'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eurocentrism (Part 1) 

UPDATE 1: Oh, by the way, if you are a woman, and show silent support for a woman wearing a niqab, you'll get arrested, too:

Halima, a 53-year-old mother from Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, who wears a normal headscarf, was detained by police for standing silently with the niqab-wearers at Notre Dame. She said: This is the first time I've ever protested over anything. I'm not in favour of the niqab, I don't wear it myself. But it's wrong for the government to ban women from dressing how they want. Islamophobia is on the rise in France. First it's the niqab, then they'll ban the jilbab, then it will be plain headscarves outlawed.

She was, you see, participating in an unauthorized protest.

And, then, there's the Saudi exception:

Shop-owners said luxury fashion boutiques near the Champs Elysées were unlikely to call the police to detain female tourists in niqabs from the Gulf. This would create a two-tier system between rich tourists and poor French people, one trader complained. Emmanuel Roux from the police union, Syndicat des Commissaires de la Police Nationale, said the law would be infinitely difficult to apply and infinitely little applied.

Roux no doubt understands that the poor Muslim women of France are the precisely the intended targets of this measure. After all, Hugo would have appreciated the care with with which the authorities drafted it:

The law is worded to trip safely through legal minefields: The words women, Muslim and veil are not even mentioned. The law says it is illegal to hide the face in the public space.

While Italy also has a law against concealing the face for security reasons, France's law was the first conceived to target veil-wearers. Sarkozy said he wanted a ban, and that the veils are not welcome in France.

INITIAL POST: The more things change, the more they stay the same. The French Communist Party, the PCF, supported the war in Algeria in the 1950s, and, now, if media reports are reliable, the French left supported the ban on the niqab as well. The level of police harassment associated with enforcement of the ban is ludicrous, consider, for example, the following:

The guide sent out last week to police notes that the burqa ban does not apply inside private cars, but it reminds officers that such cases can be dealt with under road safety rules.

The police presence in front of Notre Dame today, where 12 women participated in a protest against the ban, was predictably over the top:

Scores of plain clothes police, a riot van, several police vans and long police buses drivn in to take away 2 small women in a niqab

Sarkozy certainly spares no expense when it comes to street theatre for the purpose of entertaining the racist, sectarian part of his base. Women who wear the niqab now attract more cops than anarchists! The use of plain clothes police is particularly interesting. Will we soon be hearing of an effort to infiltrate the niqab movement by female undercover officers wearing the niqab themselves? All of this effort because of between 350 and 2,000 women in France who wear it. As Chuck D. of Public Enemy rapped decades ago, it takes a nation of millions to hold us back.

More seriously, though, there is a subtext here. And, you've probably already figured it out. In France, people like Sarkozy put forward the sinister notion that liberty, fraternity and equality are uniquely French, uniquely the creations of the European enlightenment. So much so, that, if necessary, they can be imposed upon balky people from purportedly feudal cultures, like those in the Islamic world, for example, by the police. Or, on a more international scale, they can used to justify the subjection of civilian populations in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan to military violence. No wonder that Sarkozy took the lead in launching airstrikes in Libya.

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