If France had a humane, democratic record in its treatment of Muslim immigrants, one might be bemused by Pres. Sarkozy's attempt to suppress the burqa. But the opposite is true. Arab immigrants are treated as second-class citizens, and the rightist politicians, including Sarkozy, are happy to keep them down. As a form of hyper-patriotism, controlling the dress of Muslim women is obviously unfair. Pres. Obama was right to criticize the policy.

Doesn't it seem strange that women in France have the right to wear mini skirts but not burqas? Both costumes are about sexuality, or if that seems too judgmental, both are about the issue of modesty. In the Arab world this is a religious issue, and it's not as though the Christian world is totally free of that perspective -- as far as I know, a woman will not be permitted inside the Vatican without covering her head. A secular society has no business making decisions based on religion, and that means in either direction. If God is neutral toward the mini skirt, he is neutral toward the burqa and chador, or the wig and head covering of orthodox Jewish women.

As for the argument that the burqa stands for the abasement of women, that is certainly true under the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the abasement revolves around forcing women to dress a certain way, taking away their free choice. Isn't France doing the same thing? In the name if fighting abasement, they are actually imposing another sort.

Finally, there is the simmering social resentment that occurs when a Muslim woman stands out in the crowd by her dress. In decades past, she stood out in an exotic and even appealing way. Since 9/11, Muslim dress is interpreted as a hostile statement. It's time we each become more mindful. The hostility is our own, a projection we impose on the innocent. Let Muslim women be as free to choose as any Western girl with tattoos and piercings. Beauty in this case is in the eyes of the wearer.

Published in the Washington Post

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