Monday, July 06, 2009

A riposte to Barkha Dutt: Why Sarkozy is right

When Sarko came out with his statement that burqas are not allowed in France, there was a lot of hue and cry from Muslims all over the world, and not to be left behind, Muslims in India as well went riling against his comments. Now, let's take a closer look and analyse what he said and why there was nothing wrong with it.

In his speech at the Palace of Versailles, Sarkozy said "The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience," and continued to say "it will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic." Now let's take the statement apart, and consider the first part "The burqa is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience". Can any self-respecting woman, irrespective of religion and putting aside religious considerations, tell me that the burqa is a 'good' thing? Or that the burqa isn't descrimatory? Remember, forget what religion says, I'm saying purely on common sense and from the principle of equality, isn't the burqa a sign of subservience?

So now that we've got that out of the way, let's take the second part of his statement, "it will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic". Last I checked, he was the President of France, and going by that title and the job description, he's the chap who gets to make the rules (ok, let's not get technical here, he signs the bill, etc etc etc), and since France is a sovereign country, it gets to make it's own rules, without the inputs from Muslims or anyone else from anywhere.

Now let's look at why Muslims and a lot of 'sympathysers' were up in arms. Their main bone of contention was that this was not curtailing religious freedom, and that Sarkozy had not right to comment about Islam. On both counts, they're partially right. Partially. How so would be the natural next question. For starters, wearing a burqa is not 'mandatory' for a Muslim woman to be wearing (it's never mentioned in the Quran, so please don't tell me that it is), it's an article of choice. If it were mandatory, then we'd be seeing all Muslim women all over the world donning one, and we don't, ergo, it's not mandatory. Since it isn't mandatory, making sure that no one wears one because of the country's stance (France is secular - dictionary secular, not the corrupted, contorted, distorted secular we have in India) is perfectly OK. Please note the words carefully - I said because of the country's stance, secular in this case, . I don't see how can people from one country ask another country to change their laws because these people don't want it. Even the top Muslim cleric at the biggest mosque in Paris himself has said that the burqa isn't mandatory for women, so I don't see why Muslims and mullahs elsewhere have to get so worked up.

Next, on whether Sarkozy had the right to make a comment about what is Islam and what isn't, those opposing his statement were right. He has no business telling Muslims what is Islamic and what isn't. All he needed to do was modify his statement to "the burqa is a sign of subservience" and leave out the part where he commented that it isn't a sign of religion.

Now why have I titled the post as A riposte to Barkha Dutt? It's because of an article I came across in the Hindu dated June 28th 2009 by Barkha. The first thing that shocked was her comment that she found the statement "the burqa is not a religious sign, it’s a sign of subservience" of Sarkozy, 'offensive', especially since she had prefixed that statement claiming to be a liberal. She said the debate on the veil is too complex to be reduced to sweeping generalisations. I agree generalisations are always bad, but how is this a generalisation? Saying something is bad, because of having an opposing stance (treating men and women equally with dignity) is not a generalisation. What Barkha refuses to admit (in her write ups and on her show) is that in India, we have got the idea of secularism wrong. It's because of a slightly twisted definition we follow here (the Indian version of secularism seems more romantic) that . Knowing the correct definition of the word secular would automatically make for a change in stance.

Where the hypocrisy of many Muslims shines through is when they cry foul over what Sarko says, but stay mum on issues like the treatment of minorities in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world. For instance, religious minorities aren't allowed to worship their deities in these countries publicly, they can't have places of worship here, during the month of Ramazan, they can't be seen eating in public to name a few examples. Why don't Muslims leaders and clerics in India raise their voices against these issues? India sends a large work force to the Gulf countries, shouldn't their rights be protected as well? Here, the Muslims will tell you that "oh, but it's their country... their laws apply there... we shouldn't interfere". Need I say more about the hypocrisy?

One very important point to take note of is that a lot of Islamic countries enforce non-Muslim women to cover their heads while in public. Isn't this tantamount to interfering with a person's personal beliefs and choice? Au contrare, I'll let you know that it's more of a cultural phenomenon, something endemic to that particular land, and so if the law of the land demands that, then so be it. I can understand if the demands made are unreasonable, but certainly this isn't unreasonable. Some time ago, In the UK, Muslim women refused to have their photos taken for licenses without the burqa - if this isn't shocking to anyone then something's wrong with them. How can we, in this day and age of terrorism, accept it if people want to hide their faces for photographs?

By getting rid of the veil isn't homogenising society - Muslim women can still go to a Mosque and pray (or wherever they pray, since they pray separately from men), they can still fast during the month of Ramazan, and still continue to be dominated by men of their religion - none of that will change. It's about time someone in our country has the balls to, if not ask for an outright ban, at least get a debate started over whether this is required or not. Like they say, "it would be a cold day in hell when that happens".


namrata said...

I dont want to agree or disagree with your take on this here because even though the burqa (according to me) is a discriminatory piece of clothing and is an opressive garment, those people who put their faith in it, see it as a symbol of their indentity and their right to be able to choose in a supposedly free and secular world.(now we all know thats the way it is supposed to be ideally)
but what i would like to say is that , it is refreshing to see a software engineer indulge himself in these topics that concern the world and effectively break them down into bite sized pieces for all to chew on.your take is analytical and sharp and it makes for good read!

Karthik Shetty said...

It's true that a lot of 'em look at it as a symbol of their identity, but then in a free and secular world, a country's laws need to trump those of the religion, especially since the country's laws aren't based on religion, that's all I'm saying. Saudi law make even non-Muslim women cover up because the country's laws trump the individual non-Muslim's religious laws. All I did was compare apples with apples. And thanks for the compliment :)
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