Wednesday, July 29, 2009

La burqa chiffrée

According to the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur, 367 women wear the burqa in France. Most wear it voluntarily, for reasons of "militantism" or "provocation," according to this source. One-quarter are converts to Islam.

Awfully precise information, considering how little was supposedly known about the burqa when controversy erupted a few weeks ago. But if the number 367 is anywhere near accurate (does it include the investigative journalist for Rue89 about whom I reported a few days ago?), I think that France will survive even if women are permitted to wear the burqa in the street. And since most are said to wear it voluntarily, the supposed justification for a ban--that it is a symbol of the oppression of women by men--would seem weakened.


David in Setouchi said...

Of course they'll say they wear it voluntarily, no religious person will ever say that they are brainwashed by their beliefs...

And as far as the ones that don't wear it voluntarily, it's most likely that they're being monitored while being interviewed and they don't really speak freely either.

Sure France will survive if the burqa stays legal, but France will be a better place with one less religious thing in the public sphere.

yabonn said...

The release of these small numbers prepares, I think, a quiet burial of the idea.

MCG said...

You write, "And since most are said to wear it voluntarily, the supposed justification for a ban--that it is a symbol of the oppression of women by men--would seem weakened." Sir, this is not your best reasoning.

The burqa is not only a walking prison, it is a walking billboard for fundamentalist Islam. Assuming that some women do say they step into this prison voluntarily, might these new converts possibly care more about promoting their new religion, fundamentalist Islam, as living billboards, than they care about protesting the oppression of women?

Unknown said...

"A walking prison" is "a walking billboard"? Isn't this sort of advertising likely to drive away customers? As for David's comment, a person who acts out of a conviction that you consider misguided or deluded is not acting involuntarily. If you want to ban a particular religion and its symbols, you may find the support of a majority, but you won't be preserving liberty.

David in Setouchi said...

Art, concerning the "voluntarily" thing, it's called aliénation (at least in French it is, I'm not 100% alienation in English means the same thing), I'm sure you know exactly what I mean.

And whether it's voluntarily or not is not an issue anyway.
Everywhere there are things people do voluntarily that are not acceptable for human or cultural reasons.

And I know we'll never agree on this, but it is not the ban on a particular religion that I think we need, it's a ban on all religions. But as I see as this could be hard to implement, I'll be happy with a ban of religions in the public space. You know, it's called Laïcité...

MCG said...


The effectiveness of burqas as advertising is a fact question. These living billboards in burqas do not seem to drive away customers. They give prospective customers something public to identify with. Look at the spread of fundamentalist Islam in the U.K.

Voluntariness is not only impossible to measure and prove, it is beside the point. Where a custom is degrading, whether it be polygamy or wife-beating or the burqa, voluntary submission--even if it could be defined and proved--is irrelevant.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry, I don't think that voluntariness can be dismissed that easily. It is fundamental to the concept of liberty. In any case, not everyone will agree about what customs are degrading. David, for example, believes that all forms of religious belief are degrading and should be banned from public space. While I might agree with Freud that all belief in the supernatural is an "illusion," it seems to be an illusion with a future, pace Freud, and I am loath to outlaw those who voluntarily embrace it. On the other hand, I am quite willing to impose regulations on cults that dragoon, brainwash, or otherwise undermine the free choice of their adepts. In the case of the burqa, as you say, we have a "fact question," and the facts reported by the French government indicate that most of France's very small number of burqa-wearers have made a free choice. That matters to me. As for the spread of fundamentalist Islam, yes, I regret it, just as I regret the spread of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States. I am not prepared to use the power of the state to suppress either one, however. I would regard that as a step toward an illiberal, unfree society.

David in Setouchi said...

Voluntariness can be dismissed pretty easily indeed. You imply that preventing people from doing something voluntarily is against their freedom...
The problem is that the terms freedom and liberty are waved a little bit too easily and too abusively sometimes, especially on your side of the ocean, especially when it comes to religion.
Except that most of the time, religion and freedom are incompatible concepts.

Also, believe it or not, living in a society is all about restricting freedom of people that want to do things voluntarily and that hurt others or themselves.
If we follow your logic, I should be allowed to kill or rob whoever I want as long as I do it voluntarily...
That works with hurting oneself too. You know that in France it's illegal to let somebody to commit suicide if you can prevent it.
I could go on with dozens of other examples, so yes, the voluntary can and should be dismissed.

Also, funny how according to you some religions are OK to do what they want and some others (cults) should be regulated.
You underline "that dragoon, brainwash or undermine the free choice of their adepts", funny, but for me, the three monotheistic religions fit that definition.

Then we have a new argument showing up (not only from you) these days: only 500 or so burqas have been spotted in France, so there's no reason to make them illegal?
So, if there were only 500 murders in France a year, they should be legal then, right?

Then you say, that States shouldn't suppress the spread of fundamentalism. If not them, who can do it then?
What do you suggest should be done to slow down or hopefully stop the spread of fundamentalism?
Militia? Representatives from other religions?

Finally, it would be good if the hypocrisy stopped with this topic. 10 years ago, the whole Western world was outraged by the Burqas in Afghanistan, but now, suddenly, they're OK in France in the name of freedom...

Unknown said...

I end my participation in this dialogue of the deaf with the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes can be carried out. That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment."

Free trade in ideas, including religious ideas, is part of my definition of freedom, David. License to murder is not. If you can't accept that basic distinction and simply want to dismiss it as an irreconcilable cultural difference between liberal America and republican France, so be it.

David in Setouchi said...

I don't dismiss it as a cultural difference between France and America, this is the core of why we can't agree, and why you always have the same interrogations when the topic of religion in France comes.

Americans that can understand laïcité are scarce, even among scholars that study France (sadly), because they're always blinded by their American view of "freedom of religion."

I could quote a bunch of French philosophers from the Enlightenment, and we could have a debate of quotes, but would that bring us anywhere? I doubt it.

MCG said...


Voluntariness may be fundamental to the concept of liberty, but it does not separate right from wrong.

In your replies, however, everything comes down to the purported volition of the wearers. If voluntary, goes your argument, then necessarily permissible.

You do not, with due respect, engage with the quality of the burqa itself. Is it degrading or not? That is the question.

Leo said...


"I end my participation in this dialogue..."

May I, tongue in cheek, remind you that you had responded to one of my posts that you had indeed made too much of the burqa and would now cease and desist?

I think I have uncovered you: as a true lover of France and its strange mores, you relish these Franco-American controversies.

Maybe you could now start a new debate on pastis or, as Charles Bremmer recently did, on bare female breasts on beaches...

Unknown said...

I LOVE pastis. And breasts.