French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke out today against the burqa, a traditional Muslim garment that covers the entire face and body,worn by fundamentalist females. According to Sarkozy, "The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women." Now, while I would agree with him (whole heartedly, in fact) that the burqa is a symbol of subjugation, I feel I have to break the news that such subjugation, itself, is a part of some religions. For those who follow the strictest interpretations of Islam, the burqa is not just a symbol of anything - it is fundamentally mandatory. Since I sincerely doubt that Sarkozy is himself a Muslim, I have a hard time believing that he is more qualified than they to say what is and is not a symbol of their religion.
I have to admit, though, this guy is one of my favorite examples of what not to do in a free society.
Sarkozy wasn't satisfied with just making a public statement condemning the burqa. Many people have done that. I would do that myself if I had a bigger venue than just this blog. That is part of freedom of speech. If we don't like something, we have every right to say we don't like it. I don't like the burqa and I don't like everything the burqa stands for. Unlike Sarkozy, however, I would never even consider banning the burqa in an entire country. Banning the burqa is no more appropriate to a free society than would be banning floor length dresses or the bonnets that are both the accepted clothing of certain minority religious groups over here.
To be honest, though, I don't really expect much resembling proper free society behavior from France. They started their path toward "freedom" with an orgy of executions and they have continued to have some pretty twisted ideas on the concept since then.
No, what really gets me about people like Sarkozy is how fluent they are in what George Orwell (in that classic dystopian novel 1984 which, by the way, was not meant to be a blueprint for society, contrary to modern popular ideas) called doublethink. Doublethink, if you don't remember or haven't read the book, is "[t]he power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them ..."
Let me give you a shining example:
In today's speech, Sarkozy stated the phrase, "All views must be expressed ..." Keep in mind that he is making this statement in a speech that is in support of banning the views of a certain minority group. Nice contradictory belief there. He went on to say, "we must not be ashamed of our values, we must not be afraid of defending them." Unless, of course, your values happen to be in the minority, in which case we can just legislate them out of existence and too bad for you.
Let's be absolutely clear here: I dislike the burqa and everything it stands for, but that does not give me the right to decide the values of the people who use it. If that woman who is wearing the burqa believes in the values that require her to wear it, that is her right. If she decides she does not believe in those values and wants to remove the burqa then, by all means, throw the entire power of the state behind protecting that right as well, but you do not have the right to make that decision for her. Being elected president does not give you the right to decide other people's values and it doesn't make it right to say one thing while meaning the exact opposite.
Of course, this is from the same guy who couldn't even take a stand against kidnappings, so what are the odds that he'll show any more backbone on this issue?
Addendum: For the record, and for those who don't know, Islam is not even the only religion that has this kind of dress requirement. While fundamentalist Muslims do tend to be the most strict about it, there are branches of Judaism, Hinduism, and even Christianity that have similar modesty standards for women.