France, which is currently home to the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, is struggling with issues of identity and what constitutes French values. French President Nicholas Sarkozy frames the debate over the veil in feminist terms, stating that the veil is “contrary to the ideals we have of a woman’s dignity.” From my perspective, that is an odd rationale, because it would seem that what is most contrary to women’s “dignity” is the slutty attire on display in so many Western cities. In fact, opposing the veil on the basis of feminism may eventually be a failing proposition, because the hypocrisy is so blatant that eventually most people will catch on.
Of course, most people who don’t like face veiling do not see women in veils as oppressed so much as offensive. Everyone in the West knows that women who don the burqa in areas not covered by Sharia are doing so out of conscious choice, despite the feminist characterization of the issue as one of helpless, oppressed women. Where I live, in liberal Seattle, I occasionally see Somali women wearing veils, usually in line at the grocery store with a fist full of food stamps. Sometimes, I see them walking along the lake pushing strollers as well. I really could care less, although I might be a bit worried if we had a real suicide bombing problem here, as the burqa could effectively hide a lare explosive belt or vest.
However, some American women, upon seeing the veiled women, have expressed anger and contempt in my presence. They are angry at the women in the veils, and see them as a sort of tribal enemy. My take on it is that Western women don’t see the Muslim men or imams as so much of a threat, but rather dislike the women.
Despite the feminist slant to attempts to outlaw the veil, my bet is that some feminists will come out and support burqas as a legitimate lifestyle choice for women. Feminism is, above all, about giving women the power to do whatever they want, whether it is dressing and behaving like a cheap whore at a party full of intoxicated young men without having to worry about one of the men “touching” her, or wearing a ninja outfit in public. It really doesn’t matter what it is; if a woman somewhere wants to do it, it’s OK by feminism. Therefore, I don’t see a burqa ban in the West as being high on the feminist list of priorities, and Sarkozy and the other white knighting politicians aren’t going to get an ounce of extra support from the feminists for their misguided efforts. On the other hand, I can imagine considerable support from ordinary French women if he simply banned it on patriotic grounds. In fact, given the preponderance of female voters, one of the most effective means to garner support might be through the politicization of style.