28 July, 2009

Sarkozy, Hyperactivity and the Burqah

It is hard to like Nikolas Sarkozy. Very hard. Even if he was not the French president and just an ordinary man - for any man, to meet him walking down any street would be intimidating: his arrogance, his demeanor and that swagger, combined, would be hard to like.

And yet, at times, one can not help but admire the man. He is daring, outspoken and undoubtedly smart. And hard working. Hard working and hyperactive. But, at times, or should I say - many times, Monsieur Sarkozy can be too hyperactive. Too hyperactive to the detriment of his health, as has just happened.

And at times, that hyperactivity goes too far. To the point of disrespect and to seem deliberately offensive. Like, about a month ago, when he attacked Islamic dress, especially the wearing by Muslim women of full veils and face coverings, the burqah. He said the coverings were a sign of women's debasement and "not welcome" on French soil. He said: the burqah and such dresses should not be allowed in France. They should not be welcomed. They should be banned in France.

"The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it's a problem of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That's not our idea of freedom." He said. I couldn't believe a French president could say such things. Wasn't France the symbol of freedom and liberty? Wasn't France the place to be for any one seeking liberty and justice?

Of all Western countries, France has been the most vocal and the most known at advocating freedom and liberty. Many, of the most revolutionary of leaders of the last century could count on France and take refuge there, without fear. Most of whom, while in France, preached from there; and many, later returned to their home countries. As leaders. Many times they returned to their countries only to become dictators or despots.

For most of us Muslims, the French leader was simply reflecting the duplicity and hypocrisy of most Western leaders: preaching freedom and liberty on the one hand and when it suits them, they turn and extol what is contrary to these ideals. Always using one pretext or another. It, at times, baffles. Western countries allow all forms of dresses and undressing: St. Tropez and all its nudity, and such nudists 'colonies', are not a problem and are considered 'liberty' and 'freedom' at work - and not a 'debasement'. 'Playboy', 'Penthouse' and 'Hustler' magazines, are not a 'debasement' of women, but 'freedom' of expression. For women, to strip and dance naked before gawking men - is allowed and accepted as normal. The display of women in such a way is not considered a 'deprivation' and not 'undignified'.

Monsieur Sarkozy could only have been trying to distract the French public from the bad economy and his poor ratings. Or he could have been honestly and sincerely expressing what he truly believed in. But if women have liberty and are truly free in France; the wearing of the burqah, the hijab and other Islamic dresses is not and should never be a problem. As long as the women wearing them do so willingly and are not forced to put them on.

It would be helpful and constructive, if Western leaders, would show 'mutual respect' and 'mutual interest' for other people's values. Rather than dictating and lecturing to others; and trying to impose their 'ideals' - especially, as it is they who preach 'freedom', 'liberty' and 'justice'. The Himba women of Northern Namibia, and many African women, walk around half naked while not attaching any sense of shame or sexuality to being so - because it's their culture; Hindu women leave their waists uncovered, because they have been brought up to do so; Western men put on 'nooses' called ties, around their necks because it's customary for them to do so. And it is so with us Muslims: the Hijab and the Burqah are parts of our culture, tradition and custom.