I really wasn’t going to blog about this. It’s been done to death – even PostGlobal covered it four times yesterday. An Iranian, an Emirati, a South Korean, and a German all weighed in, all with different opinions. I covered it yesterday for Global Voices as well, quoting several Arab-Americans, as well as a white American, and someone of unknown origins – again, all different opinions. A cursory glance at the blogosphere finds the same thing.
What’s interesting is that the lines on this issue are not so linear. Let me go back a moment – for those of you uninclined to read hundreds of blogs a day (you’re the normal ones, not me), the story goes a little something like this: Faiza Silmi, a Moroccan woman, moves to France in 2000 to be with her husband, a French citizen of Moroccan origins. They have three children, all born in France. Faiza applies for citizenship, and is turned down – some say because she wears niqaab (note: most news stories keep calling it “burqa,” which is in fact inaccurate – the burqa is a specific garment popularized in Afghanistan – being from Morocco, Faiza more likely wears a djellaba or even abaya with a facial veil called the niqaab), others say because of her beliefs (she allegedly thinks that only men should vote, she can’t define “democracy,” etc). Pierre Tristam has a solid timeline of the case here.
So today, when an interview with Faiza herself appeared in the International Herald Tribune, you could say that I was more than interested in reading it. Nevermind that within the first two paragraphs, Faiza’s “hazel eyes” are mentioned (this tactic could mean one of two things, and I doubt it’s to identify her as Amazigh). And nevermind that it’s pointed out that “the ruling has received almost unequivocal support across the political spectrum, including among many Muslims” (as if pointing that out automatically validates the court’s decision). Nevermind any of that – I want to hear what Faiza Silmi has to say! And since the article was in the IHT and not the AP, I’ll quote her:
“They say I wear the niqab because my husband told me so. I want to tell them: It is my choice. I take care of my children and I leave the house when I please. I have my own car. I do the shopping on my own. Yes, I am a practicing Muslim, I am orthodox. But is that not my right?”
Silmi also points out inaccuracies in other news articles – for example, that she did not refuse to remove her facial veil during her citizenship hearings.
Unfortunately, that’s where the goodness of the article ends. The “journalist” then resorts to tactics like pointing out that “the government commissioner approvingly noted in her report that she was treated by a male gynecologist during her pregnancies.”
Where does this end? I admit that when I first heard the story, I too had fleeting thoughts of pride in France standing up for secularism (you might recall that when Germany instituted its bizarre questionnaires for new immigrants a few years back, I strongly approved). But love of secular government aside, this is not what I stand for.
Faiza Silmi wants to be a citizen of France. She is also a Muslim, and an orthodox one at that. Most of all, she is a part of society. She went to France of her own free will. And for whatever reason she decided to wear niqaab, she did that of her own free will as well (that’s the beauty of France – her husband can’t really force her to do anything, can he?)
France, and just about every country embroiled in a debate about immigration, claim the issue to be about values. I don’t think so. It’s not Mormons or Orthodox Jews or Catholics being vilified in Europe – it’s Muslims. I’m all for secularism, and if France wants to institute stricter immigration policies, then so be it. But as it stands now, its policies simply reinforce the already growing prejudice against Muslims, and Muslim women in particular.
The so-called western media (and for that matter, significant portions of non-western media) is constantly berating Muslim women for their religious choices, but rarely do they consider them as just that – choices. No one thought to question the values of Faiza Silmi’s husband, did they? If she truly is being forced to wear niqaab, isn’t it his citizenship that should be questioned? No – totalitarian or not, he’s a participant in French society, right? Oppressive or not, we can see his face.
I’m sure if we were able to look past – not through – Faiza Silmi’s veil, we’d see a worthy candidate as well.