Sunday, August 2, 2009

Can't Help Scratching That Itch

In comments to this post, Leo chides me, properly, for breaking my own vow to say no more about the burqa, MCG berates me, improperly, for refusing to say that the burqa is inherently "degrading,"and now Francis recommends here that I correct my erroneous views by reading this. In this latest contribution to the debate, Jamil Sayah contends that not only the burqa but also the headscarf are examples of "la violence faite aux femmes" and proof that "Islamic fundamentalists" have already won their battle against laïcité. Both, he says, are symptoms of the confinement of women to a "zone of non-existence" and representations of woman as "an inferior being reduced to an object of pleasure."

I don't quite follow the logic here. In Catholicism, women are also represented as inferior to men: they cannot be ordained. Some Catholic women choose to dress in habits symbolizing both their hierarchical inferiority to certain men (priests) and their superiority to other women (they have married Christ and thereby entered a realm of purity free of carnal taint). Not everyone in the ambient society accepts these tenets of faith, but the symbol embodying them is nevertheless not banned from the streets. It is banned from the schools. Traditionally, laïcité meant exactly this kind of drawing of boundaries. Now, on metaphysical grounds that go well beyond the usual understanding of the demands of laïcité, M. Sayah wants to prove himself a laïque zealot.

The phrase "more Catholic than the Pope" comes to mind.