push back. There are very few cultures on Earth that don’t exhibit some sort of prejudice against l’etranger; it’s human nature, and certainly most Islamic societies do so in spades.

    And the burqa, your protestations to the contrary, is far more than a religious token like a yarmulke: it is an overt manifestation of a repressive, tribalisitic sexuality that explicitly regards women as property, and is about as alien to French culture as it is possible to get. If the French don’t want to tolerate this offensive display, why shouldn’t they be allowed to ban it? It’s their culture, and their country. What obligates them to indulge this? There are plenty of other places where Muslims can go to enshroud their chattel.

    Posted June 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  18. the one eyed man says

    I intended to write a lengthy diatribe on why tolerance is better than intolerance, and diversity better than singularity, but my attention was diverted by the much more entertaining story of yet another priapic Republican getting caught in bizarre and reckless behavior. Even better, a moralizing, sanctimonious, unctuous governor who never tired of lecturing the rest of us on “family values” and the “sanctity of marriage.” If there is anything better than Schadenfreude, I haven’t found it yet.

    Suffice it to say that if France chooses to put out the unwelcome mat for its Muslim citizens – and it’s hard to think of a more in-your-face insult to a people than banning their dress because it is a symbol of their cultural identity – then it has every right to do so. If it chooses to emulate Japan – where the native Japanese rule the roost, foreigners are disdained as gaijin, and everyone seems to look, dress, and act alike – then there is no divine law which would stop them.

    Personally, I am much happier living in a country which values diversity and tolerance, and which reaped the considerable benefits of being hospitable to immigrants who arrive with strange dress, culture, and language. I work for a company which was founded by a guy who left Iran after the Shah was deposed, and who now runs an enterprise which employs dozens (most of whom are also foreign born). Our company is next to the Google, one of whose founders was a Russian immigrant. I formerly worked for (and invested in) a company which was founded by an immigrant from India, who later sold the business for $1.2 billion. The joke here in Silicon Valley is that it was built on IC’s (not integrated circuits: Indians and Chinese). Not to mention all of the great restaurants that came in their wake! Whether people emigrated here because of religious freedom or some other reason, the fact that America does not have the fear of l’etranger has brought many of the best and the brightest here. America would never pass a law outlawing burqas, and those who might emigrate here know that, whether they are Muslim or not. That’s why they come here.

    My point is simply that a society can be like France and look at a woman in a burqa, and through its (highly) subjective judgment see a threat, or it could be like America and see the woman through the prism of a society which has learned over the past two centuries that the arrival of foreign cultures is accretive, not dilutive, to American self-identity. The percentage of Americans who are Muslim is not appreciably less than the percentage of French who are Muslim, and we have yet to see them destroy the American Way. Some of them even wear burqas! Sarkozy’s speech is emblematic of a country whose economy is sclerotic and whose culture is moribund. I’m much happier to live in a country whose economy is continually refreshed by the entrepreneurialism and hard work of its immigrants, and whose culture is robust and dynamic as a result.

    Posted June 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Some cultures assimilate into Western societies better than others, and rigorous Islam perhaps worst of all; it is arguably fundamentally at odds in many ways with the West (note that there has been almost continuous struggle between the two for almost 1,400 years).

    There are many in Europe these days who don’t see their culture as being “refreshed” by a rising tide of poorly assimilated and dauntingly fecund Muslim immigrants, particularly as European governments find themselves having to bend farther and farther backward to accommodate Islamist demands for restrictions on the free press and inclusion of Shari’a law into the civil code. (And your estimate of the relative population of Muslims in France vs. America is way off: the percentage is far higher in France, and growing rapidly indeed.)

    Posted June 24, 2009 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
  20. Joanne says

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    Posted February 6, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink