|France’s Chaotic Burka Furor|
|Écrit par Stéphanie|
|Dimanche, 26 Décembre 2010 01:49|
CAIRO — As the debate rages on in France over burka, an outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women, Muslims believe the fuss has served to highlight one scary fact; that French people don't know burqa from niqab and hijab.
“There’s nothing but confusion,” M'hammed Henniche, secretary for the private Union of Muslim Associations of Seine-Saint-Denis suburb in Paris (UAM-93), told the New York Times on Tuesday, September 1.
The furor was sparked in France since Communist MP Andre Gerin proposed a parliamentary probe into what he describes as the rising number of Muslims who wear burka.
President Nicolas Sarkozy weighed in the controversy as he told the parliament that burka was unwelcome in France, describing it as a sign of "subjugation and submission" of women.
The parliamentary commission will soon meet to investigate whether to ban the burqa — in other words, any cloak that covers most of the face.
But the debate saw politicians, opponents and advocates of the burka using interchanged terms such as burka and niqab, despite the fact they describe very different types of Islamic dress.
A burqa is the all-enveloping cloak, often blue, with a woven grill over the eyes, that many Afghan women wear, and it is almost never seen in France.
The niqab, a garment that is often black, covers the face but leaves the eyes uncovered.
“What they’re talking about is the niqab,” says Henniche.
John R. Bowen, a professor of anthropology who has been asked to testify by the parliamentary commission, agrees that there is confusion in France over the issue of burka.
Bowen, who wrote “Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State and Public Space,” believes that confusion is resembling part of a bigger picture in France’s politics.
“French political discourse is internally conflicted.”
“There are laws in France that force women to show their face, in certain situations, at the town hall, at the bank,” Henniche said.
“Women who wear niqab take it off when they must. But in the streets, everyone is free.”
Henniche, however, fears that some politicians’ choice to use burqa instead of niqab is not an accident.
“They chose a word that is associated with Afghanistan, and that spreads a negative, scary image.”
He fears that the situation is threatening broader “stigmatization” of the minority, citing the case of a Muslim woman who refused entry to a bank because employees thought her hijab was illegal.
“Even if they ban the burqa, it will not stop there,” Henniche said. “There is a permanent demand for legislating against Muslims.
France was the country that sparked a heated debate across Europe over Muslim women hijab after it banned it in state schools in 2004.
While scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the niqab or burka, Hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women.
“It’s a dangerous slip, going from a ban in school to a ban in the streets,” warns Henniche.
“This could go really bad, and I’m scared of it. I feel like they’re turning the screws on us.”