France’s ban on the full face veil went into effect yesterday. The ban on veils, specifically the burqa or niqab, is framed generally but is clearly designed to target Muslim women. Yes, New York Times, the ban targets Islam for cultural exclusion in general, but let’s not pretend there isn’t a specific lived, gendered reality – the state is going after women. Women in France are fighting back, pledging to veil in public and already facing arrest as a result.
I am so tired of having to read the qualifier from mostly white Western feminists before any discussion of the veil ban that “the veil is sexist but…” In the context of global patriarchy doesn’t this qualifier belong in front of, like, everything? It seems to me we have a lot easier seeing -isms in a cultural context different from our own, and a lot harder time seeing agency. To veil or not to veil is a question to be navigated by Muslim women – what kind of feminism supports the imposition of values and behaviors on women by a government?
I’m struck by the timing of the ban going into effect, as France re-engages in colonial violence in places like Libya. There were two major flavors of colonialism: kill everyone who was there and take the land for yourself (dominant in the Americas), and fix the backwards people by making them like us, while using their labor and their land, the preferred method of France. People raced as “Muslim” or “Arab” were brought into France to serve its economy with very little personal gain in the first place. I can’t help think about this as France engages in violence where they have clear oil interests at the same time they try to stomp out cultural diversity within the nation. The country claims to be secular, but the veil ban is a reminder leadership still holds white, Catholic values. Women are so often the targets of colonial violence, and I see the ban as part of the continued project to “make them like us.”