The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Asghar Ali Engineer, a leading Indian Muslim intellectual and activist, is head of the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, where he works to promote peace and understanding among religious and ethnic communities.
By Asghar Ali Engineer
The French parliament is preparing to pass a resolution to denounce the wearing of burqas in France. It aims to pass a law afterwards that will actually outlaw the garment. This is the first time that women would be penalised for wearing a burqa. In 2004, France banned Muslim girls wearing the hijab in schools. It argued that these religious symbols interfere with its commitment to secularism and its secular culture.
In fact, nothing happens without political ideology being behind it. This measure is being championed by right-wing politicians who are exploiting anti-Islam feelings in France among a section of people under the cover of secularism. However, the socialists are opposed to any ban on the burqa, though they are also not in favour of women wearing burqas. They feel women should be discouraged rather than banning the burqa covering the face.
Socialist spokesman Benoît Hamon announced that wearing a burqa is not desirable but he is not favourable to legal ban, which would be inconsistent and ad hoc. Mr. Hamon said on RTL Radio “We are totally opposed to the burqa. The burqa is a prison for women and has no place in the French Republic,” he said. “But an adhoc law would not have the anticipated effect.”
The stand taken by the Socialists appears to be quite logical. One cannot stop women from wearing burqas through a legal ban. It is quite undemocratic to punish someone for wearing a certain type of dress. It is anti-democratic and anti-secular for a multicultural society. At the same time, let it be very clear that to cover the entire body including the face is not necessarily Islamic.