The French government is split over some legislators’ call for a nationwide ban on burqas. The government’s official spokesman, Luc Chatel, said that legislation might be introduced to ban full-length veils if it was proved that they were being “imposed” on Muslim women against their will. “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” President Sarkozy said in an address to parliament. Other officials fear legal action would create too much unrest and tension.
I agree that such a ban would create tension, but that’s not the only reason I think the potential legislation is unsound. Limiting what women can and cannot wear in public is no way to liberate them. If the French government finds that burqas are indeed imposed on women against their will – an inquiry the logistics of which I don’t quite understand – disallowing the garment would be a band-aid solution to the problem of female subordination. The degradation of women is the issue the lawmakers claim to be fighting. Outlawing the burqa will not liberate Muslim women. Instead, many will refrain from going out in public at all. Rather than “prisoners behind a screen,” they will be prisoners in their homes. You cannot erase male dominance by policing women’s clothing.