France's burqa ban (more of a niqab ban, but you can't beat the power of alliteration) continues to make news. At the end of September, a video was released of two female students in Paris walking through the city "wearing a burka and mini-shorts." Young, twentysomething women baring the bottom halves of their bodies all over Paris, but with a harsh niqab on top. In other words, a perfect media event, sacred and profane, in a hot pair of French shoes. The anonymity provided by the full face coverings has extended to the online world; they are largely operating under virtual niqab as @NiqaBitch on Twitter, and by the same name on YouTube. We don't know a lot yet, but one says she is Muslim, and both say they are political science and communications students.
What was their motivation to pull off this guaranteed attention-getter?
"To put a simple burka on would have been too simple. So we asked ourselves: 'How would the authorities react when faced with women wearing a burka and mini-shorts? We were not looking to attack or degrade the image of Muslim fundamentalists – each to their own – but rather to question politicians who voted for this law that we consider clearly unconstitutional. To dictate what we wear appears to have become the role of the State (as if they didn't have other fish to fry …)."
Fair enough. France and other countries are conducting their own jihad with hijab. In France's case, choosing to wear more clothing will be punishable by a fine of 150 euros and possibly re-education camp citizenship lessons. (This from the country that gave us Voltaire?) Here in Ontario, it's the 19th anniversary of Gwen Jacob winning the right for women to go topless in public. At some point, like maybe a few thousand years ago, the state – and men – should have stopped dictating what women wear. Left to their own devices, it's clear women are fully capable of choosing the worst possible clothing imaginable. (Oh man... did I just wreck my own argument or what?)
There's always the security argument to be made; if you can't see the person's face, you have a difficult time identifying who they are, and they can vanish anonymously into a crowd. Sounds like a pretty good argument for banning Santa Claus outfits to me.
The video reinforces a few things very clearly. People aren't comfortable with niqab. Women are encouraged to be sex objects. Putting them together just blows the citizenry's circuits. It also questions the definitions that the law enforcers will have to deal with. If someone walks around town naked but for a head covering, will the police charge them, and with what? Is the law meant to further the emancipation of women, or is it meant to target certain religious groups and lock in one way of being French?
Regardless of the intentions of these women, or those who staged pro-topless rallies here in Ontario, the men gawking for a glance of something yummy always outnumber men appearing in solidarity. For reasons I can't figure out how to state, that always reduces the value of the action, probably because the spectators won't be engaged in the discourse. (Special shout-out to those men who come to such rallies bringing videocameras: Are you really so sad and pathetic that creeping is what does it for you? What do you do with the videotape when you get home? Good lord, don't answer that.) Disclaimer: Of course I'd take pictures of an occurrence like this. Anyone who looks at my photos on Facebook knows I'm taking pix all the time. But I'd like to point out that none of the men below are me; it should be clear as none of them are using a BlackBerry or wearing a Soccer Imam T-shirt, which makes me further question their morality.
On the video, most of the men shown were actually talking to the NiqaBitches, and probably learning more than leering. But of course there were those too. Hey, this is supposed to be confusingly sexy. If no one paid attention or gave a second glance, they wouldn't be making their point.
The state can really just bug off here. The number of Muslim women this law is targeted at is very low. The harm they're causing others or themselves is probably negligible. Like other niqab bans around the world, the power of the state is being used to hit a statistically insignificant target with really high visibility.
For your viewing pleasure, we present to you: The NiqaBitches (with their original Beastie Boys soundtrack)! (Editorial note: Lyrics not work-safe.) Click here if the video fails to play.
Finally, a set of well-presented arguments and much deeper thoughts than mine entitled Does NiqaBitch Enrich the Burqa Ban Debate? at MuslimahMediaWatch. Enjoy!
(Yet another editorial note: The French ban on facial veiling cleared its last legal hurdle yesterday.)