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Ceci n’est pas socialisme

Ça, c’est socialisme

I’ve developed an irrational hatred for France’s Société Nationale des Chemins de fer (SNCF). Since I’ve been here, its ticket machines have broken down, the trains have been late, and the metro system has been skipping stations because of “construction.”

Canada 1, France 0

Europe is poor. That’s my impression after spending the day strolling Parisian streets, and then hopping on a train to London later in the evening. The observation isn’t an uncommon one, nor is it the first time I’ve made it. And by poor, I don’t mean that there are impoverished beggars stalking tourists–though the gypsies do a pretty good job of it–but that the houses are smaller, the roads are narrower, and that the infrastructure isn’t in the best shape. On the train in from Charles de Gaulle, I saw laundry drying on balconies–a sight unseen in North America, where most houses have energy-guzzling dryers.

The Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle once remarked on that difference between North America and Europe, critiquing Paul Krugman’s–and the American Left’s–fascination with European social democracy. “[T]he standard of living in any given profession is much lower. Preserving London’s dazzling antique architecture has meant that most of the people I knew had much longer and more expensive commutes than their American counterparts would,” wrote McArdle. I noticed that today. Paris and London are beautiful, but the cost of preserving the historic buildings has meant sacrificing on newness. With fewer new buildings, there are probably fewer jobs and less room for the kind of enterprise that the U.S. and Canada have. Paris’ Gare du Nord, a major train hub, for instance, was magnificently built in the mid-nineteenth century. But housing the station in a centuries-old building limits the quality of infrastructure. On a hot Saturday afternoon, a non-air-conditioned station was not the best place to wait for several hours. And for some reason, France’s glorious bureaucratic state has placed only a few benches in a station that sees 180 million visitors a year. (Suffice it to say, waiting there for hours was not fun.)

Plus connu à titre de BHL, Bernard-Henry Lévy, intellectuel français et écrivain prolifique, s’implique toujours aux coeurs des débats qui ont rapport à l’islam et la laïcité dans l’espace publique française. Hier soir, je l’ai vu passer à la télévision sur l’émission, On n’est pas couché, où il défendait son nouveau livre, intitulé “Pièces d’identité.” J’avais, je continue d’avoir, beaucoup d’admiration pour cet homme, qui je considère un des plus grands partisans de la laïcité–une philosophie auquelle je tiens fortement.

Mais, en lisant sa dernière chronique, “Pourquoi je suis favorable à la loi burqa,” je suis un peu sceptique de ses idées, et si on était jamais semblable. Il y a quelques semaines, j’ai expliqué mon opposition au projet de loi proposé par une mission de l’assemblée nationale française qui vise à banir la burqa dans les espaces publiques. Mon argument a souligné que la burqa n’est qu’un vêtement, et que l’état démocratique ne pourrait jamais justifier contrôler la liberté d’expression, de porter un tissu qui n’empiète pas sur les droits des autres.

Par contre, BHL dispute: “On dit : « la burqa est un vêtement ; tout au plus, un déguisement ; on ne va pas légiférer sur les vêtements et les déguisements »… Erreur. La burqa n’est pas un vêtement, c’est un message. Et c’est un message qui dit l’assujettissement, l’asservissement, l’écrasement, la défaite, des femmes.” Je lui demande à répondre à cette question: que donne le gouvernement et les cours français le droit de déterminer qu’est-ce que c’est l’assujettissement? Il répondrait que “tous les anti-esclavagistes du monde nous donnent tous les arguments possibles contre la petite infamie supplémentaire qui consiste à faire des victimes les propres auteurs de leur malheur.” Ben, le contraire–que c’est la France, un ancien empire colonial, qui veut coloniser et asservir les corps des femmes mussulmanes–est autant possible, non?

De plus, il nous assure que “[l]e port de la burqa n’est pas une prescription coranique.” Merci Ayatollah Lévy de l’avoir confirmé pour nous, vos fidèles. L’état n’a pas l’autorité ni le mandat de se prononcer sur les prescriptions religieuses dans une société laïque.

En définitive, je reste un fan de votre mode et l'(h)air intellectuel.

In an expected move, the French National Assembly’s commission on the burqa–“Mission d’information sur la pratique du port du voile intégral sur le territoire national“–yesterday recommended banning the burqa in public places. The commission’s appalling conclusion undermines religious freedom and the principles of liberal democracy in France. After the referendum banning the construction of minarets in Switzerland, this is the second such blow dealt to religious freedom in Europe. It is part of a disturbing trend to suppress from public view Islamic symbols, and to justify such limits on religious displays by explaining that Islamic extremism threatens European democracy. The proponents of the ban argue, quite paradoxically, that to protect vital liberties it is necessary to curb some other liberties.

In this instance, the burqa—a black garment that covers the entirety of the body and the face, with a slit left open for the eyes, and worn by some but few Muslim women—threatens freedom for two reasons. Those for the ban believe the burqa undermines the equality between women and men because it restricts a woman’s ability to move freely and to participate fully in society. The burqa also represents a certain intolerant, extremist Islamist ideology that runs counter to liberal democracy. Caroline Fourest, a French journalist and a loud critic of Islamism, describes accepting the burqa as tantamount to tolerating the intolerant. Islamic extremists reject our society, so we should reject them, she argues.

These are legitimate concerns. For many Muslim women, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, the burqa represents oppression. It is forced upon them. Even in Muslim families and communities in the West some women are compelled by threat of force to wear the burqa. But banning the burqa will not alone protect these women. Instead, it distracts public attention away from the real struggles of immigrant and Muslim women in the West, who confront domestic violence, forced marriages, and fewer economic opportunities. It confuses the symptom for the disease.

The other criticism of the burqa arises from its association with fundamentalist and extremist Islam. Firstly, the proponents of the ban assume that a woman wearing the burqa subscribes to a violent, extreme Islam. That’s a foolish assumption that is mostly never true. Even if it were true, what gives the government the right to restrict an individual’s free speech and religious freedom? The point of living in a liberal democracy is that such liberties are protected. However egregious our views and speech, they are considered our legitimate rights. The burqa and Islamist ideas may offend us, but that isn’t reason enough to ban them. Anarchists reject what our corporate, bourgeois pseudo-democracy stands for, but they enjoy its fullest protections. The irony and beauty of liberal democracy is that it tolerates opposition to itself—and I hope none of the irony is lost on anarchists and Islamists.

A ban on the burqa also restricts the rights of free, practicing Muslim women to live their lives as they choose. Would we stop a woman who feels that she must wear a purple hat out of personal conviction—no matter how grotesque it looks—from wearing that hat? The burqa is just that: an article of clothing. It may symbolize religious obligation to a private citizen, but it should only be black cloth to the state. The National Assembly’s commission actually argued that the burqa was not a theological requirement, and thus was not legitimately protected as religious expression. Not only has the French parliament proposed obstructing a Muslim woman’s right to wear the burqa, but it has bizarrely become a theological authority. It’s not the Assemblée Nationale anymore; it’s the Majlis-e-shura. The state can’t decide what constitutes a legitimate religious belief because it doesn’t have the credentials or the authority. More importantly, we consider religious freedom at its core an individual right—the right of an individual to believe whatever he chooses. The ultimate victim of this misguided assault on Islamic symbols in Europe is liberal democracy. A ban on the burqa would erode the right of individuals to live freely and would certainly further alienate Muslims in the West. The supporters of a ban fail to understand the nature of liberty. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. In that same vein, the loss of religious liberty for one spells the loss of liberty for all.

Update:

Caroline Fourest writes: “Peut-on, pour autant, tout régler par l’interdit ? C’est là que le débat devient plus complexe. Il est possible d’interdire un signe religieux inégalitaire à l’école publique, au nom de sa vocation émancipatrice. Ainsi que dans les services publics et les lieux représentant la République, à cause de cette symbolique. Mais dans la rue ? Ici, le choix d’un individu – fût-il aliénant – prime.” While she believes the burqa is a slight to gender equality, she also disagrees with an outright ban on it in public spaces, except when a person represents or works for the state, because such a ban would limit a woman’s individual choice.

La Gendarmerie nationale française organisera des pèlerinages à la Mecque pour ses soldats mussulmans. L’idée a été proposé par des aûmoniers militaires (Imams) afin d’éviter des difficultés en voyage et de les protéger.

La France, comme plusieurs pays européens, fait face au défit d’intégrer les communautés mussulmanes et de redéfinir–ou re-comprendre–la laïcité. Actuellement, la France considère bannir le port de la burqa dans les lieux publics; L’Italie et la Suède l’ont déjà banni.

Pour la plus parte de l’histoire occidentale moderne (précisement, durant le XXeme siècle), la foi était un acte privé, rarement exprimée dans les sphères publics à cause de la séparation de l’état et de l’église. Cette battaile a profondément marqué la société française en la plus rendant hostile aux pouvoirs religieuses. Aujourd’hui, l’antognisme contre la religion se traduit comme une antognisme contre les fidèles eux-mêmes. Malheursement la triomphe de la laïcité en France (et parallèlement ici au Québec) a laissé les cicatrices sur ces sociétés et leurs définitions de la liberté de la foi.

Une analyse de l’histoire française de la laïcité dévoile, c’est-à-dire, cette fausse interprétation. Alain Gresh écrit que le but de la séparation n’était pas de supprimer toutes expressions religieuses mais de soustraire les pouvoirs de l’église catholique et du clergé. C’est intéressant de noter que le premier gouvernment français qui a mis en oeuvre la laïcité a aussi consacré les fonds pour bâtir une mosquée.

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