Sunday, July 05, 2009


Recently President Nicolas Sarkozy of France told his country's parliament, "The burqa is not welcome on French territory." He referred to that garment, worn by some Muslim women to cover their entire bodies, as "a sign of enslavement and debasement."

According to The Wall Street Journal, some Muslim groups objected, saying that such a stance could be taken as anti-Islamic. Sarkozy replied that he does not view the burqa as a religious symbol.

Was Sarkozy out of line to express his disapproval of a garment whose use is largely limited to female members of a particular religious group? Or was he correct in calling attention to the larger issue he identified?

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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

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Anonymous said...

Sarkozy's full comment stated "In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity"... I find this a difficult position to argue with. Imagine the outrage if he had stated the opposite, especially in France.

If it is the right position to not systematically deprive half the population of their inherent right of free expression, then why would that change just because the garment de jour happens to be used religiously?

I, for one, applaud Sarkozy for his courage in standing up against this anathema to personal freedom. It is a brave step because the "non-violent" religion in question does not take well to criticism and has been known to kill such critics. For that reason, I will not be signing this comment but Bravi, Msr. Sarkozy! A brave stand indeed!

Anonymous said...

Is the burqa the sacred object? I thought the body was sacred. How come it would be fine for me to go out in public in a thong bikini but frowned upon if I choose to wear a burqa? I've also seen people with collars around their necks and a leash attached, but this lifestyle was not outlawed as a sign of enslavement and debasement. Clothes cover the body, and help keep a body sacred and treasured.

I agree with the idea of personal freedom, but it should work both ways.

And I, since I may be persecuted and ridiculed for my defense of the burqa, choose to post anonymously.

Maggie Lawrence said...

I think it's interesting that the argument is centering on a symbol instead of an actuality. If any person wants to cover themselves from head to toe in public, I don't care - as long as they aren't disguising their identity for the purpose of crime.(And frankly, I'd rather see that than thong underwear!) But for Sarkozy to say "The burqa is not welcome on French territory" strikes me as smug and self-righteous. Why doesn't he say that "the suppression of a person's right to free expression" isn't welcome on French territory? Or is it just women's groups that he's trying to look good to?
And since "persecution" or "ridicule" by internet isn't at the top of my list of concerns, I don't need to be anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I actually think this is a difficult question to answer. There are many women around the world who are part of the Islamic community. Some of these women are happy to be members of this community and embrace the tradition of wearing the burqa. Other women are forced to wear the burqa and are expected to be subservient by the men in their lives.

I believe that the women who choose to wear the burqa should be allowed to do so just as we are free to wear jeans, pants or skirts!

On the other hand I feel bad for the women who are forced or harassed into wearing the garment and it would be great to be able to help to liberate them.

I guess I would like to believe that since France is a country that allows people the freedom to choose what they wear that the women in France who are wearing burqs are doing so because they want to. It is quite different in some Islamic countries where they are forced to cover up, whether they are Islamic or not.

Maybe instead of taking such a negative stance the right thing to do would be to educate the women that they do have the choice to go without the burqa if they choose, not to forbid them. Forbidding someone from wearing the burqa is just as bad as forcing someone to wear it.

I know that some will say that these women really don't have a choice because of their upbringing. However, I would say that there are many families in the US who have tried to bring up their children to dress a certain way only to be disappointed when their son or daughter comes home with a punk hairdo, or a tattoo! Just because you are brought up a certain way does not mean you will follow that tradition. That is the real freedom of choice.