Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Burkas and Binationalism

In accordance with the findings of a French parliamentary committee, President Nikolas Sarkozy plans to ban the use of burkas and any other clothing that covers people's faces when in public. I strongly oppose this idea. Some women choose to wear burkas, and the ones who don't will not be helped by such a ban. If they will be forced to dress in a way they see as immodest when in public, they won't be in public at all. They will be trapped inside their homes by their husbands and families.

Women should be required to show their faces when taking pictures for IDs and passports, and other instances where they need to prove their identity, such as when they go to vote. But when just walking in the street, attending university or sitting in a library there is no reason not to allow them to cover their faces.

Avirama Golan writes in today's Haaretz (Hebrew and English) that French-Muslim women are being abused by two opposing political factions. She also makes a very good point about what French national values can teach us about the idea of a one-state solution in Israel:

The case of France, a secular republic whose president, based upon its constitution, can make such statements as "the burka is contrary to our values," is conspicuous, but it has implications for other countries as well, especially Israel.

Forget about the burka and the veil and the hat and the sheitel worn by Jewish religious women, and all the other bright ideas that men have invented and that women have had to suffer or have tried to transform from a sign of weakness into a sign of strength. Take note of the official statement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, opposing isolationism and promoting nationalism in the name of the state.

This is in contrast to Israel, where nationalism has, for increasing numbers of groups, become a dirty word. Both the right and the left are coming up with a new invention: a binational or multinational state.

The right wants to erase the border and annex the territories, while elements on the left seek to give up Israeli nationalism which is offensive in their view and which they say is an abomination in the eyes of the progressive international community. Both are convinced that there is no prospect and no need for "two states for two peoples." From now on, the settler shall dwell with the Palestinian and the ultra-Orthodox with the atheist. They will all show respect for each other and their kind and the hijab and the tefillin will be jumbled all together.

But maybe just wait a minute. Maybe first we should see if Europe fulfills the post-nationalist dream and if leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sarkozy and others, together with all of the citizens who weep while singing the national anthem and on national days of remembrance, give up nationalism in favor of the multi-communal dream. According to all indications, including the French parliamentary report on the burka, we can ensure that for the time being that it absolutely does not happen.


  1. Well, I'm glad (and slightly surprised) that you see it that way. The whole Bhurka thing is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned although the French have now managed to make it into one and as a result it's now come wafting over to Ole' Blighty too, of course.

    No matter how one turns it, it's essentially a form of racism, more 'Self v. Other'. And it's what also hampers Turkey's ascendancy into the EU: 70 million (or whatever the actual number is) Muslims 'into' Europe? Can't have that now, can we?

    Where I disagree with the author is about that 'post-Nationalistic dream': listen, those here who are opposed to Nationalism tout court aren't the ones screaming for a Bhurka ban, now are they? The British numpties that will start chattering about the 'loss of British Values' (British what?) are the ones who are afraid of women in Bhurkas and of course the ones revelling in a largely imaginary 'British past'. Simply put: they're the Nationalists.

  2. I don't think what you say contradicts what Golan says. Her point is exactly that there are still strong voices who support nationalism rather than post-communalism and the two are in competition. I'd add, though, that there are some, like Sarkozy, who support a stronger EU and some mix of nationalism and multi-communalism as long as all the communities are culturally Christian and European. I see that as a form of nationalism as well, except that the nation here is Europe rather than an individual country.

  3. Superficially par-European 'nationalism' could be dismissed as just another nationalism: it manifests itself a bit like that; a flag, an anthem, a parliament etc. In reality at most pan-Europeanism will be useful anti-dote against Europe's virulent nationalistic past: this continent was for centuries a battlefield and it's hard to find two states that weren't at some point at war with each other (or were part of a warring coalition of one kind or another).

    On the ground, pan-Europeanism remains very thin: most Europeans remain deeply sceptical about it. I doubts if the EU will ever become united enough to develop a nationalism that's on a par with British, French, German etc etc Nationalism.