By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has predictably drawn the ire of Muslims worldwide by backing demands to ban the wearing of the burkha in France. But let's remember a couple of things about the burkha. First, it is the complete body-covering garment which reveals only a slit for the eyes—it is not a mere headscarf. The burkha can be worn and indeed has been worn by male and female suicide bombers to hide deadly weaponry. It creates a terror issue not created by the wearing of a headscarf.
That is not Sarkozy's main justification for backing the ban. He based his position on the burkha's degradation of women:
He declared that the full-body religious gown is a sign of the 'debasement' of women. 'In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,' he said to extended applause in Versailles, at a joint session of France's two houses of parliament.
I commend Sarkozy for his actions, and wish our own president had as much backbone. I would also point out to Muslim critics that when western women visit strict Islamic countries, we wear headscarves as a courtesy so as not to offend their local custom. I have worn headscarves, long pants instead of shorts and long-sleeved shirts instead of t-shirts while visiting Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Jordan. I did so even in 100 degree weather when such dress was extremely uncomfortable.
I am therefore stunned and, yes, offended, when I see Islamic women in western nations wearing strict religious garb. I see the refusal to adopt western dress codes as an affront to women's rights. Suffragists, feminists and women's rights advocates did not fight for the right to vote and for equality under the law, only to have immigrant women adopt dress codes that paint them as second class and as accepting of male dominance. A woman who sets herself back sets all women back along with her.
Burkhas are an affront to Western culture. Political correctness should not prevent westerners from stating that publicly. Just as I believe Muslims in countries where women cover themselves have a right to be affronted by my dressing in shorts and a t-shirt while visiting their nations, they, too, should adopt a "when in Rome" philosophy and dress in Western women's garb while in the United States either as visitors or residents.