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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Non! Why Sarkozy’s planned burka ban is a challenge to the left

This article of mine on why Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to abolish the burka is not just moderne, but is politically very clever, appears in The First Post.

They said that a short-assed, half-Hungarian Frenchman with Jewish roots who openly admired America would never become the President of France. Then they said his Presidency would prove disastrous and his popularity would soon plummet.
But in the Euro elections earlier this month, Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party trounced the Socialist opposition, becoming the first French ruling party to come out top in European parliament elections since 1979.

The secret of Sarkozy's success is that he knows how to spot a vote winner. While the left sought to focus on the underlying causes of the riots which plagued Paris in the autumn of 2005, Sarkozy, as Minister of the Interior, simply sent in the riot police and denounced the rioters as racaille or 'rabble'.

Faced with the impact of the global recession, he ditched his flirtation with Anglo-Saxon capitalism and adopted more traditional dirigiste Gaullist policies - in the process completely wrong-footing the left.

Now it seems he's played another trump card by announcing on Monday the establishment of a commission to consider banning the wearing in public of the burka - the garment worn by some Muslim women which covers the entire body, including the face.

His argument for doing so is not just that the burka represents an assault on French secularism, but that it is degrading to women. By championing the rights of women, Sarkozy is able to pose as the defender of the founding principles of the Republic. He also gains kudos for dealing with a hyper-sensitive political issue head-on. And here's the really clever part: he manages at the same time to expose divisions on the left.

Consider these opposing views. Andre Gerin, the Communist MP who tabled the Parliamentary motion last week calling for the establishment of a commission, and who is to lead the inquiry, has likened burkas to "mobile prisons". But Martine Aubry, leader of the Socialist Party, says: "If a law bans the burka, these women will still have it but will remain at home; they will no longer be seen."

The fact is that the left - not just in France, but in Europe generally - is in a dilemma over the issues raised by large-scale Islamic immigration to the continent. For some leftists, civil liberties, a strong belief in multiculturalism and a determination to fight the rising tide of Islamophobia come first. For others, defending Enlightenment values and the rights of women are paramount.

While in Britain a 2006 opinion poll showed 77 per cent to be against a ban on the veil, in Republican France, officially and proudly secular, there are undoubtedly more votes to be had in taking a tougher stance. Wearing the burka in state schools has already been banned, as the result of a 2004 law which prohibits students from wearing any ostensible religious symbols.

While the French Council for the Muslim Religion is against a general ban, the head of the Paris Grand Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, supports such a move, saying that Islam in France must be an "open Islam".

There is, in fact, a compelling Islamic case for a ban, on the grounds that wearing a burka has nothing to do with religious belief (it is not mentioned in the Koran, but is merely traditional dress in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This could - and should - provide the French left's get-out clause. It gives them the chance to adopt a position consistent both with their opposition to Islamophobia and their belief in progressive values, instead of rushing to defend an oppressive and degrading practice which surely has no place in a modern European state (Gordon Brown please note).

If not, they will be handing Sarkozy, their wily and unashamedly populist bete noir, yet another strategic victory.


David Lindsay said...

I have the dubious pleasure of finding myself in agreement with Nicolas Sarkozy. Face-covering (not head-covering, but face-covering) is incompatible with the conduct of British, as of French, social and cultural life.

Onwards in sympathy for opposition to usury, but also in total opposition to any according of legal status to Sharia law, to Muslim schools here (where my own Catholic schools have existed since a good thousand years before any other kind did), to polygamy, to male no less than female genital mutilation, and to the building of mosques with domes and minarets, which are triumphalistic manifestations of an Islamised society, culture and polity, and which were in that spirit added to former churches during Islam's forcible overrunning of the Eastern Roman Empire. But halal meat is a serviceable weapon in the armoury against the hunting ban.

Will Sarkozy, among so very many others, now also see the light over Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Xinjiang, Turkey...?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that the more left-wing communists are supporting a ban, while the more centrist socialists are opposing it. Perhaps a way forward for the French Communist Party, which has declined greatly in strength during the last decade(s).

I suppose there must be some opposition to a ban on the right wing too. It's hardly liberal or libertarian to ban anything, so principled anti-state laissez-faire people have to oppose this, whether they like burkas or not. Of course the left is not averse to government regulation, so this should hardly be a problem for them. If you can ban smoking in public places, you can certainly ban wearing burkas too!

But logically the left should support a ban, while the liberal (libertarian) right should oppose it.

By the way, it's not entirely true that the right trounced the left in the French EU-elections, as the media likes to report it. Sarkozy's party, UMP, did smash the Socialist Party (and the centrist MoDem), but it's worth noting that the the Left Front, which includes the Communist Party, got more votes and seats than the National Front did. And the Greens, which I guess are sort of left-wing, did a very good election. The other, smaller leftist parties increased their support too, while the smaller parties on the right wing lost.

Charlie Marks said...

I can't say I'd support a ban on an item of clothing. I think it would help mobilise support for the view that Western intervention in the Middle East and Asia is somehow related to humanitarian concerns.

Gregor said...

‘Faced with the impact of the global recession, he ditched his flirtation with Anglo-Saxon capitalism and adopted more traditional dirigiste Gaullist policies - in the process completely wrong-footing the left.’

It is interesting that this word ‘dirigiste’ seems to crop up more frequently now: it is a word that I sometimes used before I’d come across this blog. Perhaps it is because Britain does not have such a concise expression for ‘mixed economy’? Perhaps because many people from diverse political backgrounds are shocked at the religious attitude towards market forces, whilst being deterred by the totalitarian/atheist/unpatriotic connotations of ‘socialism’.

In Britain and America, the free market fanatics will always get their way because of how people subconsciously think about politics. There is an excellent series called ‘The Century of the Self’ by Adam Curtis, and I would advise everyone to watch it as it is available on youtube and googlevideo (and ALL of Adam Curtis’s documentaries are essential viewing).

This demonstrates how the media and corporations have conditioned people to be self-interested, even if they are not conscious of it. This is how Clinton and Blair were elected as progressive, but were unable to carry out left wing changes. They would make empty progressive slogans, whilst carrying out right wing reforms.

Sarkozy has done the exact opposite. He has made empty comments about Anglo-Saxon capitalism but has always acted in favour of French traditions. As the British are faced with ideal aims (stopping poverty, good public services) and those that they desire (privatised goods, self-gain) so the French have been given the option of Anglo-Saxon capitalism (which always rewards infantile, stupid culture and tawdry public services) and their dirigisme (which offers a strong cultural unity though with economic disincentives). Maybe a segment of the French middle classes likes to praise Thatcher and Reagan, but deep down I think they know that this would destroy France.

Incidentally, French foreign debt is roughly half that of Britain’s, despite having roughly equal populations. Far from being conservative, the free market has endangered Britain’s economy.

So far from looking to the Democrat party, I think that the British left should look to French ‘conservatives’ for guidance.

‘For some leftists, civil liberties, a strong belief in multiculturalism and a determination to fight the rising tide of Islamophobia come first.’

I would question if this is a matter of ‘civil liberties’. It is interesting, seeing ‘The Spectator’ publishing alarmist covers about the dangers of Islamic terrorism, whilst the neo liberals have done practically zilch to restrict immigration of Islamic extremists.

To me this highlights the paradox of ‘neo-liberalism’. They on one hand believe fiercely in multi-culturalism, but they also think that we should have CCTV saturation and paramilitary police (which is dangerous for everyone) rather than have a properly monitored immigration system.

Madam Miaow said...

I loathe the burqa and all it stands for but I would never compel another grown woman not to wear it if that is her choice. Yes, many are coerced in to wearing it, but a lot more identify it with a sense of self.

You can write this off as "false consciousness" but persuasion and protection for those who reject it are more productive than force. It looks like a sneaky way to bash Muslims. Again.

If Sarkozy really cares about Muslims then he can start by doing something about the slummy conditions many of them live in.

Anonymous said...

You are very wrong and know nothing about Islamic Shaira.

first of all, the Qur'an is not the only source of law in Islam, prophet teaching are as important, if early Musmils understood the Hijab and Nikab to be part of the Sharia.. you won't say you know better than them.

Nikab is not Pakistani or Afghani tradition, Muslims in other countries including Jordan, Palestine, UAE, Qatar.. Saudi Arabia believe that wearing the Nikab is part of their religion, no one has the right to put limits on their religious freedom.

think about the Sheitel weared by some Jewish groups, who are you to ban it or even hold an opinion against it?????????

If you harbour these opinions and still think you belong the left>>> Blair would be very good labour

neil craig said...

The "left" has worked so hard to get everybody who wants a stronger state to work give them power or money that it has lost any purpose. What else do Greens, Islamofascists, Al Gore, the BBC, windfarm owners, anti-Semites, UAF street thugs, civil servants, war mongers, the quangocracy, KLA drug dealers, the IRA, medievalists, EU commissioners, a VP who likes "Nazi style concentration camps", Chicago gangsters & Celtic separatists have in common & where in all that list is there something truly socialist?

PJD said...

Does anyone know what percentage of Muslim women in the UK or France actually wear a burka? I suspect it is quite low.

Anonymous said...

I AM TOTALLY AGAINST THE BANNING OF BURKAHS!!!!!!!!!!!IT IS I THE RELIGION OF ISLAM !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I'M TOTALLLY AGAINST THE BANNING OF BURKAHS ANDN I DON'T CARE WHAT PEOPLE SAY , I'M AGAINST IT AND I TAKE NO BUTTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have found many interesting comments. I agree with:
-to help Muslims have a better lifestyle.
-to help mobilise support for the view that Western intervention in the Middle East and Asia is somehow related to humanitarian concerns.
Nevertheless, I believe Burqas should be banned in areas were security matters. Passports, ID's, Public schools. They should only work in areas that work with their limitations and not place limitations in the workforce, like they have tried doing in the United States, where cab drivers, cashiers, refuse to attend customers who see nothing wrong with alcohol and pork.
If we as a society continue, trying to be politically correct and blend in, eventually we will find ourselves accepting laws that are contrary to ours like (SHaria LAw), and constantly trying to accomodate their needs sacrificing our own state of well-being and customs. They have to compromise either by sending their daughters to an all covered private face school. EVen though I believe some serious studies should be done on how this affect women's sense of identity. Ihave still to meet a woman whose Face covering lady ias an independent being. who lives alone with no men ruling around them. A face covering lady with political pull in SAudi Arabia or Iran. There is a stong reason to why their faces have to be covered and dressed in ways that who they are is totally covered. I do not believe it only has to do with men's lust.