Sarkozy and the Sea of Veils.
Last month, Nicolas Sarkozy essentially declared that the wearing of the veil by Muslim women was a “sign of subservience” not coinciding with French ideals, and therefore not to be tolerated in France. He went further to decry that the “imprisonment” behind a “shield” absolved Muslim women who cover of any “identity”. Seemingly, Sarkozy has the monopoly on defining identity in France, while having done little to integrate France’s immigrants into the idealistic, unified France he dreams up.
While the debate on public symbols of religion and the secular aspirations of France is not new, Sarkozy’s insistence on the issue - in light of growing xenophobic administrations in neighboring Western European countries, and his own history of being anti-immigrant, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim, in addition to being a relayer of racist, pro-colonialism remarks in former French occupied lands is an outright indignation towards the Muslim faith and practicing Muslims all over Europe.
The commission to “explore” the wearing of the veil has been open for a month, which is a long time for internet debate about Sarkozy’s racist faux-pas du jour. Preliminary findings suggest that less than 400 women in France actually wear the veil, although the method to find this information remains questionable in light of the fact that France has the most number of Muslims in Europe. In any case, Sarkozy’s Orientalist approach remains fixated on “liberating” the Muslim woman when he has done little to relieve systemic discrimination and stigmatization against Muslims - the real factor hindering integration in the country.
The conversation propelled by Sarkozy’s remarks conveniently dichotomizes the dialogue within the West’s preferred lens of “the mini-skirt vs. the veil“. In most instances, commentators continue to eschew the subjectivity of the Muslim woman and put her on a pedestal of oppressed, traditionalist emigre needing to see the virtues of adapting into the “free” and preferably less-robed ideals of the West. These commentators also fail to observe how diaspora can cement Muslim practices such as head-to-toe covering, even if they are not commonplace in the woman’s country of origin, precisely for reasons of identity. Further, they push the belief that these women need a law to liberate themselves of a universal oppression that must be commonplace in [insert name of troubled Middle Eastern homeland here] negating that not all Arabs, or people of Middle Eastern origin are Muslim and that more Muslims live outside this region than in it. Basic geography is not something offered in journalism school, and neither is a mandatory studying of Orientalism, it seems. All the better to suit Sarkozy’s calculated blunders against minorities in his supposed “we are all one and the same as the French” facade.