When French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared last month that the burqa was not welcome in France, he unleashed a global debate on Islam and veils that drew in everyone from bloggers and full-time pundits to Al Qaeda’s North African wing. FaithWorld has dealt with it when Sarkozy spoke, in the aftermath of that speech, with a view from Afghanistan and a televised debate with a National Assembly deputy backing the ban. (Photo: Kabul women in burqas, 20 Nov 2001/Yannis Behrakis)
Last week, a somewhat unlikely group of commentators joined the debate — fashion designers at the haute couture shows in Paris. The niqab and the burqa are, after all, garments, so maybe it should not be surprising that the high priests of fashion have spent some thought on the issue.
In fact, many top French designers make customised abayas (long, baggy gowns some Arab women usually worn with a veil) and other luxury versions of traditional outfits for their Middle Eastern clients.
Speaking backstage before and after their shows, surrounded by half-naked models, most stuck to the middle ground, saying they had nothing against the burqa, abaya or niqab as long as the woman was not forced into it. Couturier Franck Sorbier pointed out that in most hot places, including Corsica, women
wear some kind of headscarf.