The Slippery Slope of Religious Symbols in France

france_sikhs.jpgFrench legislators are currently considering a ban that would prevent Muslim women the right to wear full-body veils in public areas such as buses, trains, hospitals, restaurants, schools and other public places. Since 2004, head scarves and other signs of religious affiliation have been banned from public schools by a government determined to enforce Frances tradition of strict secularism amid fears of growing fundamentalism. Although Sikhs have also been fighting for their right to wear turbans in France – what will an overt ban, which sends a clear statement to its citizens about religious tolerance, mean to other minority groups in the country?

Identifying the burqa as alien to French culture, say the bans critics, also fans xenophobic sentiment. What will be declared un-French next? The sari? The Sikh turban? Day-Glo bicycle shorts? [link]

Interestingly – there are only about 2,000 Muslim women in France who wear these veils. Many say that France, a country that prides itself on liberal democracy, is simply taking away the individual freedom to make a choice. As an Op-Ed piece in the NYT asks, “Why the French obsession with the burqa? After all, as the French government itself has conceded, only about 1,900 women wear the full-body covering. So why are over half of the respondents in recent public opinion polls in favor of a ban on it?”

The answer is simple. This is not about a fashion faux pas or womens rights, but about sending a message… The irony of fighting repression with a ban seems to have escaped notice…Religious preferences must yield when there is a compelling government interest and where accommodation is not reasonably possible. The proposed French restrictions on the burqa do not satisfy either of these requirements. What compelling interest does the government have in banning burqas in hospitals or government offices? Or on buses and trains? [link]

The Sikh community should take an interest in the direction this debate and the potential ban is headed. Sikhs in France have already had their right to religious freedom compromised. Is there more to be compromised? Where will France draw the line, if at all? Many people equate the burqa with turbans, yarmulkes, crucifixes and other religious symbols. I don’t believe that religious symbols are a challenge to the French Republic. If anything, a ban would further alienate and stigmatize Muslims and other religious groups, not enfold them in French society.

If we support a burqa ban on the basis that we dislike the clothing, or that it offends our notion of freedom, or that it makes us uncomfortable, we would then be opening ourselves to all manner of compromises on the many unpopular personal choices that we make in daily life. [link]

It goes without saying that in almost every single article I read about this issue, one question was continuously asked. Will Sikh turbans be next?


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20 Responses to “The Slippery Slope of Religious Symbols in France”

  1. Pardeep says:

    I think the overall fears your article raises is fair…however I think the veil comes into a category of its own. The turban and any other religious symbol for that matter have one thing in common. The face is always visible and clearly identifiable. This is not so in the case of veil. I will be heading out to work in tempratures of -15C as I live in Canada later….would it be acceptable for me to wear a balaclava….I think -15 is a pretty strong reason to cover my face but I would probably be stopped and at the very least questioned by the police. However I could go out dressed as a women in a burkha and do what I wanted freely and no one dare question me for fear of being termed a racist or religious bigot. I agree with the french on this one. I will also add that for one to follow the true path of God in whichever religion they are part of , symbols are…just symbols. As long as the truth is in your heart and you are clear about who you are then no symbols are needed to follow the path of God and truth. I think Guru Nanak Dev Ji spent most of his life trying to get this point across.

  2. Pardeep says:

    I think the overall fears your article raises is fair…however I think the veil comes into a category of its own. The turban and any other religious symbol for that matter have one thing in common. The face is always visible and clearly identifiable. This is not so in the case of veil. I will be heading out to work in tempratures of -15C as I live in Canada later….would it be acceptable for me to wear a balaclava….I think -15 is a pretty strong reason to cover my face but I would probably be stopped and at the very least questioned by the police. However I could go out dressed as a women in a burkha and do what I wanted freely and no one dare question me for fear of being termed a racist or religious bigot. I agree with the french on this one. I will also add that for one to follow the true path of God in whichever religion they are part of , symbols are…just symbols. As long as the truth is in your heart and you are clear about who you are then no symbols are needed to follow the path of God and truth. I think Guru Nanak Dev Ji spent most of his life trying to get this point across.

  3. harinder says:

    The problem with veil is that their are certain lacunas with the veil supporters.
    They can live amongst you for 600 years peacefully and kill you in the 601 year.
    Remember the direct action of 1947.

  4. harinder says:

    The problem with veil is that their are certain lacunas with the veil supporters.
    They can live amongst you for 600 years peacefully and kill you in the 601 year.
    Remember the direct action of 1947.

  5. Kudrat singh says:

    The turban issue in France was difficult to face for the handful of french Sikhs lmanly because we had a lack of notoriety six years ago..Nobody here actually knew about Sikhs…It is not the case anymore and that makes a big difference..But it has triggered a deep debate about identity here which a lot of people wants to recuperate for political and electoralist reasons.. Personnaly I have always fight under the banner of right to difference in a society and not for communautarian approach..There is stll a hope consciousness evolves here but we need patience…Here the secularists believe religion is a mere superstition and was bond to disappear..so to see a "new " revealing itself was a big cultural shock..

  6. Kudrat singh says:

    The turban issue in France was difficult to face for the handful of french Sikhs lmanly because we had a lack of notoriety six years ago..Nobody here actually knew about Sikhs…It is not the case anymore and that makes a big difference..But it has triggered a deep debate about identity here which a lot of people wants to recuperate for political and electoralist reasons.. Personnaly I have always fight under the banner of right to difference in a society and not for communautarian approach..There is stll a hope consciousness evolves here but we need patience…Here the secularists believe religion is a mere superstition and was bond to disappear..so to see a “new ” revealing itself was a big cultural shock..

  7. Søren says:

    The same debate have happened in Denmark since last summer…
    It all started with a woman wearing niqab refusing to let a bus driver verify her identity against the photo on her bus card.. The government called for a study and it turns our we have just about 200 Muslim women wearing either burqa or niqab (out of a population of 5.5 million), and yet this has been issue of a debate for almost 7 months…

    I personally think that the French government is making a mistake by trying to purge religious symbols from the public life, as I'm on the opinion that religion and/or faith is an integral part of a number of peoples lives…
    Also IMHO, it's a double standard (perhaps covering up for something deeper) – otherwise – following the suggestion to it's final conclusion – they'd be purging all religious manifestations from the public arena…
    And yet we don't hear them working for a "secularisation" of the Notre Dame or the Sacré Coeur…

    Sat Sri Akal
    /Søren

  8. Søren says:

    The same debate have happened in Denmark since last summer…
    It all started with a woman wearing niqab refusing to let a bus driver verify her identity against the photo on her bus card.. The government called for a study and it turns our we have just about 200 Muslim women wearing either burqa or niqab (out of a population of 5.5 million), and yet this has been issue of a debate for almost 7 months…

    I personally think that the French government is making a mistake by trying to purge religious symbols from the public life, as I'm on the opinion that religion and/or faith is an integral part of a number of peoples lives…
    Also IMHO, it's a double standard (perhaps covering up for something deeper) – otherwise – following the suggestion to it's final conclusion – they'd be purging all religious manifestations from the public arena…
    And yet we don't hear them working for a "secularisation" of the Notre Dame or the Sacré Coeur…

    Sat Sri Akal
    /Søren

  9. sonny says:

    slippery slope indeed, and we need to join with our muslim brothers and sisters to fight this kind of government repression and discrimination. a similar situation exists in oregon public schools right now, if you haven't been following it. the oregon house of representatives just voted to overturn the discriminatory law though, so one step in the right direction:
    http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2010
    more: http://sikhcoalition.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/big

  10. sonny says:

    slippery slope indeed, and we need to join with our muslim brothers and sisters to fight this kind of government repression and discrimination. a similar situation exists in oregon public schools right now, if you haven't been following it. the oregon house of representatives just voted to overturn the discriminatory law though, so one step in the right direction:
    http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2010
    more: http://sikhcoalition.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/big

  11. Guest says:

    I've heard of shops here (the UK) not allowing people in burqas in because random people use them as a shoplifting disguise; you also cannot (in most schools) wear a burqa or niqab because it covers your face. But I think that banning these things from most public areas is just discriminatory, restricting the freedoms of only a certain few and I think the French government is taking the wrong approach to it all, personally.

  12. Guest says:

    I've heard of shops here (the UK) not allowing people in burqas in because random people use them as a shoplifting disguise; you also cannot (in most schools) wear a burqa or niqab because it covers your face. But I think that banning these things from most public areas is just discriminatory, restricting the freedoms of only a certain few and I think the French government is taking the wrong approach to it all, personally.

  13. […] full Islamic veil (burqa or niqab) in public. It would fine women 150 euros for not complying. Sundari posted on this issue back in February, and now this attack on religious freedom has come one step closer […]

  14. […] their faith or football, they chose their faith. Previously, we’ve blogged about the slippery slope of religious symbols, particularly in places like France. Several blogs and opinion pieces have noted that”it […]

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