Saturday, July 19, 2008

Real Egalité?

We have written here before about the zeal of the French for secularism. I love secularism. Secularism is my middle name. I believe, as the French do, that the state should be 1500% secular and that religion absolutely cannot play a part in state affairs (if it was up to me, in anything, ever).
However, that certain people living in France wear Muslim garments like the niqab, throws French secularism into an interesting conundrum, since the French defend freedom of religion but they balk at allowing individuals to freely express their religion if that means wearing a burqa or a niqab or some such fashion.
So now they have denied French citizenship to a Moroccan woman, who has a French Moroccan husband and French children and speaks fluent French because she chooses to wear this niqab (which is the one that covers her completely). They say she can't be a citizen on the grounds of "insufficient assimilation" to French culture.
O la la la la.
I am the last person to be on the side of religious zealots. BUT. The ruling claims that this woman's niqab is incompatible with the "essential values of the French community, particularly the principle of equality of the sexes". But are women in France truly equal to the men? Do they make the same salaries? Do the French allow ultra-orthodox Jewish women to wear wigs and long hemmed and sleeved clothes, and whores to wear skimpy clothes? These women are as unequal and exploited by men as any Muslim woman wearing a niqab, as far as I'm concerned. So why not enforce that supposed equality with them as well?
It seems to me that the equality of the sexes is a bullshit argument. The "insufficient assimilation to secular life" is the only argument, and a valid one, (but a little fascist, n'est pas?). I agree with the French that religious fundamentalism of any stripe is incompatible with secular democracy. This presents a contradiction, since it is the nature of democracy to tolerate religious pluralism and all kinds of human mishegoss. That is why there are a lot of people living in Western democracies who don't want anything to do with democratic principles (except when it comes to using the health benefits, the schools, the better pay, etc. That, they like). This creates tension.
In the case of France, democracy came about as a response to the abuses of the nobility and the clergy. In our case, sadly, it came about because of religious persecution. People came here to be able to worship in peace. That is why here believers from the Church of Elvis can walk around in full white jumpsuit regalia and nobody will bat an eye (maybe that is also why, you don't see too many niqabs here. People here feel that they have to make less of a statement 'cause no one really cares).
In France there is not much love lost for religion. They are perfectly happy without it. They want to keep it that way. Bless 'em. But does it really rile them so much that religious people wear absurd, offensive clothes? What's it to them, really?
Intolerant people abuse democracy. Democratic people are supposed to embrace everybody and smile. How are democratic nations to react? Like the French? Or like us here, where anyone can wear what they pretty damn well please for the reasons that their conscience dictates? (As long as they don't want to blow all of us up, which is the actual source of the French anxiety, not that fairy tale aka the equality of the sexes).
Me, being the not-so-enlightened despot that I am, I think that religious fundamentalists have no business living in Western democracies (and that includes Israel). They would certainly be better off in places where they can oppress women, stone adulterers, think the world was made in 7 days, and behave like Precambrian goatherds without creating so much frisson and agita for the rest of us, who are indeed, the truly civilized world. But since you need draconian measures to enforce the separation, it's just easier to bear them and hope that the ways of tolerance and freedom will impact them positively (as long as they don't blow us all up and they don't mess with our science, our schools and our lifestyles, just as we don't mess with theirs).
In fact, I would abolish religion if it wasn't such a Stalinist thing to do.

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