Culture clash in France?

The other day I saw this interesting news story: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an exceedingly rare presidential address to parliament, said that the Muslim 'burqa' - a full body gown would not be welcome anywhere in France as it is, he said, a sign of "debasement of women."

"The burqa is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement — I want to say it solemnly," he said. "It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic."

This story is very interesting to me because it illustrates, I believe, the very real cultural clash that exists between modern Western liberalism and more traditional cultures in several ways.
First note that Sarkozy has declared that the garment, though exclusively associated with Islam, is not a religious sign; I wonder though, if conservative Muslims would agree? Certainly it has associations with their traditional gender mores, if not a vital part of Islam itself. In any case, how is it that president Sarkozy has made this determination?

Secondly this is interesting to me because it is the very same ideology that claims to embrace "pluralism" and "inclusivism" that is now (ironically) selectively banning certain traditional clothing choices in the name of liberty and equality. Surely there is something self-contradictory here (perhaps even something self-destructive) in the way that our liberal Western ideology plays out?

Now I don't doubt that at least some traditional Arab - and indeed Islamic - gender mores do indeed involve the abasement of women. But is it the place of Western cultures that praise multiculturalism to dictate the cultural expressions of those of other cultures who live within our boarders?

I certainly would not be in favor of allowing immoral practices to go on in my state or country just because they express the culture of a sub-group in our midst (and indeed it is because of my own religious convictions and social upbringing that I would not). And yet the dilemma is there: what of all that "inclusivism"? Is it just so much talk? Perhaps so - and if so, maybe we should just be a bit more honest with immigrants - in our Western countries it really is our way or the highway.

I personally believe, that in an increasingly complex world, governmental leadership must be wise, and seek after balance and compromise. I also believe that this can be done with greater fairness and sensitivity if these sorts of issues are decided on the local level for the local context.

What do you guys think?
(note: the picture above was taken a while back in England - the sign reads "Stop France from outlawing Islam")

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have similar issues in Britain (though we have gone the way of France). When it is discussed with people sitting around, the debasement of women may come up, but that's not what's behind it. The problem most discussed is usually expressed in terms of who is under there. They can't be identified so how do we know there's not a terrorist under there?

I don't know if that's what's going on in France, though.

4:28 PM, June 23, 2009  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

That is a good practical point - our society is arranged in such a way that pictorial IDs and facial recognition are important for commerce and security and other purposes. At the very least, I don't think it is too much to ask Muslim women (and others wearing face-covering garments) to uncover their faces in those situations. Although, I don't see this necessitating an outright ban?

9:55 AM, June 24, 2009  

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