Another perspective of France’s intentions regarding the Burqa and the Burkini

The below article is another perspective of France’s intentions regarding the Burqa and the Burkini. It is not arguing right or wrong but attempts to explain the French perspective. Only you the reader can decide whether the French perspective is moral or not.

This goes back to the philosophical issue of the tolerance of intolerance, or more broadly of whether objective moral truths exist or not. Western democracies, such as France, have self-determined that there are objective moral truths in the universe, of which include concepts of non-intervention (on the person, and when possible); of personal freedom; and of religious freedom.

The problem, however, is that western democratic philosophies don’t have room in them for unlimited freedom or tolerance. Some things may not be tolerated. This is lost on many observers of western democratic philosophy, especially the uninformed who see the Bill of Rights and incorrectly assume that the protections and tolerances they afford are unlimited (which is not the case; there are many exceptions in place, both legally and ethically, concerning the rights laid out in that particular document). As an example relating specifically to religious tolerance, even a “deeply held” religious belief in the spiritual power of snake handling is not protected in the States because of the great risk untrained professionals have, both towards themselves and others, of injury when handling snakes.

The question always remains: when discussing tolerance, where is the (inevitable) line in the sand going to be drawn between acts / ideas which can reasonably be tolerated and those which are so harmful that they cannot be tolerated in good conscience? This line is different by country, society, and person. For America, generally speaking, we take a consequentialist approach: what are the (expected or probable) consequences of something? If good, then allow it; if bad, then ban it. For France, however, this line is drawn at intention. If an act or idea is intended to infringe on other rights or the intention is to cause harm, then France is not morally obligated to tolerate it, by their estimation.

This is how they can justify the bans on headscarves and “burquinis” without internal inconsistency: the intention of these particular pieces of clothing are to control and subjugate women, at the time of the ban. Even if in consequence a particular woman isn’t being subjugated, that doesn’t mean that the purpose of the clothing, in a broad sense, is not to subjugate and / or control. This has a reinforcing effect; a woman who is raised to believe that they are lesser or property / chattel of men will see other women wearing clothing designed to subjugate and will fall further prey to abuse. In this way, the “religious liberty” argument of Muslims / Islamists loses out to the more primary issue of general human rights and personal freedom; the French afford no room in their concept of “religious liberty” to subjugate others, and said subjugation forfeits religious liberty.

This does have a secondary effect of being a practical legislation on women’s clothing, essentially doing what Islamists are doing: taking control away from women. However, remember that for France, the issue is intention. In the case of the French government, their intention is to increase freedom in a general sense: yes, women cannot wear 2 particular pieces of clothing and perhaps cannot go swimming when before they could, but what they gain in return is political and social power; self-respect; responsibility; and freedom from the control of men. To the French, this is an attractive trade-off.

In addition, the “cost” of a woman losing the ability to swim is not a true loss of freedom, to the French. Her “freedom” to swim was merely a luxury afforded to her by the men in her life (and thus subject to their whims; a Muslim man who would refuse a Muslim woman the right to swim sans-burkini would have no qualms of rescinding her privilege to even leave the house, traditional clothing or not). It was a false illusion of freedom. In this way, the French ban has tinges of second-wave feminist bra burning rallies; in the same way that second wave feminists rejected traditional methods of attaining beauty as methods women were, in a sense, “brainwashed” into accepting, and violently rejecting those methods, the French argue that burqa, hijab, headscarves, and “burquinis” (well-intentioned though the last may be) are only accepted by their wearers in current cultural terms through brainwashing and subjugation. This requires active rejection to reverse.

So, while at first glance this may seem counter-productive, to the French, when working from the operative assumption of intentionality, this is not counter to their goals at all. The ban on clothing may be paternalistic, yes, but that’s something they accept for their broader goals. The French want Muslim women to see this ban, recognize that their true plight is not with the French government but with the restrictive tenants of fundamentalist Islam, and either reform or reject their religion. If a day comes where these items of clothing no longer are burdened by the connotations that fundamentalist Islam foists upon them, the ban can be re-evaluated and lifted.


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