In January 2010 Jean-François Copé, the parliamentary leader of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, the ruling French party, proposed the draft of a law which bans the full-body veil from French streets and all other public places. This announcement came after the anguished six-month debate on the burka and its Arab equivalent, the niqab, which cover the woman’s face, except for a small slit for the eyes. All main political parties expressed their rejection of burka: the main opposition party, the Parti Socialiste, said it is “totally opposed to the burka,” which amounted to a “prison for women”. The disagreements are of purely tactical nature: although President Nicolas Sarkozy opposes the outright ban on burka as counter-productive, he called for a “debate on national identity” in October 2009, claiming that burka is “against French culture.” The law fines up to 750 Euros on anyone appearing in public “with their face entirely masked”; exemptions would permit the wearing of masks on “traditional, festive occasions,” such as carnivals. Stiffer punishments would be laid down for men who “forced” their wives or daughters to wear full-body veils. The underlying idea is that the burka or niqab are contrary to French traditions of freedom and laws on women’s rights, or to quote Copé: “We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women.” The new legislation is thus intended to protect the dignity and security of women. Furthermore, as Sarkozy said, veils are “not welcome” because, in a secular country like France, they intimidate and alienate non-Muslims… one cannot but note how the allegedly universalist attack on burka on behalf of human rights and dignity ends up as a defense of the particular French way of life.
[Extract. Appeared in The Symptom 11, (2010). Full article available on lacan.com]