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A new spin on the veil issue: You have to be crazy.

A New York Times writer brings our cool calm collected American sensibilities to those hot-headed French.

… [T]he veil … especially exercised France since 1989, when three children were barred from attending middle school after refusing to take off their hijabs, setting off months of anguished, often hysterical public debate.

It was the first of countless “veil affairs,” and in this century successive French governments passed two laws: one from 2004 that forbids the veil (as well as the skullcap and large crosses) in schools, and another in 2010 banning full-face coverings such as the niqab in all public spaces. And the freakouts keep coming, most recently during a heat wave in France this week. After a group of women defied the city’s ban on the hooded “burkini” bathing suit at a community pool, a government minister for equality said the burkini sends “a political message that says, ‘Cover yourself up.’”

Really, those silly over-emotional French (and Austrians, Danes, Belgians, Latvians, Bulgarians, Spanish, Italians, Swiss, Dutch, Moroccans, Sri Lankans, etc., etc., etc.). have so much to learn from us.

Margaret Soltan, July 1, 2019 8:27AM
Posted in: democracy

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4 Responses to “A new spin on the veil issue: You have to be crazy.”

  1. Anon Says:

    UD, I don’t understand the objection to the burkini. It doesn’t cover the face and is very similar to rash guards and sun protection gear. Quite different from the niqab etc.

  2. UD Says:

    Anon: For me, and clearly for the French, it is inevitably seen in context, and in terms of its cultural/so-called religious (that is, people who wear it talk about religion, but there’s no religious warrant for it) assertions. It is of a piece (if you will) with the burka-like tendency (why do people call it the burkini, after all?) to cover shameful women.

    Certainly single-sex swimming is next, and even in the US various woman-hating and women-hiding subcultures are constantly trying to get public swimming pools to allow sex segregated swimming.

    You can say, as you suggest, that fabric yard for fabric yard the burkini resembles other body-covering forms of swimwear; but the symbolic power and the empirical cultural meanings of the thing go way past this, and the French have every right to loathe what it stands for and to wish not to see it in their shared civic life.

  3. Anon Says:

    If the women were demanding that the community pool have a female-only day, or a burkini-only day, then I would agree with you. But if they showed up at a (presumably non segregated) swimming pool during the heat wave in their burkinis …. ? Their faces aren’t covered. They are not withdrawing from society. And those burkinis are form-fitting. I would bet that niqab fans do not approve of either burkinis or women at co-ed community pools.

    Here’s another interpretation: the French expect women to be attractive and on display. A burkini interferes with the appreciation of the female form. Male gaze, public space, blah blah blah, I’m no English professor, but I’m sure you know what I’m getting at. Some of the reasons the French loathe burkinis may have little to do with their ideals of civic life.

    Disclaimer! A French woman once picked a fight with me in Miami because I had dressed my extremely pale son in a goofy sun hat and full sun suit. Why do you dress him that way???? She was so tan. A leathery crone of 30. It was surreal.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Anon: Love the Miami story! But I think the roots of the burqa/niqab/burkini objection for French men as well as women do not lie in a sexy national aesthetic (lots of countries without this aesthetic have banned burqas). If you take the French at their word (and they’ve had tons to say about it), the roots lie in a profound egalitarianism (and of course secularism). I mean, a real one, a real sense shared by many French that men and women are actually equal. When you very visibly swath women in tight or loose fitting body armor that quite crudely and obviously singles out women in a way men are never remotely singled out – a way that shouts that women are different from men in their physical unacceptability, and their bodies therefore need to be wrapped up – you do something deeply demoralizing to the cause of equality.

    Maybe it’s because I have a daughter and spent time when she was little literally protecting her from the sight of women in burqas, it’s very clear to me that a primary reason to object to a subculture of women in your country assiduously covering their hair and their bodies and their faces lies in its effects on girls and young women, people in a formative place as they work out their status in their country. This applies of course not just to Muslim women but varieties of Orthodox Jewish women (some of whom, in Israel, wear burqas). Modern societies committed to equality need to object to politically corrosive groups within them keeping their women chattel (or featuring women keeping themselves chattel). Markers of chattel-status include, I believe, the burkini. Of course I take seriously what you say – we need to be careful in distinguishing between unobjectionable modest/heavy dress and demeaning demoralizing suppressive garb. If the French are a little too eager to pounce on things like burkinis, I say let them. They have a fragile, hard-won world to protect.

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