Global Ethics Corner: France and Burqas

Jun 26, 2009

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently declared that burqas are not welcome in France. To some, the burqa represents the suppression of women. Yet many Muslim women embrace it. Should states have control over what people wear?

Can you choose your own clothes?

Addressing Parliament, President Sarkozy said the French Republic had no room for burqas, the outer garment cloaking a woman's face and body: "The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue. It is a question of freedom and of women's dignity."

France's Muslim Council agreed, calling burqas "marginal phenomena": "When we meet women who wear it, we try to educate them, and explain to them that moderation is a better choice."

The issue dates from the French Revolution's idea of laïcité which places religion in private life separate from the public life of citizens.

However, for some Muslim women, burqas are dictated by the Qur'an's charge to dress modestly. The burqa or the similar combination of chador and headscarf are minimum requirements of faith.

Sarkozy says that the burqa is "a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women." True for many, but other Muslim women emphatically embrace this enveloping garment.

What do you think? Do burqas indicate repression? Should the state ensure that citizens aren't confronted with religious statements? Can people wear anything or nothing? Where does the state's obligation end?

By William Vocke

To post a comment, go to the Global Ethics Corner slideshow.

You may also like

JAN 6, 2022 Article

One Year After the January 6 Insurrection, Democracy Needs a Rallying Cry

On the first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, groups across society are increasingly worried about the state of democracy. But as the pressure on democracy ...

Joe Biden in Ocala, FL, October 31, 2012. CREDIT: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/barackobamadotcom/8145324041/">Christopher Dilts/Obama for America <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(CC)</a>.

DEC 7, 2020 Article

How Will the Biden Administration Adjudicate a Clash of Values?

Looking ahead to potential Biden adminstration plans, Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev writes that the "desire to convene a summit of the world's democratic states to ...

Kurt Volker, U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, in Eastern Ukraine, May 15, 2018. <br>CREDIT: <a href=https://www.flickr.com/photos/usembassykyiv/42148984241/>U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine (CC)</a>.

MAY 26, 2020 Article

TIGRE: The Missing Link? Operationalizing the Democratic Community Narrative

Does the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as renewed concerns about overdependence on China, create an opening for the United States to move forward on decoupling ...