Bye, Bye Burka

PARIS, France — France, a country with nearly four million Muslims, is now considering a ban on the traditional Muslim burka. President Nicholas Sarkozy recently declared that the garb is “not welcome” in his country, since France would not accept that “women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.” While some have touted this move as a chance to remove women from the strictures thrust on them by an oppressive fundamentalist culture, others disagree.

Some women wear the veil of their own volition, and not to comply with rules imposed by their husbands or parents. “I am happy behind the veil, I protect myself from depraved stares. Neither my father, nor my brother, nor my husband forced the full veil upon me; it's a personal choice," wrote one Muslim woman on, as quoted in The Christian Science Monitor.

After living in Paris for the summer, I have found that it is a rare sight to see women in this traditional Muslim attire. Here, it is doubtful that anyone actually avoids stares by wearing the burka in public, because they do stand out. However, a personal choice of how to dress, even if it does have religious associations, should not be proscribed by the government.

In a seemingly prescient coincidence during Paris fashion week, Riccardo Tisci, creative director for Givenchy, showed a collection that incorporated black gowns, veils, and stunning metallic face coverings, undoubtedly references to traditional Muslim garb. This creative take on Muslim attire defies the idea that burkas deny individuality or “deprive all identity.”

France, a country on the cutting edge of haute couture, should not attempt to save women from oppression by dictating what they wear. On my last day in Paris, I glanced at a newsstand and saw 50-year-old Sharon Stone topless on the cover of Paris Match. In a country so seemingly liberal, the ban on burkas feels even more out of place. I agree that measures should be taken to ensure that citizens are not forced into wearing this traditional attire against their will, but a universal law prohibiting them is not the solution. However, a ban on nudity over the age of 50 is something that may have wider appeal.

Charles A. LaCalle ’11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Kirkland House.