I'm about to bite off more than I can chew but with all the recent press about the French government's recommendation on a partial ban of Islamic face veils, I find myself confused over my own position and opinion about individual rights and the rights of society.
Hubster and I saw a program several months ago where this issue of the burka was discussed. One of the guests on the panel was a philosophe, about 40-45 years old, who commented that the problem with the burka wasn't the burka itself, but rather trying to understand how a person who is completely veiled could function and interact in society when society is dependant upon facial interaction for communication. He argued that the face and the eyes are how we share our humanity. Through our face and eyes, we make contact with a person, be it in a negative or positive sense. If the eyes and face are hidden, that contact, that communication isn't possible. Our humanity is negated.
I had never thought of it that way but as I've dwelled on this, I see his point. I personally have no issue with the burka if it is chosen freely by the woman wearing it, but I do see how it makes their participation in society difficult and uncomfortable for those who are on the other side of the veil.
You have to understand that France is obsessed by this idea of society. It goes beyond the ideals of liberté, égalité, et fraternité. France, I do believe, wants it's citizens and residents to be French. Completely and wholly French. The problem with this is that it leaves no room for the nuances of Frenchness, it makes embracing diversity hard if it isn't in line with traditional expectations of being French.
In my own experiences, I've had to learn that I have chosen to live here. Hence, I need to realize that by doing so, I am choosing the culture, the rules, the expectations of this country. I needed to learn French. I needed to learn that going on strike is normal. I needed to learn that church and state are more separate than any American could ever imagine. I've had it easy in my integration. I chose to come here and my culture is really not that radically different. There are others who come to France without much choice and it is these people who tend to be marginalized and neglected. I can understand the desire of the French to make everyone French, but there needs to be a bigger effort in doing just that.
There are moments in my life here when I see very clearly that accepting differences is so difficult to the French because they are extremely concerned, worried, that all that is French will cease to exist. Be it the language, the culture, their façon d' être, there is fear that all this is threatened. There is fear that this society, this citizenship, can not stand when faced with diversity. Hence, the only solution is to ensure that everyone participates completely in this society, everyone has equal footing, everyone becomes French. Sounds simple, doesn't it?
I feel for the 2000 or so women who wear the burka in France. I feel that their choice, whether freely made or imposed upon them, has become a rallying point for something that is beyond just the burka. How will this all play out? Only time will tell. But I hope and pray with all my heart that this country that I call home will find a way to embrace all of it's citizens and residents. I hope that all of us will also find a way to cherish and treasure that which makes France French. Burka and all.