Those crazy French, eh? They do like to pass through the veil of normality and redecorate the house, don’t they?

Facetiousness aside, there is an interesting debate to consider here (with some of the views in opposition to the ban summarised here). While the automatic reaction is to look at how the ban on the burka and niqab affects the religious and human rights of the people targeted by the Bill, it’s not quite so clear-cut as it might seem. France is a country very much concerned, at least superficially, with maintaining a secular tone, particularly in regards to government. My setting a limitation on something often certainly described as religious in motive as the face veil, I could see how to someone not quite so atheistically-minded that it could be an attack on choice and religious freedom.

As I prepare to write the next few paragraphs, I suddenly find myself wishing that I had an Islamic best friend to point to as a defence, but life as a curmudgeonly hermit will always put paid to that.

I find it very hard to raise up any ire or outrage on the matter. Honestly, it makes sense to me, but then I am a godless heathen who wouldn’t complain if all religion went the way of the diplodocus. As a matter of basic security, the notion is sound (certainly moreso than taking your shoes off in the airport). After all, it’s easier to track and monitor people when they don’t look roughly identical, unless you have an eyeball witness who really knows their fabrics. But that isn’t the only motivation, irrespective of claims. All religion is a method of population control: this is not in dispute. There are few governments that want to vie with another major social force within its own purview if they could avoid it. But there is a weighting of control in favour of one section of the population over the other. Surely that would be in greater contravention of international law?

Claims rise that the women who wear the veils, both of face and eye, are fine with them and indeed see it as a part of their identity. Others state that those who are opposed to burkas and niqabs should lead by example, rather than force a sensitive population to remove the facial obstructions. There is likely the very great belief, founded or not, that this will be the beginning of a grand push to ban the coverings entirely in favour of hawaiian shirts and hula dresses. Ignoring the final, flippant thesis, the other statements are unstable arguments at best. Identity is formed as much by environment as anything else: if these women are raised in an environment that enforces this dress code, then it’s obvious that they are going to assimilate it into their mental landscape. They aren’t being given a lot of choice in the matter. Even though I am a staunch atheist, I still have the occasional urge to act Catholic and smack my head against the wall for little apparent reason because I grew up in an intensely Catholic area. It’s background noise you haven’t even noticed you stopped hearing. As to leading by example, that rarely works unless the example comes from within the population, rather than external to it (contrary to what Hollywood suggests, Gandhi was not Sir Ben Kingsley).

Shape and form also defines your identity, yet they are not allowed to have any level of individual public persona. Their clothes are what define them entirely, and that definition is a black mass without shape or curve. The clothing renders you anonymous and part of a functional mass rather than as an independent person with their own motivations or drive. This wouldn’t be quite so much an issue were it required of both genders, but men are permitted far greater scale and mode of individual dress.

There is also the rule of travel: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If in going to an Islamic country a woman is expected to follow the dress code present, why shouldn’t the same apply in return? Ignoring the egregious hysteria of something like Sex and the City 2, there is an expectation at play that isn’t going both ways. Admittedly, this, I should state, is where matters may get hypothetical and facts scarce due to my lack of active participation in this realm, to which I would welcome any correction (not that I cannot be corrected for the work en masse, but blah blah blah etc). At least in regards to this, it would be good manners to follow the local decorum as a visitor, and essential as an intended immigrant. What is the point of going somewhere if you are not going to try and integrate with the local community?

Moving away from the issue as it stands, it looks set to be a pilot scheme for other countries to watch, learn and eventually copy to varying degrees. All fine, good and well: it will be interesting to see how the more religiously-ingrained countries consider application of a similar Bill or Act (“Hey Irish government, how come we have banned the burka but we still have not met the EU human rights requirements to at least make available abortion? Even Spain did that much, yo…”) I don’t think that it’s likely to fall under the sword of international law since it would end up as a matter of contending which is causing the greater degree of human suffering: gender subjugation or not wearing a veil.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I talking out of my hind region or in truth some sort of international politico superstar primed to fix all world problems?

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