Saturday, July 12, 2008

tolerance / intolerance

Another story hit the news today - a woman here in France was denied citizenship because she was 'too extremist' in her religion, and didn't fit the criteria of a French woman - i.e. - liberated, secular, etc. The woman wore the burka because her husband ordered her to, and not because she particularly wanted to. But she wasn't about to remove it, because her husband ordered her to keep it on. The judge decided that because of that, she couldn't become a Frenchwoman.
Two diverging opinions were expressed by two different associations ( it's always the most vocal 'associations' that speak up first.) The first, from the immigration association, said it was regrettable that a secular country should be so intolerant of someone's religion. The second association, a women's rights association, claimed it was an excellent decision, and it was about time women's rights were taken into account in immigration. So there are definitely different opinions on this. I'm of the opinion that if you want to live in a theocracy, then you should move to Saudi Arabia, and if you want to live in a secular country you better leave your religion at home in private and not expect the law to uphold your religious beliefs.
I consider myself fairly tolerant. I adore my cousin, for example, even though she persists on sending me anti-Obama propaganda (I won't hide that I am planning to vote for him) and I don't lose my temper like my husband does when I'm behind a bad driver on the road. Not everyone is Alain Proust. I think everyone should be free to believe in God, the Easter Bunny, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and I believe that each political party has its good and bad sides, and that you can vote for whoever you want to, even write Micky Mouse on the ballet for all I care. It's your decision to make. But I'm serious about women's rights, and I think the judge got it right when he told the woman her beliefs simply were not compatible with French society. There is no way I would ever live in Saudi Arabia, and if my husband told me to wear a burka, I'd head straight for the divorce court. Women have fought long and hard to get the right to vote, wear what they wish, and marry who they wish. Not so long ago, we had no rights - not to property, not to say who we wanted to marry (or get out of a marriage) and rape was not a punishable crime. It behooves us to remember that, and to realize that sometimes a little intolerance is required in order to stand up for the fragile rights we have.
Good call Mr. le judge.


Charles Gramlich said...

The weird thing to me is that it wasn't about a "woman's" right at all. She was wearing it because her husband TOLD her to.

pjd said...

So Sam, if the woman chose to wear the burqa because of some reason other than her husband told her to, you would be OK with her attaining citizenship? What if her deeply held religious and moral beliefs compel her to honor her husband's wishes, even if she disagrees with them?

What you've said is that if you were in her shoes, you'd divorce the guy. No argument with that, and I'd support you in it. But you imply that all women should feel that way, or at least all French women must feel that way. To take it to the extreme, no woman should be allowed to be a French citizen if she does what her husband says simply because he told her to do it.

... he told the woman her beliefs simply were not compatible with French society...

I find this a curious conclusion in a "free" society. On the one hand, we argue to protect the rights of all people (women being the identified class in this case). On the other, we refuse her the choice to be sujugated to her husband's demands. Perhaps she has weighed all her options and has decided that wearing the burqa is the one option most likely to lead to a happy life for her. We deny her the right to make that decision, and we impose our moral code of Liberation.

The worst irony is that by being denied citizenship, she has likely been thrown back into a far more oppressive culture and therefore has had her best chance of becoming more free killed.

I'm not saying the judge made the wrong decision; I only have a glimpse at the surface of this case. But I am very wary of government imposing a moral code on its citizens, even when I agree with that moral code.

Sam said...

She wasn't thrown back anywhere - she still lives in France, but she can't have French citizenship.
If you try to emigrate to Canada or Australia you face similar rules. In Israel, you have to be Jewish to be a citizen - period. Even in the US, to become a citizen, you have to pass a test. My friend Lucy from Cuba told me all about it. It wasn't easy.
France has strict women's rights rules, and this woman simply didn't comply or want to comply with them.
I don't think it is particularly tolerant, but as a woman, I think it's a good call.

pjd said...

I have heard about the US test, but I don't know its content.

And I misunderstood the citizenship thing... had I thought a few minutes more, I'd have realized that of course she's been living in France for some time just to be eligible to apply for citizenship. The judge probably did make the right call, but I still am very wary of the government imposing any sort of moral code over individuals. It is not difficult to oppress one population in the name of protecting the rights of another. And yet, often it is necessary for the government to enforce certain moral codes for the good of society in general. It's a touchy balance, I think.