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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Picking on Jean-François Copé

Jean-François (France's Nancy Pelosi if you want, but on the conservative side) wrote an op-ed for yesterday's NY Times on his majority's project to outlaw the burqa in France. I am, of course, of the opinion that all of this is nothing but mere posturing of a French conservative party hanging in the ropes after the results of the recent regional elections. Yet, apart from this painfully obvious populist position-taking, Copé's argument is quite simply fallacious and easy to pick apart. Indulge me...

The ban would apply to the full-body veil known as the burqa or niqab [only]. This is not an article of clothing — it is a mask, a mask worn at all times, making identification or participation in economic and social life virtually impossible.
Does that mean the French want to outlaw the non-participation in economic and social life? While a case can of course be made (and I would be an adherent) that it is a shame some people refuse to participate in economic and social life, that doesn't mean that one can forbid it. What else do, for example, monks do? Or true hippies (the three that still exist), or any kind of guru? Quite obviously the choice to not truly partake in societal interaction cannot be made punishable by law unless one would want to return to some kind of authoritarian even fascist regime (which I am far from implying Copé is arguing for).

This face covering poses a serious safety problem at a time when security cameras play an important role in the protection of public order. An armed robbery recently committed in the Paris suburbs by criminals dressed in burqas provided an unfortunate confirmation of this fact. As a mayor, I cannot guarantee the protection of the residents for whom I am responsible if masked people are allowed to run about.
The old security argument. The right reclaiming its old fallback electoral argument. Apparently, this burqa-abetted bank robbery really took place providing fodder for an amusing argument if nothing else. Let's see, in a nation of over 60 million inhabitants there has been one single (lets make it two or three, just to be on the safe side) case of the burqa facilitating crime. Let's outlaw it! The world isn't safe anymore! I wonder whether Copé would argue for the banning of clowns' masks if that same robbery had been led by Bozo the Clown.

the increase in women wearing the niqab
I've been living in Paris on and off for mor than two years now and during all that time I saw exactly one woman wearing a niqab, yesterday. And I got so excited that I tried to follow her into the subway in order to spy on how she would interact with people. But don't take only my word for it, according to the Minister of the Interior between 400 and 2,000 women wear a burqa, the police - before this whole discussion really started taking off - estimated the number to be 367. Remember that France has around 62 million inhabitants of which anywhere between 3.7 and 5.5 are muslim. Let me get my calculator....basically, between 0.000005919% and 0.000032258% of French people wear burqas and between 0.000066727% and 0.000540541% of all French Muslims. Quite apparently this is a massive problem. But then Mister Copé is worried about the increase in the niqab's popularity. I have no idea where he gets that perceived increase from though and quite honestly I don't think he does either. The two studies after all don't really contradict each other and in any case do not prove an aggravation of the situation, but rather differing measuring methods.

How can you establish a relationship with a person who, by hiding a smile or a glance — those universal signs of our common humanity — refuses to exist in the eyes of others? [...] the niqab and burqa represent a refusal to exist as a person in the eyes of others. The person who wears one is no longer identifiable; she is a shadow among others, lacking individuality, avoiding responsibility.
He is right of course this is a problem. But again, see above, how can you outlaw antisocial behavior? How can you force people to develop individuality? What does that even mean, individuality? Owning an iPhone or a Blackberry, going to work in a suit, adhering to society's trends is that individuality? Finally, how can the law proscribe responsibility? Outlaw punks (not that France has many of these, but I bet there are at least as many as women wearing burqas) and harmless, homeless, or jobless, drunks? How about rich youngsters, living off their parents' money, shirking responsibility and the search for some kind of a societal relevant life, partying their life away? Does Copé want to punish these people as well?

banning the veil in the street is aimed at no particular religion and stigmatizes no particular community

Greece and the Euro are failing, the crisis and high unemployment are still ever present, the retirement reform is only beginning to get discussed in policy circles. I wish politicians, and the public, would start concentrating on things that really matter for a change...

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