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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Do as the French...

Liberté egalité fraternité...

It is on this mantra that the French have been raised. It is this belief that sets them apart from the rest of Europe. They believe in a free society, where everyone is equal and walk hand in hand as brothers. Although on the surface this appears to be a harmonious way to live – it is just that - skin deep.

Recent events have us waiting with bated breath for Autumn. The French Senate will decide in September whether there will be a ban on people from concealing their face in public. This means masked crusaders, balaclava-clad robbers, hoodies and of course veil wearing Muslims.

According to the UK national press, out of the five million Muslims living in France, only 2,000 women wear a full face veil.

But of course, the French have a history of hypocrisy towards Muslims, so is it any wonder that they still feel threatened today?

The French government has tried to create a secular society but it appears that more than anything else, it has created divisions between the people. They seem more at ease hiding things from view rather than being upfront.

This is represented on a small scale, by concealing religious symbols at school. This means that children do not learn about the belief of others through experience but merely through text books. You learn by asking questions, not through spoon-feeding (as the British government is doing - but we'll save that debate for another time!). Nothing is as black and white as it seems. Even if it appears as such you need to ask why.

And on a much larger scale:
The end of the Algerian war in 1962 caused an influx of immigrants to France. The pieds-noirs (original immigrants to Algeria from France when it was under French rule) were repatriated. On the other hand, the 91,000 or so Algerians that had fought for France (the Harkis) were not given official permission to migrate to France so were left in refugee camps.

Once they were freed they were left to their own devices, but their lack of money and social status meant they could not afford proper housing, thus creating the infamous banlieues as represented in films like that of Matthieu Kassovitz’s La Hain and books, such as the autobiographical Le Gone du Chaba by Azouz Begag.

Those at the bottom rungs of society are hidden from view allowing the rest of the population to continue with their daily lives as if nothing had ever happened.

Separating a population on such a vast scale doesn’t allow a culture to assimilate nor people to integrate. They are left feeling like second class citizens.

A ban on the veil will not encourage integration. The French say that a ban will liberate these women, but many feminists including myself will argue that true freedom comes from being allowed to be who you wish to be.

People rarely learn from past mistakes – why should the French be any different? So... Now, we wait...

1 comment:

  1. You make some good points and interesting comparisons in this article. But I feel that you've missed quite an important point with regards to this issue.

    By issuing a government ban on what is essentially a Muslim mode of dress the government is actually becoming *less* secular. The contemporary meaning of 'secular' is a separation of government from religion. By issuing a ban that targets a specific religion they are essentially placing that religion below others. This is not a separation of government and religion.

    The French are claiming that they are doing this for the good of the women involved. This, in some cases, is a valid reason. Women can and are marginalised and oppressed more easily when they are veiled. But this cannot be generalised. There are women who choose and welcome the veil. By issuing this order the French are restricting their freedom.

    To make a final point, a large number of the French are avid skiers and snowboarders. When taking part in these activities they cover their faces with scarves, balaclavas and the like. Given that this ban would outlaw these articles of clothing, will they be Policing the ski slopes? I think not.