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World Assimilation Can't Be Forced

Vikram singh

Feb 24, 2005
Naomi Lakritz, The Calgary Herald

Published: Monday, August 09, 2010
There's an unfortunate similarity between the Taliban and the government of France. Both believe in legislating how women can dress. That dress codes could be established by the Taliban is no surprise. That they could be legislated by France is deeply disturbing.
A bill to ban the wearing of burqas in public places, on transit, in stores, on the street and in corporate buildings was passed by the French National Assembly recently. Burqa-wearers will be hit with $200 fines. Men who coerce women in their family to wear burqas face a $40,000 fine and one year in jail.
French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said burqas deny "the very spirit of the French republic that is founded on a desire to live together." Apparently, the middle word in the phrase liberté, égalité, fraternité means everyone is to be equal in dress, too.

If this were truly about living together, then the tiny minority who wear burqas would be left alone to do so. An ambience of live-and-let-live would prevail, since "living together" suggests cohabiting in harmony with respect for differences. No, this bill is not about anything so warm and fuzzy. This is about a fear of "the other" and a need to make "the other" look like "us."
With an estimated five million Muslims living in France, it's curious the French government would fret over the estimated 2,000 who wear burqas. That's .04 per cent of a population for whom a special law has been passed. That is hardly in "the very spirit of the French republic" since it runs counter to the principle of "liberté" and certainly bumps up unpleasantly against the convivial notion of "fraternité" too.
The burqa is not mandated for Muslim women by the Koran. However, it is inextricably linked with Muslims and represents for non-Muslims an unofficial manifestation of Islam.
So, if wearing apparel that has come to symbolize Islam in the popular mentality can be banned, what is next in France's obsessive quest for "égalité"? Will Orthodox Jewish women be forbidden to cover their hair with scarves or wigs after they're married? Will Sikh men be barred from wearing turbans and long beards? Will anything that smacks of people obscuring their features or wearing non-secular garb be outlawed? And from there, will the simple wearing of religious symbols be the next target the lawmakers train their legislative guns on?
Assimilation is a gradual process. It can take at least a generation to play out. It cannot be forced, coerced, legislated or otherwise rammed down the throats of immigrants. If burqas come off, it is the women who wear them who will decide to take them off.
That's where France has it wrong -- ditto Quebec with Bill 94, which bans the burqa from public institutions. In 2004, the number of Quebec Muslims was placed at more than 120,000, and according to The Gazette of Montreal, only a small handful wear burqas.
These handfuls in France and Quebec will dwindle on their own in the course of time. Forcing that process is counter-intuitive.

Some of these women are elderly and have worn burqas all their adult lives. Tradition cannot be ripped away from them, like a Band-Aid torn from a wound. It would be like passing a law dictating that a Hutterite woman must exchange her long skirt and head scarf for shorts and a halter top.
Stripping these women of their burqas will only cause the men oppressing them to step up their behaviours in an effort to find new ways to control them. The men are likely to take out their resentment at being made powerless by the state, by brutalizing women even more.
Women's lives will be made less, not more, free as a result. The first generation of immigrants always clings stubbornly to the ways of the old country. It is the second and third generations, born in the new country, who absorb that new country's ways and shed the old ones. Hence the universal scene of immigrant parents speaking their native language to their children, who answer in English

Legislating dress codes does not speed the process. Nor should any democracy legislate what citizens can or can't wear.
Governments should focus on preventing the honour killings that can result as women, moving toward more autonomy, shed their burqas of their own free will.
Naomi Lakritz writes for the Calgary Herald.

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