Sarkozy dons burqa to camouflage reform agenda

By Paul Taylor
June 22, 2009

sarkozy-speechIn a column last week, I noted how Nicolas Sarkozy was a master at signalling left while turning right. Well, in his keynote address to both houses of parliament today, the conservative president went a step further. He summoned up the burqa to camouflage his real intention — relaunching a drive to reform France’s ossified social, education and tax system.

(Photo: President Sarkozy delivers his speech, 22 June 2009/Pool)

By declaring war on the all-enveloping full-length veil worn by only a tiny minority of Muslim women in France, Sarkozy ensured that his secularist assault on religious fundamentalism would grab the headlines, and dominate intellectual debate. Here’s what he said:

The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue, it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity. The burqa is not a religious symbol, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic. We cannot accept women in cages, amputated of all dignity, on French soil.

Sarkozy did not call outright for a ban on the burqa, leaving it to parliament to decide. French lawmakers have already called for an inquiry into the wearing of the burqa, which covers the face totally, and the niqab, which covers all but the eyes. But the aim was clear —  to distract attention from less crowd-pleasing but more significant proposals to ease taxes on labour and production, raise a big loan from the public to finance key spending priorities, slim down France’s bloated regional and local government and debate raising the legal retirement age.

burqaThe day after the budget minister admitted that the public sector deficit will hit more than 7 percent of Gross Domestic Product this year and next because of the impact of the financial crisis and the expect surge in unemployment, the burqa may not seem like the country’s biggest problem.  So why has Sarkozy chosen to shine a spotlight on it?

(Photo: Woman in burqa in Kabul, 9 March 2009/Omar Sobhani)

Some may see it partly as a response to Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, in which the U.S. president reached out to the Islamic world and criticised restrictions on Muslim dress in Western countries. Others will think Sarkozy was pandering to populist anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in France, as he did to recapture voters from the extreme-right National Front in the 2007 presidential election. He reprised that tactic by highlighting his outspoken opposition to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union in the run-up to this month’s European Parliament elections.

Sarkozy can be sure of support from militant secularists on the left and right of French politics, just as ex-President Jacques Chirac was when he pushed through a law in 2004 barring the wearing of Muslim headscarves (and other conspicuous religious symbols) in schools. But does this secondary social issue really require legislation at all? And is it what French people should be focusing on in the midst of the most serious economic crisis since the 1930s?

Perhaps Sarkozy needs such a distraction, alongside his crypto-Marxist denunciation of unbridled globalisation and financial capitalism, to disguise his reforming intent, given the strength of entrenched resistance to change in France. But the risk is that the French, when they watch a few soundbites on television, will remember the burqa and neglect the uncomfortable home truths the president told about the country’s failure to modernise its labour market, schools, universities and pension system. In a key passage on the need to bring down soaring debts and deficits while investing in the future, Sarkozy asked a striking question:

How come we have such a problem in preparing for the future. How have we fallen so far behind?

Let’s hope the French people and their lawmakers focus more on that question in response to the crisis than on banning the burqa.

17 comments

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Burqa is indeed a sign of oppression, man imposed on woman. In free countries only a small fraction of muslim women wear them, presumably, as their men insist on this dress code. Whereas in Islamist nations all put on that scary outfit ( as seen in the pic) as required by law. Why is the disparity in behavior? Law or Men, or both as we can see.
Once a ban on burqa is imposed the men will not be able to demand the dress code on women. Women, if they chose, can dress very very modestly without covering their head. People who have no face (lost behind a veil) don’t exist in a street/ society. This is a lifelong banishment from society and indirectly leads to absolute segregation, men imposed. These women are just a statistic and not constituent members of the civil structure as they can never ever be identified as individuals all their life.
I congratulate France in its efforts to integrate the people of France. No riots were seen in French streets when religion imposed dress code was banned in schools affecting Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and christians. In other words Sarkozy and France are leading the way in liberating women. So France please help these subservient women to lead a life without fear and more importantly with a face.

I would like to say that Mr. sarkozy is a bit either lunatic or biased. For sure he is not a fair person. if a women want to cover her self, you want to banned this system on the other hand if some one want to sell her nude images & video it is allowed in the same system because it is considered to be the symbol & parameter of freedom & upliftment of the women.same on u & your sort of people who r so called “Mordern”. actually they r shameless,mentally illiterate& product of a dirty culture. by the way mr sarkozy did you cheaked the latest nude photos of ur girl friend on net ? “”%$&???

Posted by sarfraz | Report as abusive

Sarkozy’s forthright and brave position on this subject is to be commended. Our societies in the West have the right to impose practical conditions on new arrivals from other lands. I would like to hear President Obama voice the same sentiment. Are we to tolerate loin cloths from Upper Amazon Delta tribes, and their naked children? I don’t think so. Welcome to the 21st Century. If you prefer, remain in your country to do as you please. If you want to earn money in my country, learn English, love America and dress appropriately. Wear your one-size-fits-all cover-up in your place of worship.

Posted by Pamela | Report as abusive

The fact is that the great majority of women wearing the Burqa are forced to. It is not a sign of status or dignity but a way to oppress women.

I see commentator “Sarfaz” calls modern culture “dirty.”

Sarfaz, modern culture, women’s rights and even nudity, are not “dirty.”

Women don’t want to wear the burqa, don;t want to be sequestered, don’t want to be beaten by their husbands.

My guess is Sarfaz is a man who is pretending to be a Islamic woman.

Posted by EE2 | Report as abusive

to :EE2
this is called misquote in which ur sort of people r expert. i dnt said that modern is dirty i said that so called “morden” those whose parameter of mordanization is determined by nakedness & nudity. & if u dnt considered nudity to b dirty then u dnt have the basic teaching frm ur home, religion etc. . may god help u in learning some of them.

to pamela: u need not to go to amazon to search 4 nude tribes if u can see a bit in ur neighborhood u can find many. n the whole debate was not around making some one clothed it about u r taking some body liberty of being clothed. now whr the hell is ur freedom of speach freedom of choice n librelisation & all that showoff f?”+$%#g stuff.
if u want to have a uni culture then u should upgrade ur modesty level not ask other to come down to ur modesty level n culture.

u people wll not find any thing wrong in pornography bt have really serious problem with hijab

Posted by sarfraz | Report as abusive

I am proud of French that they are able to pass such laws. burka in against the equality of human beings. Every other nation should follow the suit .

Posted by sparkriver | Report as abusive

Its dishonor and disrespect to 5 million muslim population living out there. Muslims want to practice a thing which comes in their faith, but France wont allow this why? why burqa is being considered as vulnerable by the france president. We were shocked by manner in which sarkozy has sought to denigrate burqa.Burqa is religious symbol because it protects women modesty.Its mentioned in Quran (the holy book of muslim)
“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms.” (An-Nur: 31)

“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, that so they may be recognized and not annoyed.” (Al-Ahzab: 59)
Religiously, morally, and constitutionally speaking, it is not lawful to prevent Muslim women from obeying their religion with regard to wearing hijab.
If European countries discourage Muslim women from wearing hijab, it does not befit France, in particular, to follow in their footsteps, forgetting that it is the very country that adopted and called in its revolution for establishing the principles of freedom, brotherhood, equality, and observance of human rights.

Every human being has the right to follow the teachings of his or her religion and seek to please his or her Lord. No one can compel him or her, under any circumstances, to give up his or her duties.
What some French say about the hijab that it is a religious symbol [and, thus, may create religious differences in society] is not true at all. Symbols have no functions in themselves, as is the case with the yarmulke and the Star of David of the Jews, and the cross of the Christians.

As for hijab, it has a function in Islam; it is the means by which Muslim women cover themselves and preserve their modesty.

No Western country has prevented the Jews from wearing the yarmulke or the Christians from wearing the cross, though such objects are symbols of religion. Why should they prevent the Muslim women from wearing hijab?

We call upon France, which takes pride in being the mother country of freedom, to respect Muslims’ beliefs and feelings all over the world and to accept the religious and cultural variety in its society. It should follow the example of the early Muslim civilization, which was tolerant to all religions, cultures, and people of different ethnic origins. Moreover, the early Muslim civilization gave the chance to people of other religions to contribute to building the Muslim civilization.
We also call upon the Muslim scholars and the considerable Islamic associations all over the Muslim world to declare clearly the opinion of the Shari`ah on the Muslim women’s hijab. We call upon them to support their sisters in the West, particularly in France, in defending their right to wear hijab.”

Posted by Ahmar | Report as abusive

France is in verge of violating and hurting the sentiment of religious people. Earlier sikhs were banned from wearing turban, jewish from wearing skull caps, muslim women from head scarves in schools. These all things are violating the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
Nude photography, nude art is always entertained in the name of freedom of expression…And it is being promoted.
it has been a controversial subject in all ages , in all civilizations…but still such things are allowed in the name of freedom of expressions….when it comes to right to freedom of practicing one’s religion then why are u banning a thing which is attached with some one’s faith. After all they have right to cover themselves by their will, so why are you forcing such laws which restrict themselves from wearing what they want to wear.
i request french people, and people around globe to raise their voice peacefully for the honor and their rights.

Posted by ahmar | Report as abusive

i can see both arguments making sense– those in favor of banning the burqa, and those against it. there have obviously been times in the past when “religious freedom” has to be limited a little bit. for example– Mormons in the USA in the 19th century said it was “their religion” to practice polygamy. but US law prohibited polygamy. so Mormons could still believe in mormonism, and have their faith, they just couldn’t practice one particular part of their faith. just one example of religious freedom being limited.

here’s an excellent article that outlines both sides of the debate. it’s also very interesting that Mohammed Moussaoui, the President of France’s Representative Muslim Council, supported Sarkozy’s call for a ban on the burqa. http://www.mindreign.com/en/mindshare/Wo rld-Politics-and-Current-Events/Sarkozy- 3a-e2-80-9cMuslim-Burqas-are-Unwelcome-e 2-80-9d/sl34045952bp295cpp5pn1.html

Posted by rick travis | Report as abusive

Rick Travis, that article you’ve linked to is wrong on the Muslim Council’s position. It was the former Muslim Council head, Dalil Boubakeur, who supported Sarkozy. The current head Moussaoui has spoken out several times against the burqa enquiry, calling it a way of stigmatising Muslims.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Tom Heneghan, you are right that Moussaoui doesn’t want a parliamentary inquiry, but he doesn’t think Muslim women should wear the burqa either.

“Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of France’s Representative Muslim Council, said he agreed with Mr. Sarkozy’s position on burqas, calling them “an extremely marginal phenomenon.” He said his group promoted a moderate version of Islam.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/world/ europe/23france.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=sarko zy&st=cse

“Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the French Council for the Muslim Faith, said he disagreed with the wearing of burqas as inconsistent with religious precepts _ but said a ban would be counterproductive.” http://www.wtop.com/?sid=1700348&nid=105

Posted by rick travis | Report as abusive

Rick Travis, a personal opinion that a ban would be counterproductive or that Islam does not demand the wearing of a burqa does not amount to support for a legal ban on the burqa. Moussaoui has been very careful to say he doesn’t care for the burqa personally but that France should not outlaw it.

What Moussaoui actually said is more nuanced than the quotes reported in the NYT or AP stories you linked to indicate. His quotes in context and in the original French give a different impression of his view (http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/depeches  /societe/20090623.FAP0163/burqa_le_pres ident_du_cfcm_etonne_par_la_creation_dun e_.html .

In the French quote in that link, Moussaoui said: “A commission on a very marginal phenomenon (such as burqa wearing) surprises us, especially as the current debate tends to stigmatize France’s Muslims … Let’s be clear: for the mainstream Islam practised by the vast majority of Muslims (in France), wearing the burqa is not a religious requirement … For my part, I do not support the fact that women wear the burqa … (but I also do) not support its ban either, because it might be counter-productive.”

“A ban (on burqas) is an authoritarian way to limit what could be considered an individual liberty… the limitation of individual liberties can only be proportional to the imperatives of public order .. .(and it is) “difficult to say that the burqa is prejudicial to the public without prior discussion.”

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

The whole point is not that wearing burqa is in Islam or not people like surkozy need not worry that what is islamic view point or they r really interrested in islamic teachings? so here r few
islam is against alcoholism so y dont u banned it also
islam is against homosexuality y dnt u banned it
islam is against prostitution y dnt u banned it
as far as burqa is considered in islam thr r some criteria of dress code which u can fulfill by many way including burqa some ladies prefer burqa. no body is asking carla bruni to wear burqa or if she likes it, its good “4 her” not 4 anybody else but some one like 2 wear it how can u prohibit her. u cant stop any nude lady from being nude in the name of freedom of expression then wat happen her??
nuns r also wear a sort of hijab? wat abt then y dnt u consider this also as a sign of oppression?
sexual desire is also very normal in all human beings wat abt that?

Posted by sarfraz | Report as abusive

simple point is that by banning burka u want to stop muslims who r coming there to live and earn thats it.

carry on nudism ….soon a day will come when such leaders will ban bikinis also!

Its strange …that man are allowed to wear cow boy hats and on the other hand side.. u r banning women from wearing scarf

The only reason is to oppress an community in the name of protecting ur so called civilization.(mother country of freedom)…..these all things are creating differences and distances…..

Posted by Ahmar | Report as abusive

Being a Muslim I believe that Jesus Christ was the son of St.Mary and a great Prophet of Allah(God). Now I find his mother wearing a head scarf and not a Bikini, but I guess will Nicholas Sarkozy accept her in Bikini or Head scarf?
France is predominately christian country which is modern, liberal and secular, technologically and Economically advanced, democratic republic.
Islam has very little role in it, however in order to divert the problems which France is facing especially the problems of minorities, the French president Sarkozy is now blaming Burqa for backwardness of Muslim women.

*- To Mohammed
Being a Muslim you believe Christ was the Prophet of Allah? LMAO.. Man you gott real fantasy on God’s for you’re own kicks.
The real joke of this Century according to me is “Islam is a Religion of peace”.
Man that’s the greatest humour of all.

We need a leader like him in The United States of America, We did have George Bush but he’s not in power now. Leaders like Sir. Winston Chuchill, John Howard, George Bush & Nicholas Sarkozy should pop up in all Westen Nations. Our brothers up in Canada, down in Australia & Europe. We are sick & tired of terrorism.