What are they going to do?" he asks. "Chase women down the street to give them a fine? And if they slip into private space, how will they know which one had the audacity to appear in public? They won't be able to know which one it was, will they? That's the point of the veil."The image of a French police officer chasing after a woman in a burqa and arriving in a private space, a kitchen perhaps, filled with women in burqas is part Inspector Clouseau and part Orwellian fashion police.
We'll just have to all wear burqas," I suggest. "In solidarity."My friend thinks this is a good idea anyway. After all, race, gender, and most other markers of difference would disappear if we all went around in our own little capsules of black cloth. Of course, it is impractical and would destroy the fashion industry so central to French, well, at least Parisian, life. And so the clash of fashion fundamentalisms in France continues. Yesterday a man was denied citizenship in France because his wife wore a burqa. Last week, a parliament report on the burqa recommended that the traditional garb be banned in all public spaces.
According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, the report will provide ammunition for the burqa ban, as well as President Nicolas Sarkhozy's use of the burqa to stir up populist anti-Muslim sentiment.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy insists that such religious garb has no place in secular France and that it's oppressive to women. It seems rather ironic that a man married to former supermodel and the much younger Carla Bruni is worried about what is oppressive to women. (Of course, it was even more ironic and deadly when Dubbya decided he needed to "liberate" women in Afghanistan from the burqa). After all, Paris is a space of the daily humiliation of women in the form of stiletto heels and bodily starvation. Paris, like the rest of the world, is awash in cosmetically enhanced bodies, faces unrecognizable because they no longer move and no longer look like the women they once were or could have been. Not to mention disguised boobs, and stomachs, and even vaginas. Of course, underneath some burqas are cosmetically enhanced bodies as well. As I found out while doing research for my book on cosmetic surgery, cosmetic procedures are increasing throughout the Muslim world too, even in countries where the burqa is more or less mandatory in public. As a cosmetic surgeon from a Gulf state told me, he used to only see women for nose jobs because it was considered unIslamic to show a male doctor your body for reasons of vanity as opposed to illness. Now, however, he sees more and more (fully veiled) women for boob jobs and lipo. It is a trend he himself sees as fully Islamic since God is beautiful and therefore we must love beauty. The point is that the burqa and boob jobs and Blahniks are all symbolic sites of gender oppression and the physical manifestation of patriarchy. They are also sites of women's power- the power to seduce the president of France or the power to seduce a plastic surgeon in Paris or Tehran, not to mention the power to gain political power, for instance. Beauty is a complicated and highly politicized field. There is no "clean" or "good" beauty- whether it's produced in consumer capitalism or patriarchal religions or some mixture of both. What there are are symbolic struggles and victories. Fashions and fascisms. In Paris, the burqa may well end up serving all of these masters.
The “burqa debate” in France rose nearly overnight like a pelting summer storm when Mr. Sarkozy last July targeted the burqa as an affront to human and civil rights in a modern secular society – though the debate is widely seen here as a proxy for discussing latent fears and concerns about integrating Muslims, mostly former immigrants, who now number 5 million. The number of burqa wearers, however, is estimated by French police as numbering between 1,400 and 2,000.