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Top Official: Burqa Not Part of France's "National Identity"

Top Official: Burqa Not Part of France's "National Identity"

Cheese. Wine. Baguettes. These are all seemingly welcomed signifiers of French identity. Burqas? Not so welcome.

France has been debating a ban on the head-to-toe garment for some time now. Most recently, the country's immigration minister Eric Besson said yesterday that burqas should not be worn on French streets because they are not part of the country's "national identity."

Besson wants the government to reaffirm national pride by having a "great debate" about what it means to be French. With more than five million Muslims living in France (the largest Muslim population in Western Europe), doesn't French identity include Muslim traditions? It sounds like Besson, who was born in Morocco, disagrees. Based on his previous statements, being French means speaking better French if you're an immigrant and having more opportunities to sing the national anthem if you're a kid in school.

Do you think the French government has a right to dictate dress codes under the guise of "maintaining tradition," or should it be more accepting of minority and immigrant group influences? Would you worry if US officials organized a meeting to decide what it means to be American?

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Join The Conversation
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
SKG - Thank you for pointing me to the Sharia article on Wiki. Although it left me with more questions. After reading the "talk" section about the biases of the entry and that anything negative about "sharia" that is added gets deleted by the author as vandalism has me wanting to read more sources.
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
Thanks SKG - I never use Wiki but I'll check it out.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 7 years
Thank you kittyvaness for sharing that information. :)
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 7 years
Karlotta, France's history as a colonial power goes even farther than WW1. Haiti was a French colony as was St. Martinique and the Dominican Republic prior to the 20th Century. You reap what you sow.
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
skg- do you have links for what you were reading or was it not online?
kittyvaness kittyvaness 7 years
As a French woman (I ain't perfect...just kidding!), I can tell you this is a huge debate that keeps coming in the news every few months. France had a huge colonial empire, and we have some kind of a love/hate relationship with them. We were happy to get help from North African for instance to rebuilt our country, we send them to war during WWI and WWII.But we didn't make a lot to help them when France was rebuilt. They fought with us, died , but had teeny tiny allowance while French soldier had a "huge" retirement pension. Immigrants' children don't want to live like their parents. They don't want to be rejected like their parents were back in the sixties-seventies. Some of them were humiliated by "native-born Frenchmen". Even though they are the children, grandchildren of the first generation immigrants, they don't always feel integrated, "fully french". In France they are north Africans/black, in North Africa they are french/white. France is a traditional republican , christian country. We may have separated the church from the state since 1905, it's something established. Truth is, we might be afraid of the unknown, immigrants and Islam. That's the main problem, fear of the unknown. It's true that some neighborhood, poor suburbs are full of youthful offender, they compare themselves to Tony Montana (Scarface). Violence is a way for them to express themselves, the only way they think they have to be heard. It's pretty scary sometimes. Police won't go to those neighborhoods after 10pm, even at 8pm in some areas. Fire services are escorted by the police because it might be a trap. These "kids" throw big stones to them. Can you imagine that in the US or in the UK. Some areas are deserted, authorities won't come up there, unless they really have to. It's really tough for young ladies in those areas. You wear make-up you are a wh*re. You wear a skirt, you're a wh*re.... and so on. Girls have to wear tracksuits, veils or burqa so they don't get into trouble (i.e get raped / insulted). National identity is a word I've heard for the past two days. I can get it for the knowledge of the language. A mom of a friend of mine immigrate here more than 20 years ago. She barely talks french so she's pretty isolated. But do we really have to sing the national anthem to fit into this national identity ? Do immigrants have to eat baguette and sport a fancy moustache so they fit into the "french stereotype" ? No. Do we have the right to promulgate a law baning the burqa/hijab ? Definitely not ! I feel bad for women who are forced to wear it against their will. I get it when I come to security, you can't recognize the person, or what the person wear under it. BUT, if we ban the wearing of it, those women will disappear : they will stay at home because they can't go outside. It's the worst thing that could happen. If a woman wants to wear burqa/hijab, then that's her choice. If a christian wants to wear a necklace with a cross, if a Jew wants to wear a skullcap, a star of David around the neck, it's the same. The government should not have to dictate our choice over religion, and our dressing code. This debate is a unfortunately a way for the "Front National" (the equivalent of UK's BNP) to blame immigration for all the things going wrong in France. I don't think the government is doing it for the good reason.. There is an issue about violence in poor suburbs, violence involving second-generation North-Africans. Then, do something for it but don't blame it on the burqa. As far as I know, it's not the women who are wearing a burqa that have total control of those suburbs and throw stones to police officers.....
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
France is definitely different than the US because it is not a country founded on immigration. The people there have had their own culture for probably close to a millenium now. There is a strong sense of identity and pride. If they wanted to keep that identity so strong, I think perhaps the government should have limited immigration of all types (not just muslims) a long time ago. But nobody had the forsight to predict how immigration would affect them. I think the problem is within any group (whether cultural or religious), there is great diversity. The muslim community is growing in numbers in leaps and bounds throughout the world. A lot of people unfortunately think that all muslims follow the Sharia rules and that all muslims are patriachal, abusive to women, treat women/daughters like property, etc. I would argue that most people find it hard to separate all the different subcultures from the actual islamic religion. There is no denying that some practioners of the islamic faith see nothing wrong with violating a women's basic rights; but I would guess it's only a faction of the overall worldwide muslim community. Westerners want to prevent abuses to women and promote freedom and equality of women. Unfortunately because of a few muslim cultures that are oppressive to women, they identify the veils and burqas and hijab as symbols of that oppression and abuse, since in the abusive cultures it is used in such a fashion. Like it was mentioned in the post about the Arizona man who hit his daughter with a SUV for becoming too "westernized", immigrants are responsible for creating a balance between the new country's customs/traditions/laws and their former culture/traditions. I don't think anybody should move to a country if they are hostile to that country's culture, especially not a country that is so open about their strong identity. That being said, I am not sure that the government is doing this for the right reason. If there are problems of violence and abuse, I think there needs to be another way of solving it. I think I need to find a good islam/muslim course at a local college because I have very little knowledge on the muslim/islam culture (as I'd imagine a large poriton of people do). I do know that I have friends who follow the islamic religion (parents are afghani (sp?) immigrants) but they are extremely western in their thoughts and are appalled by what some muslims do in the name of "faith". So there definitely can be a balance between the religion and western ideas. I apologize ahead of time if I made an error in referencing muslim and Islam.
karlotta karlotta 7 years
You are americans, and you have no idea what you're talking about. I think that's why Besson's concept of defining French identity is a great idea; it's nothing like being an American, and it's certainly nothing like being permissive with any type of feminine oppression (like wearing a freaking head to toe veil!) France was not built upon centuries of immigration; France is a traditionally Christian nation with "republican" values, and not a big beautiful melting pot of cultures and languages. You can say whatever you want about that, it's just the reality of the situation, and it's one of the reasons why it's been so difficult for muslims to integrate socially and economically. We screwed up after WWII when we went to the north african colonies to get their help rebuilding the country (THAT's what happened; WE went to get them) - we didn't realize that we weren't going to be good hosts, but we should have known, and now everyone is paying the price. It's not all our fault, though - There is a huge amount of tension between the communities because some of the immigrants are not behaving civically : burning cars, gang-raping girls, selling drugs - it's more and more prominent in most cities, and the atmosphere here is becoming really unsafe and unhealthy. So what can we do, except for wait for the civil war that will most definitely ensue? We can try and integrate them, and we can try and smooth out some of their hard-standing traditions that are simply unacceptable to us, like female excision (some communities chop off their little girls' clitorises... you want to come back to me with frigging speeches on freedom of religion now?) or burqas. I'm not saying we're doing it right. This is a huge mess, and it's EVERYBODY'S fault. But certainly, forbidding female oppression because it's not part of our identity is definitely one of those stands we're taking that I'm proud of.
zeze zeze 7 years
omg, so weird, its super scary, ther could be bombs under there!!!! I prefer Miley Cyrus in booty shorts and bra hanging out pole dancing on stage thanking God and daddy for putting her up there. Janneth you're right, the ones coerced will be forced to stay prisoners and face more abuse, and the ones who aren't get their civil rights taken away because the French govt is run by bigots. Sadly, I think the underlying issue is France is looking for a way to discourage immigrants and French Muslims from staying in France, can't kick them out, that's too obviously racist, this is subtle...for France at least. That's the true issue. I call BS on the empowering women argument (by the French, not the posters) because when there is an abuse problem you deal with the abuse, not take something away from everyone, something as important as religious freedom nonetheless. Think about it this way, how many people abuse alcohol? The French wouldn't ban wine because they just don't know who will abuse it and who won't...yet its easy to take away basic civil liberties.
janneth janneth 7 years
If the French prohibit burqas on French streets, the women will have to remain in their homes.
mermei mermei 7 years
That's quite the list, PeachyKeen. But... the Philippines? Given the fact that they became a Spanish colony in 1571 and remained Spanish until the US took over in 1898, when exactly were they a French colony? Also, it's odd to add Cochinchina and not the rest of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos! I find Tres's last question ridiculous, because what it means to be "American" is by virtue of history a far more fluid concept than what it has meant to be "French," though of course the latter is also proving changeable. But it's worth noting that in the article Tres links the issues of "French National Identity" have to do with the commitment to equality - that's the "tradition" the French are concerned about maintaining. It's a fair subject for a debate, I think.
Pistil Pistil 7 years
It is oppressive when it's not a choice. But so is a dress code that dictates what you cannot choose to wear. I was thinking, if I moved to a predominantly Muslim country, my dress and behavior, which is appropriate in my culture, would not likely be tolerated. This is similar though, no? I agree Vsugar, with your second reply... that this is really more about a fear... oppression of women isn't Besson's concern.
Vsugar Vsugar 7 years
PeachyKeen - I hear everything you are saying - I do. And I think that the sad irony is that many people, Americans, French, Dutch, British - countries that are experiencing conflicts between their self-sense of "freedom" and their wanting to preserve their own cultures - feel as though they are being "invaded" by a wave of immigrants with different values than their own. I'm sure there are many people who are thinking that it's about time these people got a taste of their own medicine. (not to suggest that this is the motivation for the individuals that move there) I think that people are afraid that they are going to be overtaken by a group of people with a completely different set of values. Let's make up a situation: Say 50 years from now, there are more Muslims than non-Muslims in France, and there is a referendum on a ballot, which asks if women should be required to wear the burqa, and it passes. The image of France as a Muslim nation, under Sharia Law, is something that most French people are, respectfully, understandably wary of. I'm not saying this would ever happen, and I'm not saying it's rational, but I think this is the fear that is driving these sorts of debates. And while your presentation of the imperialist-nation argument is not a lost on me, I do understand the perspective of people who feel as though their position on living in a open society is being abused. It is the ultimate liberal quandary - one wants to have an open society, where differences of opinion, religion, ethnicity, and background are all welcomed and accepted, but how do you respond if one of those perspectives threatens to destroy that open society? I don't think the problem is Islam, or women in Burqas - I think the problem is the spectre of Sharia Law, which, by it's very essence, destroys that open society. As I said before, I'm not saying it's rational, or even what many of the people wearing burqas on the streets of France want, but I think that's the fuel feeding this issue.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 7 years
I alluded to this in my first post (#2) Decolonization was difficult and went on through the mid to late 20th century. Ex: "French Algeria", the decolonization was completed with the independence of Sub-Saharan Africa's colonies in 1960 and the March 19, 1962 Evian Accords, which put an end to the Algerian war. The OAS movement unsuccessfully tried to block the accords with a series of bombings, including an attempted assassination against Charles de Gaulle. To this day, the Algerian war — officially called until the 1990s a "public order operation" — remains a trauma for both France and Algeria. Philosopher Paul Ricœur has spoken of the necessity of a "decolonization of memory", starting with the recognition of the 1961 Paris massacre during the Algerian war and the recognition of the decisive role of African and especially North African immigrant manpower in the Trente Glorieuses post-World War II economic growth period.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 7 years
"If they are moving to France, to become French, shouldn't they, like... BECOME French??? And embrace that and assimilate into the new culture? No one is forcing them to move there, and the French have a very strong sense of national identity that it seems if you don't appreciate and don't support, you shouldn't move to France in the first place." I can answer this. France was an imperialist nation. They colonized much of Africa and other parts of the world (including Asia and countries in Latin America). When you have done that and strip a country of its resources or ruled it for many years;centuries...afterwhile people migrate to the main nation. Here is a sampling of French colonies: Haiti Martinique Syria Algeria Senegal Tunisia Mauritania Republic of Congo Central African Republic Guinea Mali Côte d'Ivoire Benin Niger Chad French Polynesia Morroco Madagascar Guadeloupe Cochinchina (southermost part of Vietnam) Lebanon The Phillipines The Dominican Republic (for a time;after the spanish) Turkish territories post WW1 the former German colonies of Togo and Cameroon the principle that it was Europe's duty to bring civilization to benighted peoples. As such, colonial officials undertook a policy of Franco-Europeanization in French colonies, most notably French West Africa. Africans who adopted French culture, including fluent use of the French language and conversion to Christianity, were granted equal French citizenship, including suffrage. Later, residents of the "Four Communes"
Vsugar Vsugar 7 years
I have very mixed feelings on this subject - I agree with sontaikle, in that in a "free" and democratic society, it seems the choice should belong to individual women. But a friend of mine told me something the other day that was very thought provoking, that kind of reminds me of this: He is Jewish, and was born and raised in Denmark. He told me that during WWII, the Danes went and rescued all the Danish Jews from concentration camps, and some leader there was asked WHY (kind of shocking in it's own right), and he said, "Because they're Danish!!" That sense of National Unity, and National Identity superseded any religious identity in Denmark at that time. If they are moving to France, to become French, shouldn't they, like... BECOME French??? And embrace that and assimilate into the new culture? No one is forcing them to move there, and the French have a very strong sense of national identity that it seems if you don't appreciate and don't support, you shouldn't move to France in the first place. BUT... As a non-muslim, I see the burqa as something that covers and hides femininity and female sexuality - the tacit implication being that those things are something to be ashamed of. This is something that is understandably offensive and unfamiliar to many women in the West. But I've heard from Muslim women that they don't feel that way. I know some Muslim women that wear the veil (not a full burqa), and they don't feel subjugated, they don't feel forced to wear it, and they wear it with pride. So... I don't know. I know that I HATE seeing women in burqas. But if they are wearing it because of a religious conviction that is their own, and they are doing it freely and exercising their rights in a free country, I don't know what right anyone has to stop them.
cirrus1701 cirrus1701 7 years
You're right, Anon. This issue is much more complex than it appears. It does worry me that a government would outlaw a form of clothing. I have to admit that I would not be sorry if those things would just go away! My heart would sing to see women across the Middle East feel the sun on their face in public! Or, perhaps eating a simple plate of pasta without having to deal with a flipping veil...wouldn't that be fun??!? Anyway, I did want to address something else. Tres, it worried me a bit with your wording of that last paragraph. This is not an either/or type of situation. Granted, this is also a very complex matter. But, it comes back to the assimilation aspect. I want legal immigrants! Love 'em!! I want to get drunk on color and sound at a Diwali festival. Last time I was in New York, one of my must eat places was an authentic Jewish deli. I had the Chinese brain trust from Argonne National Labs guide me through a dim sum in Chicago's Chinatown. They laughed at me when I tried to eat chicken feet. Got quite drunk and had the best time!! Learned a lot too! But, these people as well as myself are all or will become Americans. It can be summed up nicely as Borders, Language, and Culture. America, France, Britain, and others have every right to a national culture. If we don't have these unifying traits, we'll become like the Tower of Babel. And we all know what happened there.
Allytta Allytta 7 years
glad to hear this. those things are scary. they scare me and other people too. it's not natural in europe. also the country should not adapt to immigrants, immigrants should adapt to the country. and i speak as a child of immigrants in one country, who moved to another country for studies.
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