Timely report on French women and the veil

Timely report on French women and the veil April 16, 2011

A very timely study on Muslim women and the veil in France has just been released by the Open Society Foundations. It's available for download in English. Unveiling the Truth: Why 32 Women Wear the Full-Face Veil in France | At Home in Europe Project | Open Society Foundations

This report from the At Home in Europe Project aims to distinguish myths and misrepresentations surrounding women who wear the full-face veil from the actual experiences and testimonies of the women themselves, by reporting on the women’s backgrounds, their decisions to wear the veil, their daily experiences in public, and their views on the legislation.

Based on the testimony of 32 women across France, Unveiling the Truth offers the opportunity to hear directly from the women who are affected by the ban on face coverings, all of whom freely chose to wear the veil without, and often inspite of, pressure from family members and spouses. The stories they tell about their lives are sometimes humorous but more often than not heart-rending, especially in relation to their treatment by strangers, members of their communities, the media and politicans.

Contrary to the usual stereotype of Muslim women who wear the face veil, the majority of women whose voices are heard are like any other French woman with active social lives: working, attending classes, seeing friends, eating out, playing sports and actively engaging in local activities. [MORE]

I haven't read it yet–and I am no fan of the niqab in a Western context, it must be said–but I'm sure this research exposes how shallow, ironically sexist and disconnected from reality these hysterical calls for a "burqa" ban in France are. (This isn't ultimately about Muslim women, either. It's Sarko's transparent and demagoguic gambit to reverse electoral gains by the odious far-right anti-immigrant National Front Party.)

As is often the case, I'm amazed and inspired by all the vital work that George Soros does. One might call him the "Jimmy Carter" of Billionaires (a comparison I find the highest praise). If only more of the super-wealthy had the vision to dedicate a portion of their resources to promoting social justice and desperately political and civic reform as opposed to endlessly squandering it on "philanthropy" that really amounts to little more than self-interested lobbying (a la the Koch brothers, Pete Peterson, the Waltons, and so on, whose "activism" and proposed "reforms" consistently happen to shower them or their businesses with tax breaks).

I'm reminded of Fareed Zakaria's excellent (and surprisingly radical) reflection on the many woes besetting American political life, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. It, explores, among many other fascinating indices of our nation's politico-cultural decline,  how American political and economic elites no longer feel obligated to give a damn thing back to society, in striking contrast to their peers in all previous generations. As American society becomes anachronistically feudal, it's perverse and perplexing for so the few among America's ruling class to be willing to even live up to a basic social principle of the medieval European feudal order, namely the notion of La Noblesse oblige (or "Nobility obliges [one to do something for those who are less fortunate])."

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