ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Burqa. Comment voiler l’opinion publique
by Jonathan Roger
Translated Wednesday 3 February 2010, by Gene Zbikowskiand reviewed by
The agitation around the appropriateness of a law against wearing a full facial veil melds with the debate on French national identity, creating an unhealthy political climate.
From “inappropriate” to “nauseating,” there are plenty of adjectives to criticize the two debates on identity that are monopolizing the media as the regional elections approach.
While the debate on French national identity – launched on November 2 by Immigration Minister Eric Besson – continues to disunite public opinion and the political world, the agitation around the submission on January 26 of the report by a parliamentary mission on the wearing of the full facial veil not only divides, but also has a slight odor of warmed-over left-overs. Indeed, as far back as March 2004 a bill was submitted to the National Assembly on the “wearing of ostensible religious symbols” and was adopted. What a strange coincidence that this debate was held in the weeks preceding the 2004 regional elections. It goes without saying that these debates, in addition to their societal dimension, have above all an electoral purpose.
The wearing of the full facial veil, which symbolizes the submission and locking up of women, has to be fought. Unfortunately, in this affair it serves as a pretext for uniting the right – including the far right – at the price of lapsing into xenophobia. There have been many intemperate statements on the right: from the mayor of Marseilles, Jean-Claude Gaudin (UMP party), who speaks of a “flood of Muslims,” to Frédéric Lefebvre, the aficionado of sensational sallies who recommends making veiled women ineligible for French nationality.
Eric Besson’s position on the issue is clear: He is ready to “force,” if he cannot “convince,” he stated last Friday outside a hall in Lyons where a debate on French national identity was being held.
The return of debates on questions of national identity on the eve of elections reveals a desire to distract the public eye, to prevent the debate from addressing such questions as the skyrocketing number of job-seekers whose unemployment benefits have run out, or the massive job cuts in the civil service, or again the insolent remuneration of the top bosses of the companies listed on the CAC 40 stock index.
It is a fact – just as in 2004 – that the government record of the right is far from satisfactory. And once again, the veil that is really a problem is the one that the governing majority is throwing over the eyes of the French, an unhealthy veil woven of xenophobia, latent racism, and electoral advantage.