Although the practice of wearing hijab has been around since pre-Islamic times, the debate surrounding it has increased in recent years. Whereas in some countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran, parts of Afghanistan and Indonesia), hijab is mandated, in others, it has been banned in schools and other public spaces (Turkey, Tunisia, parts of Belgium and Germany). But whether required or forbidden, Muslim women's dress is almost always a topic of hot debate.
Bloggers around the world across the spectrum of belief have been speaking out about Sarkozy's decision. At KABOBfest, Canadian Sana writes:
By targeting how a small number of French women choose to assert and represent their sexuality, France is missing the real sources of the problem as well as implying that its foundation is perhaps far less stable than what it would like the world and its own citizenry to think. It is now time for France not to shed the various components of its identity, but rather to approach those very pieces with a broader outlook. Its minority population has been willing to adapt for decades, but can France accept minimal equity as a basis for greater equality as we have done so here in North America?
The blogger concludes with:
Mr. Sarkozy, your efforts may be sincere; you are, after all, only trying to protect the criteria for what makes one“French” enough. Remember, however, that in your attempt to free woman from her draping chains, you restrict her sexuality, her own sense of her individualism and her being to the confines of your harem by dictating the dance she must do and the garments she must wear to please you.
Algerian-American blogger The Moor Next Door echoes a similar sentiment. Arguing that Sarkozy's proposal is “bigotry dressed as gallantry,” he states:
The trouble the French may want to worry about is not the burqa as it is worn in France today, but that such a ban, as the headscarf ban has done, will make the garment a greater symbol of Muslim identity and sign of cultural defiance. France has done a good job at finding ways of alienating racial and religious minorities. Indeed, among Western nations it is a leader in this field. This is a quality that does little to further the assimilationist cause the French so actively pursue, though. The proposition comes with other baggage, too. The concern (posed by the Economist piece) that this proposed ban would be might be “misunderstood abroad,” seems foolish. What is to be misunderstood? It is precisely an effort to limit the expression of religion, Islam especially in this case, and follows from the same motivations as the earlier headscarf ban.
Farah, writing for the group blog Nuseiba, presents an excellent roundup of Australian opinions on the matter, noting:
A lot of writers (including Posetti and Hussein) against a ban point out that a number of women actively choose to wear the burqa or niqab. While the burqa has been used by groups to subjugate women, these writers highlight the need to identify the agency of these Muslim women, rather than denying them that agency which a ban would do.
Faith-based blogger Tracy Simmons, from the United States, sees the issue as a simple one. Asking Sarkozy not to strip women of their dignity, she pleads:
I don’t think people realize that wearing the burqa is a choice for many Islam women. And because it’s a choice, they shouldn’t be forced by a government NOT to wear it.
Of course, not all bloggers are opposed to Sarkozy's ban. Popular Egyptian blogger and columnist Mona Eltahawy, who famously took off her own headscarf a few years ago (an experience which she has written about on her blog) wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which she stated that, as a woman and a Muslim, she was opposed to the burqa being worn anywhere.
One U.S.-based blogger, Anne of Carversville, expresses her support for Eltahawy by saying:
I’m sensitive to the delicate nature of change in politics, but I have not lived my life to hear in 2009 that I’m offbase, because I believe that burqas debase women, erasing them from society as Eltahawy argues.
In formalizing my position against burqas, I am in no way affronted by the more conservative form of dress chosen by many Muslim women. I am not opposed to head coverings of any kind.
More broadly, the blogger adds:
At the same time, I support and advocate the embracing of life’s sensuality — seeing, hearing, smelling and using all our sensitivity to experience life. This view does not put me in opposition to Muslim culture, which also embraces the deeply sensual nature of life.
I will also accept burqas for women when men are equally compelled to wear them. For both genders to embrace burqas as a sign of respect for their religion (which does not require them in the Koran), then I agree that burqas are a sign of Muslim culture and religious custom.
Eltahawy's column was not without opposition from the blogosphere, however. Sahar, writing for Nuseiba, protests:
…the best way to support Muslim women is to respect their choice in how they express their religion and culture. It is not to impose what we think is good for them. I find it ironic that Eltahawy who claims to be a feminist is ignoring the importance of choice, agency and the lived experiences of these women— which are essential factors in understanding women in feminist analysis.
Nor do we all agree with Eltahawy who, perhaps due to her socially privileged position is detached from the social, political and religious motivations for wearing burqa, and can’t comprehend how it can be a vehicle of success for some or a proud reinforcement of Muslim identity for others. The burqa can be understood as a symbol of the outrage Muslims are feeling as they are exposed to an increasingly xenophobic Europe. It’s symbolic of an attempt to cling on to an identity that is being eroded in a hostile environment. I write this piece now after just reading about an Egyptian woman who was stabbed in a German court 18 times by the man she was suing for harassing her for wearing a headscarf. It is not the burqa alone that is being undermined and discredited but Islamic dress entirely. Therefore, the call to remove the burqa cannot be devoid of such a context and for Eltahawy to think that divorcing her criticism from such a context as viable is politically naïve.
Though it remains to be seen whether or not France will implement a ban on the burqa, one thing is certain: this is a very polarizing topic around the world.