Monday, April 11, 2011

Two Thousand Women

So, I know I haven't finished my travel blog yet, but I am hopping mad by this story out of France. And also really upset by peoples' intolerance.

France's ban on the burqa went into effect today. The Guardian has a summary of what happened:

Why did Sarkozy choose to do this? Because he sees these women as a threat. They could hide explosives under their burqas and become suicide bombers.

But couldn't kids with baggy pants do the same thing?

And how many people does this law effect? 2000 out of an estimated 5 million Muslims in France.

You read that right. Two thousand women.

Now, I don't like the burqa. I see it as a symbol of Islam's oppression of women. And yes, it's absolutely unsettling to talk to someone when you can't see their face. But a quote from this woman who chooses NOT to wear a burqa, and wore a niqab (similar full-body covering) to protest the ban sums up how I feel "This is the first time I've ever protested over anything. I'm not in favour of the niqab, I don't wear it myself. But it's wrong for the government to ban women from dressing how they want. Islamophobia is on the rise in France. First it's the niqab, then they'll ban the jilbab, then it will be plain headscarves outlawed."

Two thousand women. Why should the decision about what they wear be in the hands of the French government or the police? And, according to an editorial from the Toronto Star, these are private citizens, not those in public positions.

France's attack on Islam isn't going to do anything to promote favorable Western relations with Islam. If the West really wanted to do something about suicide bombers and extremists, it would attack the underlying conditions that give rise to extremism. It would mitigate the conditions of world poverty, stop invading places where we really have no business, and send food, not bombs, to the Third World. Do this, and I betcha extremism would die down.

Make two thousand women into scapegoats for a larger problem, and extremism rises.

I got in a Facebook debate with someone who didn't see it this way. She passionately argued that Muslims should follow the customs of the countries in which they lived. She said that France was doing this in order to combat terrorism. She thought that the US should force conservative Islam to change by banning the burqa.

Nowhere have I been more thankful for the First Amendment. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

We can't ban the burqa. Thankfully.

I've been thinking a lot about the kind of teacher I want to be -- and about my teaching philosophy. I want to be a teacher who is committed to social justice. And when my students see women wearing burqas, I don't want their first reaction to be "what if she's hiding explosives underneath?" I want my students to be ethical and passionate and recognize an injustice when they see one.

Two thousand women. Seriously, France?