In a rare address to Parliament, French President Nicholas Sarkozy stated that the burqa is a symbol of enslavement. The head-to-toe covering of women, he said, “will not be welcome on our territory.” The divisive issue of traditional Islamic dress has been hotly debated in France, host to the largest Muslim population in Western Europe where thousands of women wear the burqa. The Sarkozy administration promotes respect for all religions in the Republic, but believes that the burqa issue is one “of freedom and women’s dignity” – not religious. The President told the MPs that he would like a formal inquiry conducted into whether secularism and women’s rights were undermined by Muslim women fully covered in public. Is Mr. Sarkozy fighting the wrong battle?
Two weeks ago, President Obama told a worldwide audience from Cairo that it is “important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear.”
As leaders of the West promote freedom and respect among their citizens, is a formalized dress code the ultimate way to “lift the veil” and be inclusive of traditional Muslim women?