Vive la différence! L'affaire du foulard

Much has been made of the fact that France, the has banned the burqa, l'affaire du voile, with the exception of places of worship. Earlier in the year a law was passed that scarves covering the face were banned in schools and hospitals, as well as on public transport. Women, who violate this requirement will be fined €150 Euros and given a course of lectures on the basics of the secular foundations of the French Republic. Men, who force women to wear burqa, will face up to a year in prison.

Often overlooked is the fact that it is also banned in public schools, government buildings etc in majority Muslim countries such as Tunisia (since 1981) and Turkey (since 1997). In Afghanistan, under the Taliban it was compulsory, as is the the headscarf (maghna'eh) in Iran.

In all the above cases the effort is made to emphasise the symbolic value of the burqa. In France the burqa is banned because it represents female submission, or because it is a symbol of religion contrary to the French dedication to laïcité. Australian conservative Greg Sheridan argues that the burqa ban in France is a symbol of equality. The Tunisian and Turkish government, as noted above, enforce a ban because the burqa is a symbol of Islamic fundamentalism. The Iranian and Taliban governments supported it for the same reasons.

Isn't it about time that instead of presupposed symbolic representations that there was more effort to remove real women's oppression? Isn't the best method to provide women economic opportunities and political rights rather than restricting their natural rights and freedoms? As Professor Asma Afsaruddin, Professor of Islamic Studies at Indiana University, pointed out once again it is women's bodies that are being used against their will in this cultural conflict, this new Dreyfus Affair.

Those who force women to wear the burqa are just as bad as those who prevent women from wearing the burqa. Whether a particular clothing expresses religious symbolism or not, is irrelevant - all governments should be normatively agnostic. Liberty to wear what one desires, Equality of that right to all and a Fraternity of these universal rights are the genuine principles of the Enlightenment. Fortunately, it seems that some Muslim women are more dedicated to these rights than their lawmakers and have expressed their opinion in typical French style; Vive la différence!