Just a couple days ago the French senate voted to ban face veils in public. The vote was nearly unanimous, with only one vote of dissent. Proponents of the legislation are saying that this move is constitutional and that it protects women's rights - arguments that I of course sympathize with. Opponents say that the law is driven by Islamophobia and that it impinges upon freedom of religion and personal liberty. An argument I also sympathize with. But let's put aside theoretical, principle-based, moral values - just for a moment. Let's also forget about abstract statements about how the legislation will affect society (ie: "increase liberty," or "steal liberty"). Let's consider instead what the practical outcomes of this law will be.
What positive benefits are likely to stem from this law?
- The law will discourage Muslim women who are debating about wearing the veil from doing so, since a Muslim woman who is only considering wearing the veil is unlikely to feel strongly enough about it to risk legal issues.
- Ditto for men who are only considering pressuring their wives or daughters into wearing the veil, since the legislation has much harsher penalties for people who force a woman to wear a face veil.
- French citizens and tourists who feel uncomfortable with people hiding their faces in public will enjoy not seeing full-on burqas in the streets.
- Women whose self-esteems are damaged by hiding their faces in public will probably enjoy stronger emotional health.
- Extremist Muslim groups are more likely to avoid living in France as a result of this legislation, a result I strongly suspect the legislators had in mind.
Now, what negative results are likely to stem from the law?
- Muslim women who believe they would be disrespecting their faith by not wearing a face veil in public will face heavy fines or stay home to avoid paying fines(or attending a "citizenship" class).
- Muslim men who don't want to face legal repercussions for forcing a wife or daughter to wear a veil may confine a wife or daughter at home.
- French citizens who practice Islam and yet don't believe in face veils may feel misunderstood by the law - by creating a law that specifically targets a practice associated with one religion, the legislation makes latent (and unintentional) implications about that religion.
- The law will likely cause a backlash among the sects of Islam that believe in the face veil.
- Insofar as Muslim women who've been taught to hide their faces are victims, the law would risk victimizing the victims since its primary form of enforcement involves punishing the women who wear the veils.
So, while I do not personally support the belief that women should hide their faces - it's in fact a belief that horrifies me - I think this legislation is misguided, and I am 99% sure it'll backfire.
For an alternative viewpoint, check out Carl the OMC's post on I Feel Like Schrodinger's Cat.
Any of our contributors who live in Europe care to weigh in? (That's right, Erica, I'm talking about you).