Many feel that peace in the modern world hinges on closer ties and better understanding between the Judeo-Christian community on the one hand, and the vast and encompassing Muslim community on the other. The world, we know, is changing at a swifter pace than ever before. With modern communication, students and visionaries around the globe are moving in inexorable waves toward the dream of peace and democratization. We in America aspire to lead the way, sweeping with us our allies around the world. Great Britain, France, and now large areas of the Arab world have seen the dream and responded to the call.
So, we have to wonder, or perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, at the capacity of the great cultures of the world to move one step forward, then a half step back. In America we are laboring hard to grasp the truth in Muslim belief, and to accept the diverse Muslim population. Great Britain now has such a massive Islamic population that the British destiny is to be multicultural, and mutually responsive. We continue to hold out hope for the Holy Lands in Israel/Palestine, where varying cultures struggle to hold on to their sacred shrines.
Why then, now does France, always impulsive, always emotional, sometimes romantic, need to be in exception? The Muslim population of France is around five million. Of two and a half Muslim women in France, 2000 of these women
choose to wear the traditional Muslim garb, the niqab, or the burqa. The niqab covers the face with an opening for the eyes. The niqab sometimes goes in and out of fashion. The buqa is similar; it is a full body covering with a mesh over the eyes.
France, for a number or reasons, has now declared it unlawful to wear this clothing in public, and unlawful to force a minor to wear them. Noncompliance results in a fine of about $150, a period of public service, or both. Apparently aimed directly at Islamic religious institutions, the law imposes a substantial fine (about $45,000) for forcing persons to wear the traditional garb. The laws were passed in October of 2010, but with a six month period of non-prosecution, to allow individuals to get used to the new order; that six months ended in March.
Lawmakers claim to be motivated by a concern that people must be readily identifiable. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told the government newspaper, “The French Republic lives in a bare-headed fashion.” A Muslim woman, compelling her daughters to wear the coverings in question now is guilty according to the the French government of, “a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil.” The French Constitutional Council addressed the issue of free expression. They say that since the free exercise of religion is not restricted, the law is consistent with the French constitution. They say that the wearing of niqabs and burqas detracts from the dignity of the person, and from equality of the sexes, and cannot be tolerated. Jean-Francois Cope of the French Parliament is the driving force behind the new legislation; he makes the argument that a key to human understanding is “to see a persons face.” He views the law as a step against “separation.”
The lawmakers also cite issues of security.
About 82% of French people agree with the ban. A protest of the new restrictions is scheduled for Monday, April 11.