The Islamic Face Veil and France

In the July 26th, 2010 edition of Time Magazine, Bobby Ghosh reports that out of 5 million Muslim women in France, only 2,000 of them wear the much debated full-face Islamic veil.  The veil is so alarming to the French Republic that the politics have turned heavily in recent weeks to passing law that would ban the veils once and for all.  The most quoted reason for the protest is, of course, the oppressive nature of the veil and the message it conveys about women.  Ghosh in his article sarcastically asks if “anyone asked these women if they feel oppressed.”

These kinds of issues are difficult.  I did some research on the obligations from Islamic Law concerning the full-face veils and even among practicing Muslims there is sharp disagreement.  Some will hold that the veils are only optional for Muslim women.  A second group believes they are not required but strongly recommended.  A third group understands the modesty laws concerning women to necessitate the wearing of full-face veils.  From what I can understand, the first and second options are the most widely held opinions among modern practicing Muslims.  This, in part, explains why out of 5 million Muslim women only 2,000 wear the covering. 

The extraction of religious and ethical standards from any people group for the enforcement of a different set of standards from an outside culture is a reality that at times is certainly warranted, but that always and only should come due to the most obvious and egregious of circumstances.  In other words, we better be darn sure that we are correct in forcing the replacement of another group’s way of life with our own.  We can all cite the various times when history has shown this to be necessary and effective.  In this particular situation, I probably find myself agreeing with those who dislike the use of full-face veils.  However, for those women who are free to do otherwise but make the choice to wear them, their reasons for doing so are hard to refute.  Some explanations, such as the desire to prevent themselves from being just a sexual object to guys, present feminism with a problem as most feminists, regardless of coercion, typically speak against the use of veils.  In any event, it looks like Muslim women who live in France now don’t have much of an option.  Take the veil off or come under the scrutiny of the French Republic.  All for your own good, of course.           

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