by Ahmed E. Souaiaia
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has become the most vocal supporter of the ban on religious symbols worn by people in public (government) institutions; specifically, the ban on the headscarf worn by Muslim women. His foundation for this argument is this: France is for French and anyone wishing to live in France must be fully integrated and assimilated. At one point, he used the following analogy: If I am in a Muslim country visiting a mosque, I would remove my shoes. I respect others’ cultures and I would want others to respect France’s.
The shoes’ analogy, besides the fact that it is a false analogy, speaks also to the double standard and hypocrisy of Western elite who privilege their own way of life as the “standard” that must be emulated by everyone else.
It is utterly disingenuous for Mr. Sarkozy to make use of the cliché, when in Rome act like the Romans. For, if that were his position, then he would not have an issue with women being forced to wear some form of Islamic dress while in Saudi Arabia or in Iran. Western nationalists such as President Sarkozy are not supportive of a culture that forces women to dress according to an Islamic code because it violates women rights. If the aim is to protect women and individual rights, then the universal argument is that no culture is above the standards that protect human rights and personal autonomy.
The real issue is that universal standards for the protection of human dignity and individual rights are a double-edged sword: legal and social restrictions on women (and men in many cases) necessarily and universally infringe on individual rights. The fact is, the ban on Islamic dress, like the prescription of an Islamic dress, equally infringes on personal autonomy and personal choice.
Choice, as the expression of free will and the prerequisite of responsibility, must be available and protected in all societies that recognize personal autonomy. It is counterproductive to legalize limits on women’s right to dress in France and other European countries while condemning prescription of Islamic dress in some Muslim countries. To argue that a woman in Europe should not wear an Islamic dress, is not different from arguing that a woman must wear Western clothes. After all, the same argument has been made by some repressive regimes in some Muslim countries: women in Muslim societies must wear Islamic attire.
Here is the important point: Mr. Sarkozy, in the name of integration thinks that Muslim women should dress the way the French women dress. Would he accept the argument by his counterparts in Saudi Arabia who also say that in the name of integration, all women must dress like Saudi women? Or is assimilation a good thing only when it leads to Western lifestyles being preserved and privileged? For these reason, President Sarkozy earned to be highlighted in What the &%@#!?