Just what France needs: a commission to "study the extent of burkha-wearing." President Sarkozy isn't going to wait around for the results though, announcing yesterday that "burkhas are not welcome here."
This move by Sarkozy is not entirely surprising, considering the decision of the Conseil d'Etat last year to deny French citizenship to a Moroccan woman on the grounds that she insisted on wearing a burkha. Whilst praising the decision, minister Fadela Amara described the burkha as a "prison." Yesterday, Mr Sarkozy went further to describe such women as "prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity" -- an insult to the fashionistas methinks, lots of women spend absolute fortunes on their "netting."
When I first moved to the Middle East, I was shocked when I first saw women wearing a niqab with an eye veil so that the entire face is covered, even the eyes. It was difficult for me to imagine that there was a human being underneath the black chiffon. It was certainly very strange to be browsing through the clothes in TopShop alongside women in burkhas.
After 4 months living here, the burkha now seems very normal to me and I find it very beautiful. I met with one of our client's key business representatives a few weeks ago -- she is a woman and of course, she wears a burkha.
My message to Mr Sarkozy: you cannot change someone else's culture for them and you certainly cannot change it overnight. By banning the burkha, you may well be taking away the one thing that actually liberates Muslim women in France. Without the burkha, some women may not leave their homes at all.