Initially, I wanted to objectively take the side of the French government, and defend its position as a secular state trying to maintain the concept of laïcité in an unconventional manner. It was an exciting challenge until I realized what the evidence pointed to. After reviewing the material, it is evident that France’s 2004 ban on religious clothing in public is a direct reaction to the influx of Muslim men and women in the country. Though sugarcoated with banning conspicuous religious garments from other religions, such as the Jewish yarmulka and the Catholic cross, banning the public donning of the niqab and the burqa appears purely racial.
The mystery behind the niqab and the burqa reinforce the threatening sterotype of islam. The inability to read a face or interpret body language is discomforting. It takes away a major part of how we understand a person, a statement or a situation. Discomfort is exacerbated with the perception of Muslims in our society. The social backlash against Islam following the terrorist attacks in 2011 tainted the perception of Muslims internationally. The high concentration of devout Muslims in France creates an epicenter for racial tension.
Identification of the ban as a political move compliments this theory. Though the legislation’s rhetoric implied social cohesion, the publics’ reactions and few cases of adamant support supports discrimination. Banning a quintessential part of a religion, and subsequently having peers desecrate it with their beliefs and comfort levels is unfair. Instead, the government should have implemented or improved scholastic/public programs to facilitate understanding.
Sidenote: I am not saying that the ban is a wholly negative. There must be women who benefit from this forced freedom by using the law to fight their demanding husbands or families – but many argue the sporting of Islamic headscarves is a personal decision. It is an effective way to reconnect with the modesty of the past and is an extremely bold testament to their religious devotion. Therefore, the threat is not Islam, but the extremists on both ends attempting to dictate the rights and behaviors of its followers.