The Replacement of Democracy with Hypocrisy
Outwardly seen as a country of equality, liberty and fraternity, upholding the epitome of cultural unity, many marginalised minorities within France would beg to differ. From the racial injustice and economic inequalities that disproportionately affect the subordinated within society, France has been one of the realms of precisely this. Amongst the global pandemic, France’s democracy, the equitable inclusion of all citizens within the State has been replaced by hypocrisy. An absurd ruling that although facial masks are mandatory in public spaces, the full-face veils will remain persistent in criminalising disproportionately Muslim women.
An incomparable injustice, purely ruthless oppression through the State, is the restriction of a Muslim women’s liberty. Perpetrated through the antagonistic relationship between France and Islam, between acculturation and religious tradition, the garment that covers a Muslim woman’s face to preserve her modesty, the burqa has been suppressed in France through the law. It had been in the forefront scrutiny, until, in 2011, France’s assimilationist beliefs turned into State-mandated Islamophobia, thereby outlawing the full-face veils to be worn in public. Unfortunately, this verdict was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights merely on the basis that it infringed the French principle of ‘living together.’
In unprecedented times with the Coronavirus, France, has seen almost 33,200 deaths from it. Consequently, the country has mandated face masks in public areas. Materials of fabric that cover citizens’ faces by government order for health reasons showcases explicitly that the argument of the French principle of ‘living together’ should not suffice in maintaining the face-veil ban. It is hypocrisy in its prime.
‘Living together’ has proved in these unusual times to be undisturbed and if anything, as stated by the the French Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs, there has been incredible European solidarity in the face of the pandemic and France has played a crucial role in creating this supposed unity. Therefore, penalising women for covering their faces or not covering their faces to fulfil religious faithfulness or for health precautions, is France’s attempt to criminalise and assimilate minorities by force. It is the essence of hypocrisy because it is clear that it is an attack on religious freedoms. It manifests the irrefutable truth that whilst both facial coverings shield one’s face yet allows society to ‘live together,’ France is unambiguously unwilling to include easily observable Muslims into the country’s identity.
The Coronavirus demonstrates how unease caused through the fear of lack of social integration through wearing a ‘facial-covering’ has miraculously proved wrong. However, within society, surgeons, dentists, and individuals wearing scarves to cover their faces from the cold have always been observed and accepted. Nevertheless, these were never criminalised nor seen as a barrier to liberal democratic citizens’ living together in harmony. Instead, facial coverings for those purposes have been indisputably upheld. The French ban on facial coverings has shown that this restriction on liberty has always been targeted towards Muslim women who wear the burqa. With innumerable French citizens at present protecting their faces from the public guise, it is permissible so long as the justification is health as opposed to religiosity -- so long as it is for France and not for Islam. This is reinforced through US philosophy Professor Martha Nussbaum who states, “Many beloved, trusted professionals cover their faces all year. What inspires fear and mistrust in Europe is not covering per se, but Muslim covering” (Nussbaum, 2010).
As face masks are becoming the new norm, we need to accept that visible Muslim minorities have the right to be included in the new norm through clothing themselves in a face veil if they choose to. As a ramification of the face-veil ban, the 2018 National Human Rights Committee stated that France’s ban “has the effect of confining Muslim women to their homes and marginalising them” (OHCHR, 2018). Therefore, comparatively to promoting the French principles of ‘living together,’ France is succeeding in eradicating visible Muslims from the French identity.
The Coronavirus has blatantly conveyed that individuals can still live together and remain French whilst partaking in the public sphere, without showing their faces. The pandemic precautions need to awaken the French to revise the way that they marginalise and criminalise Muslims whilst praising non-burqa wearing French individuals for essentially doing the same thing, but for a different purpose.
To truly achieve the French National motto of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity,’ the discrimination of this kind should be discarded because this discrimination has replaced democracy with hypocrisy.
—The author is student of the University of Auckland, doing Bachelor of Laws and Arts majoring in criminology and sociology.
- Nussbaum, M. (2010, July 11). Veiled Threats? The New York Times. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/author/martha-nussbaum/
- United Nations Human Rights - Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). (2018). Banning the niqab violated two Muslim women’s freedom of religion - UN experts. https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23750&LangID=E