An fnbworld EXCLUSIVE:Unveiled & Sarkozized
Fragile French Fabric
WITHOUT MALICE/Ravi V. Chhabra
The great country of Moulin Rouge has prided itself for being a torchbearer of laicite (secularism in French). Of late, it appears, as though its major social and economic preoccupation has to do with national and ethnic attires and the flourishing cosmetics/toiletries industry that trails it.
The modern nation has, recently, unceasingly taken up the cause of thrusting its cultural preferences/dress codes on other secular, peacenik religious minorities such as the Muslims (burka for women) and earlier on, as it did with the Sikhs (turbans) – both in such cases being its bona fide citizens. None knows his fetish better than the macho President Nicolas Sarkozy himself. Is it alright to call him the sheikh of facelift?
Since the idea of a ban on the burka (veil) for Muslim women was first circulated last year (2009), many Muslim women have openly said that they want to cover up and are not forced into the practice by their families.
The present bill if made into law, anytime shortly would also prohibit tourists from covering their faces for the same reasons of security!
The move to ban the burka has led to violent attacks and subsequent arrests recently, as the French cabinet only a few days ago approved a draft law to ban garments "designed to hide the face" in the country.
Though the number of people subject to the proposed ban would probably be very small - about 1400 to 2000, according to the Christian Science Monitor, this could imply that fully veiled women would be restricted from accessing schools, hospitals or public transit. Yet, the burka serves as a stand-in for deep-seated social anxieties as the country confronts new ethnic and religious roadblocks.
India has a huge population of Muslims, far larger than its immediate Islamic nation Pakistan. The fnbworld spoke with a chosen few to know their views about what they felt on this vexed issue that has caused violent protests within and outside of France.
"...then let everyone roam nude and freely."
Speaking to fnbworld, ex-chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission Dr. Kamal Faruqui described the recent violent events: “What is happening in France in the name of security such as banning of the burka is extremely derogatory to the tenets of Islam and to the human rights. If that be the case, then let everyone roam nude and freely. Practicing of each religion as prescribed in holy texts of respective religions is a basic human right."
"The ‘Parda’ (the veil) is a basic fundamental right of the Muslims. The same thing happened with our Sikh brothers regarding the turbans in that country. That is truly ridiculous. As for the Indian scenario, the right has been completely enshrined in the Article 25 of the Constitution of India. There is no dithering on it at all.”
Dr. Faruqui is a front-ranking modern face of Indian Muslims and an expert on issues of minority rights, communal harmony and inter-faith dialogue. He is a specialist in banking & financial management and information technology and an advocate of women’s education and modernization of madrasas. He promotes educational activities to dispel economic backwardness for effective nation building and is actively associated with civil society groups.
[On the same jinxed issue, the fnbworld also interviewed Dr. John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council, Government of India and past president, All India Catholic Union.]
The State must leave individual alone: Dr. John Dayal
fnbworld: Dr. Dayal, do clothing and dressing up have something to do with the cultural ethos of a country?
John Dayal: Clothing and cloth itself changes with time, new discoveries and so on. And within a cultural region, with changes in geography. People in the hills usually wear colourful woollens but people of the same race in lower and warmer climes do not. The advent of nylon, lycra have changed the fashion scenario. In fact, fashion as a generic term to define what is popular in any given space and time zone, changes with time.
And yet, it is easy to tell a Zulu woman apart from an Indian ethnic and a white girl in a South African market - and not by their skin colour or features. To that extent, clothes do maketh the man.
fnbworld: Must the democratic nations drape and perhaps even ‘walk and talk’ according to their Parliaments?
John Dayal: Fashions, clothing and the common man’s langoti or loin cloth – all evolve on their own, but popular usage can be subject to class and kin pressure. Girls dress as their parents want them to and to that extent, authority - whether government or church of any religion can and does often dictate popular dress modes.
But no, surely parliaments have other important things to do rather than to be dictating what men and women should wear. Censorship, taboos and so on, on hem lengths, the drape of the torso cover, the crotch, the bosom are prone to pressure – no pun intended - but even here governments ought to keep their dictates to themselves.
fnbworld: Is the under-clothing (pop French couture) as good or bad as over-clothing (Islamic culture)? I guess there could be possibility of a bomb inside the chapeaux as well?
John Dayal: A century ago, the French and other nations of the region were grossly overdressed. Look at Napoleon, and the French queens and dauphins. Must have been stifling.
Islamic clothing is not a straight jacket – and nothing close to a uniform. The people of Senegal and the Berbers wear yards of dark blue cloth because it is the best for the weather and the climate of the Western Sahara. Sudanese women are colourful, even if some wear a veil. The Iranian chador can be as revealing of contours as anything – and sensual titillation surely is in the eyes of the beholder. I recall much Urdu poetry focussed on a half revealed ankle – much more than on long legs topped by a brief bikini!
As regards mobs, drug smugglers hide drugs on condoms inside their bellies. Surely some fantastic soul can do the same and come to the beach in a bikini with a bomb inside her body, not inside her burka. A live bomb, so to say.
fnbworld: A earlier issue was of another minority in France, the ‘turbanators’ (Sikh citizens wearing turbans) and now it’s the burka-clad Muslim women? Has this got to do with country’s preferred aesthetics (read fashion and dominant culture) or is it simply imposing the State couture-culture on a pretext?
John Dayal: In France, as in Mexico, the issue is not of religious symbols, but of standing out as an oddity and not conforming to what they feel is French uniformity.. Do remember that France and Mexico ban the cross as much as they do the turban. It is an entirely different argument and requires an entirely different answer. Within France, the regions have different classical dresses, bodices and lace caps. They do not object to the burka qua a religious symbol, but as a stand-out differentiation. Women in church cover their heads [and the men uncover their heads, just the opposite of Muslims and Sikhs].
I have argued this with French professors and at the end of the day, they have appeared to have a reason of their Frenchness. The French may be language fanatics but there is more religious fanaticism, in Russia than in France. As regards the role of the state, in France the state has always played an important role in supporting culture, and with support comes a little bit of dictation.
fnbworld: It is being made out to be a security issue thing. Is that so in your opinion?
John Dayal: In these days of high intensity x-rays and gamma-rays, there are all too many sniffers for bombs. And when in doubt, they can always take you to a room for a strip check - as is done at the Delhi airport oftener.
fnbworld: In the Indian context, Gayatri (Dhanu), Rajiv Gandhi’s assassin’s face was exposed yet it was the deadliest assassination to date? What’s your take?
John Dayal: I have answered this. A girl in a bikini, or a naked faqir – and again I mean no disrespect to people in small dresses – can pack a lot of explosives inside their bellies, or inside their minds!
fnbworld: Is this a violation of basic human rights of ethnic citizens of a democratic country who were part of the voting process? Even in the post-9/11 and post-26/11 world?
John Dayal: Food forms the basic of all human rights and yet billions are denied of it. A bit of cloth to hide the genitals is a basic requirement for human dignity but so many Indian women have little to cover their bosoms. Let the wearer decide what is good for her or his dignity and let the state leave her or him alone.
Purely personally, I may not wear a burqua myself, but I have no problem with burqa, the Hindu ghoonghat of Haryana or the nun’s habit. I also have no problem with the bikini. I think I would be surprised to see a bikini in church as much as I would be surprised to see a fully clothed nun taking a swim in the sea.
fnbworld: If such a law is made in France, would it have fallout effect in other countries as it is being said that the US may follow suit. Could it have repercussions in India?
John Dayal: Cultures have their norms. And even if the government does not, people enforce such laws with great cruelty. Just watch some Indian men behave with white semi-clad women, or even with Indian girls who are wearing the latest in layered dresses.